In recent years, a major organizing impetus for anti-Israel activity in Western Europe and the U.S. has come in the form of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS), which, despite its limited economic impact, has done much to generate anti-Jewish sentiment. While Germany is home to an active wing of BDS—which has made inroads with far-left parties and a few years ago seemed poised to go mainstream—the movement faced a sudden reversal when, last year, the Bundestag passed a resolution declaring its “arguments and methods . . . anti-Semitic.” The resolution has few legal ramifications, but much symbolic import. In a history of the BDS movement in Germany, Benjamin Weinthal explains what changed:
The story begins with a 2012 EU initiative to affix special labels to Israeli imports from settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights. After a debate that lasted through 2015, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel came down in favor of the labels, a decision that placed it on the side of the BDS campaign.
The political environment began to change, however, with a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. Jewish communities across the continent had to contend with violence and verbal abuse. By 2019, the situation in Germany had worsened to the point that Merkel said, “There is to this day not a single synagogue, not a single daycare center for Jewish children, not a single school for Jewish children that does not need to be guarded by German policemen.”
Despite some minority voices, the German perception of BDS as anti-Semitic has resulted in major setbacks for the campaign. In the German view, the BDS campaign singles out the state of Israel for opprobrium and calls for its complete isolation yet does not advocate any comparable pressure on Hamas or the Palestinian Authority for their abusive and authoritarian conduct. Nor does the BDS campaign demand accountability for the regimes in Damascus and Beijing, whose atrocities exceed by orders of magnitude even the gravest offenses committed in the course of the Arab-Israeli conflict. German lawmakers explicitly assess that the application of double standards to the Jewish state is anti-Semitic in nature. In practice, there is little difference between the slogans “Don’t buy from Jews” and “Don’t buy from the Jewish state.”