The teachers union in the city of Oldenburg published an article in its September paper calling for a complete boycott of the Jewish state, sparking criticism from Israel’s embassy, German teachers and pro-Israel activists, as well as the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
It appears to be the first call to boycott Israel or Jews from a German organized labor group since the Holocaust. Critics accuse the union of stoking modern Jew-hatred.
The anti-Israel activist and teacher Christoph Glanz outlined the goals of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement in his two-page article in the magazine of the Education and Science Workers’ Union (GEW).
“The GEW is an important institution in Germany. That is why we are surprised and disappointed, that the Oldenburg chapter chose to re-publish the pamphlet of a BDS activist in its magazine,” the embassy told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
The embassy continued: “The BDS movement is a worldwide campaign that calls for a boycott of Israel on all levels and de facto seeks the elimination of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
“We rely on the moral values and intellectual capabilities of readers of the magazine to correctly classify the pamphlet, but we still expect the magazine to show better editorial standards.”
The GEW article was titled, “Palestine/Israel: Documenting injustice and call for justice – not possible in Oldenburg?” The German-Israel Friendship Society (DIG) in Oldenburg – a city in Lower Saxony state with a population of nearly 164,000 – was the first group to slam the union’s leadership.
In a public letter released in August, the chairman of DIG-Oldenburg, Klaus Thörner, wrote that DIG “protests the publication of the article of the Oldenburg teacher Christoph Glanz… who is an activist of the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic BDS campaign.”
It is unusual for a mainstream German publication to call for a boycott of Israel, because the boycott of Jews was such a big part of the Nazis’ actions in the lead-up to the Holocaust.
Fringe organizations that have urged a full-blown boycott of Israel are Germany’s neo-Nazi party NPD, far-left groups such as the BDS Campaign, and Hezbollah and its supporters in the Federal Republic.
Alex Feuerherdt, a journalist and expert on contemporary German anti-Semitism, told the Post that Glanz being “allowed to spread his hostility toward Israel in a labor union newspaper is a scandal. His activity for a boycott of Israel is not an appeal for peace; rather it is for hate. A labor union that shares such views is morally bankrupt.”
In emails to the chairman of GEW-Oldenburg in August, which were reviewed by the Post, union members protested Glanz’s article.
Raimund Hethey, a member of the union, wrote that Glanz “is allowed to promote, without objection, his anti-Semitic BDS campaign. One should not let the GEW off the hook.”
Rolf Jordan, another GEW member and teacher, wrote that BDS acts “against free speech and public discourse. The campaign attempts to destroy academic exchanges, culture events and economic relations. The BDS – also Mr. Glanz – fights against the free exchange of opinion… I would not have expected that my labor union would allow itself to be pulled into this swamp.”
Heinz Bührmann, the chairman of the union, wrote the Post by email on Friday, saying “that anti-Semitism – whether ancient, classic, modern – will not be tolerated in any GEW institution… where I have influence.”
Glanz’s “promotional activity for BDS does not find our support,” Bührmann said. He added that the union “distances itself from every promotion for, and playing down of, BDS.”
However, he watered down his statement on Friday on GEW’s website.
His statement did not explicitly condemn BDS or a boycott against Israel. On the website, the union blasted the Jewish state, writing that Israel has in the territories “repressed minorities who are suffering.” The GEW statement continued: “to criticize Israel does not automatically mean criticizing Jews.”
The chairman of Oldenburg’s Jewish community, Jehuda Wältermann, told the Post that Glanz is “a dangerous person” and his “one-sided” attacks on Israel can only mean that “he is anti-Semitic.”
Wältermann expressed concerns that Glanz’s is “not neutral” in the classroom.
The spokesman for Hamburg’s Jewish community, Daniel Killy, said Glanz “is, of course, an anti-Semite” because of his boycott activities.
When asked if Glanz inculcates BDS in his students, as well as views about Israel and the Palestinians, the director of the IGS Flötenteich school, Hannelore Lüllwitz, referred the Post to the Lower Saxony school authority. A spokeswoman from the authority said on Friday the “accusations against Glanz are being taken seriously.” It will begin an inquiry this week.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Post: “This is a development that needs to be challenged. If people who mold young people buy into an anti-Semitic platform, it poisons the hearts and minds of young students against the Jewish state and Jewish citizens.”
Dr. Elvira Grözinger, a member of the German branch of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told the Post that Glanz “follows the pattern of those Germans who prefer to see Israelis as perpetrators, thus relativizing the German atrocities against the Jews. Glanz also disqualifies himself as a teacher by not consulting other, more dependable, sources.”
Glanz declined to answer specific Post queries.
Sacha Stawski, the head of Honestly Concerned, an organization that combats anti-Semitism in the media, told the Post that Glanz’s comments meet the criteria of the “3-D” test, a definition of modern anti-Semitism developed by Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Stawski said Glanz applies double standards when it comes to Israel, and demonizes and delegitimizes the Jewish state.
Glanz is the “prototypical anti-Semite,” said Stawski, who also voiced criticism about a recent court ruling in the Federal Republic holding that a student can’t term Glanz a “known anti-Semite.”
The ruling was appealed. German courts have delivered mixed rulings on modern anti-Semitism.
According to a June article on the pro-Palestinian website International Solidarity Movement, Glanz said the student’s allegation of anti-Semitism is “absurd.” He added: “We know the strategies of the Israel supporters who – lacking arguments – frequently use intimidation and slander including the anti-Semitism accusation.”
In November 2015, Glanz delivered a pro-boycott talk in a cultural center in Munich under the alias Christopher Ben Kushka.
According to the Jewish community in Oldenburg, Glanz uses the Jewish-sounding name Ben Kushka as a way to insulate himself from accusations of anti-Semitism.
Charlotte Knobloch, the chairwoman of the Munich Jewish community and a Holocaust survivor, blasted Glanz in November. She said: “The BDS campaign disguises the socially unacceptable ‘Don’t buy from Jews!’ as a modernized form of Nazi jargon by demanding ‘Don’t buy from the Jewish state.’”