National Security

German Embrace of Israel Boycotts Generates Calls for Increased U.S. Diplomatic Pressure

New report urges U.S. to push Germany into combating BDS

German chancellor Angela Merkel
German chancellor Angela Merkel / Getty Images

Growing support for Israel boycotts among leftist German political parties is generating tension in the diplomatic relationship with the United States, according to a new report that urges American lawmakers to hold their German counterparts accountable for embracing a movement that many view as anti-Semitic.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan think tank with close ties to the Trump administration, is calling on U.S. lawmakers to increase pressure on Germany to cut ties with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), a global coalition that wages economic warfare on the Jewish state. The report is a first-of-its-kind exploration of why the BDS movement rose in Germany and is attracting support among more radical voices in the country's parliament. Support for the BDS movement in Germany and other European nations comes amid a global surge in anti-Semitism.

The report, titled, "Boykott: Germany's Battle Against the Delegitimization of Israel," has been provided to senior Trump administration officials at the State Department who are tasked with combating the BDS movement in Europe. These officials vowed to increase pressure on European backers of the BDS movement and use legal authorities to defend businesses targeted by the movement.

Germany is a special case study when it comes to BDS due to its complicated relationship with the Holocaust and efforts to make amends for the atrocities committed during World War II. While Berlin enjoys relatively close diplomatic ties with Israel, support for the BDS movement has risen in the country's left-of-center political parties. As with other European supporters of the BDS movement, those who back boycotts view them as a means to pressure Israel into making political concessions to the Palestinians.

Benjamin Weinthal, a Germany-based reporter and the author of FDD's new report, concluded that Congress can play a critical role in pressuring Germany to back off of the BDS movement. Congress, the report emphasizes, should pass resolutions in the House and Senate singling out Germany's BDS movement. Lawmakers should also require the executive branch to submit annual reports to "Congress on the extent to which the German government has taken steps not just to oppose BDS in words but to counter it in action," according to FDD.

The report also calls on Germany to toughen its stance on Palestinian terrorist groups and end its "permissiveness toward violent, pro-BDS, anti-Semitic organizations that the United States and European Union have designated for terrorism."

The BDS movement "has managed to build an infrastructure in Germany that resembles its base in other countries" and has chapters established in all of Germany's major cities, including Berlin, according to the report. Most support for the boycott movement comes from Germany's far left, which has pushed the issue in the country's Bundestag, or governing parliament.

In just the past year, German BDS backers have pushed boycotts of a Berlin popular culture festival that partnered with the Israeli embassy. Other efforts have included the protest of a French insurance company that invests in Israel's defense sector, the boycott of sports apparel company Puma due to its sponsorship of Israeli soccer teams, and a boycott of Hewlett Packard for selling technology to Israel's military.

David Peyman, the State Department's newly installed assistant special envoy for Eurasian affairs and strategic projects, said it is critical for the United States to combat BDS and pressure allies to take a tougher stance on the movement.

"BDS is deeply connected to attempts to delegitimize, demonize, and isolate Israel—all forms of anti-Semitism," Peyman said. "Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo and special envoy [to combat anti-Semitism Elan] Carr emphatically opposed the discriminatory BDS movement. The United States strongly opposes boycott campaigns targeting the state of Israel, and regularly engages with governments and other entities to oppose such activities."

Peyman hailed a 2019 resolution adopted by the German parliament that identifies the BDS movement as anti-Semitic in nature. That resolution, however, was not legally binding and had few tangible effects, according to FDD's report.

Peyman vowed to "fight BDS with all tools, including by promoting increased economic and strategic cooperation with Israel." He also said the United States will "closely watch companies that are targeted by the BDS movement and use all available legal and policy tools to counter such effort."

In addition to prescribing actions that Congress can take, the report urges Germany to prohibit anti-Semitic BDS groups from using all Bundestag facilities. It also recommends that Berlin enact laws to prevent discrimination against Israelis and push its finance sector to limit the services it provides to pro-BDS and anti-Semitic groups.