Germany Is Seizing Jews’ Money Again

It’s fine, they’re pro-Palestine.

by James Jackson

28 March 2024

A sign that reads 'Jews against genocide' is held up at a protest
A protester holds up a placard at pro-Palestine demo organised by Jewish and Palestinian groups in Berlin, November 2023. Streets of Berlin/Flickr

A pro-Palestine Jewish activist group has had its bank account frozen in Germany for the second time in seven years, after the bank requested a full list of its members’ details in what experts believe is a breach of German law. The group suspects the move was triggered by its involvement in a forthcoming pro-Palestine conference that has attracted intense scorn from the German mainstream.

On Tuesday, Jüdische Stimme für gerechten Frieden in Nahost (Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East) received a letter from its bank, Berliner Sparkasse (Berlin Savings Bank), stating that “according to regulatory provisions, we … are obliged to check the data stored about our customers at regular intervals and to update if necessary”.

The bank demanded a list of the names of all of the members of Jüdische Stimme and their addresses, signed by members of the board by April 5 before adding that they were freezing the account immediately “as a precautionary measure.”

Multiple legal experts who spoke to Novara Media believe that the request for members’ data is unlawful in at least two ways: a breach of their contract with the bank, to which they had not consented to give this information, and EU privacy law, specifically general data protection regulation (GDPR).

In a statement on X/Twitter, Jüdische Stimme described the bank’s request as “more like a question that might be asked by an intelligence service or the police, who have been politically persecuting us as a Jewish organisation for some time.” Their lawyer Ahmed Abad put it more bluntly: “We believe that this is for the use of the police.”

Independent lawyer Nadija Samour said that this was an unusual request not usually required by the bank, and was “beyond legal.”

Founded in 2007, Jüdische Stimme is a group of anti-Zionist Jews in Germany that primarily organises pro-Palestine protests, becoming increasingly prominent and expanding its ranks significantly since 7 October.

Many of the group’s members have been arrested at protests, as part of a wider crackdown on pro-Palestinian activism which has included outright blanket bans on demonstrations, the designation of “from the river to the sea” as outright illegal (in some states under the same law which criminalises displays of the swastika), a ban on wearing Palestinian keffiyehs in Berlin schools. Many of the group are middle-aged or elderly Israelis.

In mid-October, Jüdische Stimme member and 56-year-old Israeli-German psychoanalyst Iris Hefets was arrested for breaching the blanket ban on pro-Palestine protests by holding a one-woman action on Hermannplatz in Berlin. Hefets’s arrest was cited as one of the reasons that Germany’s freedom ranking was downgraded from 84 to 76 points in Civicus’ liberty index, one of only two European countries to do so (the other was Bosnia & Herzegovina).

This is the second time that Jüdische Stimme has had its bank account frozen. The first was in 2019, when the Bank für Sozialwirtschaft (Bank for Social Economy) caved to pressure from Germany’s highly conservative Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland (Central Jewish Council), which targeted Jüdische Stimme over its support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The group was told that they could appeal the decision to a non-Jewish antisemitism expert, but decided to move its account elsewhere.

Most recently, the group has been involved in co-organising the Palästina Kongress (Palestine conference), an event planned for mid-April, bringing together speakers like Yanis Varoufakis and Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah as well as figures within Germany’s pro-Palestine movement, to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and an end to Germany sending arms to Israel.

The event has been vilified by the media and politicians as a “Jew haters conference” or described as a “disgrace for Berlin” by the parliamentary chief of the state’s governing Christian Democrat party. The state senate is investigating a possible ban on the event. (“These allegations of being an antisemitic hate group are absolutely unfounded,” an organiser for the Palästina Kongress, who asked to remain anonymous, told Novara Media. “We want to expose Germany’s complicity in genocide.”)

Jüdische Stimme’s bank account was being used to gather donations for the event, which the group’s chair Wieland Hoban suspects played a role in the decision to freeze it. The event, which is in mid-April, has already missed out on around €2000 of ticket sales.

The move came shortly after a highly critical report was published about Jüdische Stimme by the state-funded International Institute for Education and Research on Antisemitism (IIBSA) in collaboration with Jüdische Forum für Demokratie und gegen Antisemitismus (Jewish Forum for Democracy Against Antisemitism), a right-leaning group whose treasurer, Amir Makatov, is a journalist at the rightwing populist Nius media platform.

Jüdische Stimme “is trying to present itself in the media as the voice of numerous Jews who ostensibly only want peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” the report contended. “But if you look at their demonstrations, their statements and their social media appearances, a different picture emerges.”

The group “demonizes and delegitimizes the Israeli state in particular,” the report added, hinting at the “3D” formulation (demonisation, delegitimisation and double standards) by which many in Germany define “Israel-related antisemitism”.

Tomer Dotan Dreyfus is a German-Israeli author. “When Germany defines Israel’s security the same way as Netanyahu [does] … [It] legitimises very far-reaching acts such as this one. Freezing a bank account is something you would expect a terror organisation to experience.”

Indeed, the Berliner Sparkasse – a public savings bank whose parent organisation, Landesbank Berlin AG, belongs entirely to the state of Berlin – does offer services to extremists: namely the neo-Nazi National Democratic party, now called Heimat (Homeland), categorised by German domestic intelligence as rightwing extremists ineligible for state funding.

“The definition [of antisemitism] is being shifted to include non-Jews as potential victims and Jews as potential persecutors,” adds Dotan Dreyfus. “We have found ourselves in a Germany where Jews are being persecuted, but this time for “the right reason”, protecting Israel. It’s tragedy coming back as a farce.”

Two co-organisers of the Kongress, Saleh Said and Yasemin Acar, had their apartments raided by police last week on suspicion of “coercion”, believed to be related to a protest against the Israeli ambassador to Germany. Both activists deny being involved. The police denied that this had any relation to the Palästina Kongress, though declined to answer Novara Media’s questions about Jüdische Stimme.

Berliner Sparkasse did not respond to Novara Media’s requests for comment, and Berlin Police did not respond to further questions about any involvement in freezing the accounts of Jüdische Stimme.

James Jackson is a freelance journalist based in Germany. 

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