Politicians in the German city of Bergisch Gladbach, including Mayor Lutz Urbach, are facing intense criticism for bucking a growing trend across the country to adopt an anti-boycott Israel resolution and combat growing contemporary antisemitism.
“The mayor is supporting a bunch of antisemites whose real goal is not to end the occupation, but to refuse to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state in the Middle East,” Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post last week. Zuroff, who is the center’s chief Nazi-hunter, said that the mayor’s decision to the pull the plug on the city’s cooperation with the Ganey Tikva association, a pro-Israel group in the city, is a “travesty of justice.”
Zuroff said that the “mayor is not really informed and adopted the false narrative of the Arabs.” He noted that the by doing so, the mayor is discriminating against Israel, which is a new form of antisemitism, according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition.
Zuroff, a leading international expert on modern antisemitism, said that the city council “should adopt the anti-BDS resolution.”
The city council of Bergisch Gladbach, a municipality of over 100,000 people in the west German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, rejected a resolution to oppose the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign in December.
The group Ganey Tikva first proposed the anti-BDS resolution in September that would have also stopped city-sponsored BDS activities. Ganey Tikva adopted the same language contained in the anti-BDS resolution passed by the state’s parliament with approval from the Christian Democratic Union party, Social Democratics, the Free Democratic Party and the Green Party.
Urbach told the Post that “I emphatically reject the accusation of antisemitism. I have visited the Yad Vashem memorial and Auschwitz.” He added that he will travel this year with his young daughter to Auschwitz. When asked why he terminated cooperation with Ganey Tikva , Urbach said that “the association has developed in a direction that was no longer compatible with the current decision of the City Council of Bergisch Gladbach to our town twinning.”
Bergisch Gladbach is a sister city of Ganei Tikva and the West bank town of Beit Jala.
According to an interview with the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger paper, Urbach laid out in more detail his reasons for dismissing the city’s work with the association Ganey Tikva, saying: “The association has in the previous months focused its work on fighting antisemitism.” Urbach said that Ganey Tikva pursues “radical Israeli politics.”
The mayor has energetically supported the Beit Jala association and its alleged anti-Israel positions.
“It is a sad fact for us that the Beit Jala Association is fueling antisemitism,” said Petra Hemming from Ganey Tikva, in an article by the German journalist Alex Feuerherdt, who covered the alleged antisemitism scandal engulfing the city.
Ganey Tikva objected to the language in a statement from Beit Jala that described the situation as an “occupation reality” and presented Israel as the aggressor. The group said that the mayor adopted the one-sided statement from Beit Jala and published it as a press statement.
Urbach said he will not stop working with the allegedly anti-Israel group Beit Jala.
“I think nothing of the BDS campaign and I can join the BDS decision of the state parliament but a state legislature has the legal possibilities of a resolution for a political topic beyond the region,” he said.
Axel Bolte and Petra Hemming from Ganey Tikva fired back, saying that “Urbach is a master at dodging and ‘non-competent-explaining.’ One of his nonsensical reasons for our ‘sacking’ was that, in his eyes, a town twinning association was not responsible for the fight against antisemitism.”
They blasted Urbach for stating that the city council should not declare itself responsible for addressing BDS. Bolte and Hemming cited the cities of Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt as examples of cities who have passed anti-BDS legislation and executive measures.
They added that Urbach “seems to regard the ritualistic holding of remembrance ceremonies for dead Jews as sufficient.”
Green Party members in the city council who voted against the anti-BDS resolution told the Post that they are not pursuing antisemitic and anti-Israel policies. “We deal with themes that affect our city,” wrote the Green Party.
The Green Party politician and antisemitism expert Volker Beck said that, “The developments in Bergisch Gladbach are extremely irritating,” adding that municipalities should adopt the state government’s anti-BDS resolution.” Anita Rick-Blunck, chairwoman of the Free Democrats on the city council, said “We condemn BDS activities.” She added that “We – the FDP Group – have not voted against the application of the Ganey Tikva Association – on the contrary: one of our three city councilors, Ingrid Koshofer, the deputy mayor of our city for many years, voted for it, while the other two have abstained.”
Frank Samirae, a city council member for the coalition of the Left party and Citizen Party GL, commented that the coalition abstained in the anti-BDS resolution vote. “The Council considers this issue to be a matter for the state or federal levels, rather than a classic topic at the local level.” The Social Democrats did not respond to a Post press query. Uwe Becker, the Christian Democratic Union mayor and treasurer of Frankfurt, urged Urbach and the city council of Bergisch Gladbach to take a stand against BDS.
“I would like to see as many German cities as possible following the Frankfurt example and clearly oppose the antisemitic BDS movement. Even Palestinians are suffering from the effects of boycotts, so even for that reason a city like Bergisch Gladbach should position itself clearly against BDS. I am also in favor of banning the BDS movement in Germany,” he said.