With almost 82 million residents, Germany is one of the most important member states of the European Union. Germany’s importance also derives from its economic strength. Germany has the largest national economy in Europe, which makes it very relevant to possible consequences of boycotts, especially since Germany is also Israel’s largest European trading partner. Germany and Israel enjoy strong political, economic, cultural, social, and scientific relations. These relations have been substantial, also because of the painful memories of the past. In addition, the militaries of both countries have had significant cooperation for many years.
Germany is the second largest immigration destination in the world, after the United States. In 2015, the rates of immigration to Germany were at their peak, with over two million people arriving in the country and 442,000 asylum applications received.20 The immigration crisis in the Middle East, which increased since the Syrian civil war, has also brought about the surfacing of Right-wing populist elements like the Alternative to Deutschland Party (AFD), which won 94 seats in the federal elections in September 2017. Reports in Germany from the past few months warn of the rise of far-right violence on the one hand, and the Islamist threat on the other.21 Since many of these immigrants come from Middle Eastern countries, and due to economic and social difficulties many of them are facing, they might be susceptible to influence by radical elements. A Tunisian paper, for example, maintained in June 2017 that the Muslim Brotherhood increased its presence in Germany since the fall of the Egyptian Morsi regime, and that according to German security sources, the Muslim Brotherhood increased its activities in the eastern part of the country, building mosques and pumping in money.22 At the same time, far-left elements have also been on the rise since the financial crisis began in 2008. Today, the united Left-wing Populist Party Die Linke has the third largest parliamentary group in the Bundestag, and also has members in the European parliament as the largest party in the European United Left–Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) group. Die Linke MPs have been connected to pro-Palestinian activist groups in the country, both Islamist and far-left. In August 2017, the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD) joined forces with the PFLP to be on the election ballot. The MLPD reportedly has 1,800 members.23
In March 2017, Dr. Andreas Zick, who has been conducting surveys on xenophobia for many years, presented a survey that concluded that “20-25 percent of the German population expresses anti-Semitism when it comes to criticism of Israel.”24
Another important aspect of Germany in analyzing the delegitimization campaign is the assertion that Germany has the largest Palestinian community in Europe. Although official numbers or statistics are not available, research done in 2000 found that Palestinians in Germany reside mainly in major cities and suburbs, and that the wide majority of them work in the medical and engineering sectors.25 In this sense, and as will be demonstrated, Germany also serves as a case study for Palestinian activism, and lessons could be learned about tendencies and developments in other countries as well.
Several German cities hosted the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated “Palestinians in Europe Conference.” In some cases, Jewish groups tried to prevent it from taking place. In May 2011, for example, the ninth annual conference took place in the city of Wuppertal.26 After the Israeli embassy said that the conference has ties to “terrorist organizations,” the chairman of the Jewish community said that the city mayor’s conduct was “shameful.” “That the mayor did not comment on the anti-Israel conference suggests he finds everything to be fine,” community chairman Leonid Goldberg said. A spokeswoman for the mayor, on the other hand, denied seeing any anti-Semitic literature or photos at the conference.27
A similar occurrence took place toward the conference in 2015, which took place in Berlin. This time, the AJC office in Berlin and pro-Israel politicians also joined the efforts to cancel the conference,28 which eventually took place as planned. In July 2017, demonstrations were held in European cities following the terrorist attack on Temple Mount and the Israeli decision to place metal detectors (magnometers) in the premises. Most of these demonstrations were driven by Muslim Brotherhood affiliates.29 For example, Majed Al-Zeer of the London-based Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) spoke in a demonstration in Berlin.30 Majed Al-Zeer and the PRC work very closely with the Islamist scene in the country, and Al-Zeer frequently speaks in demonstrations. He also spoke in a demonstration held in October 2017 in front of the British embassy in Berlin, as part of the PRC-led “Balfour Apology Campaign” launched to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.31 EuroPal Forum, another major Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated front, dedicated a whole chapter to the history of German politics toward Hamas.32
In recent years, various German institutions took a hard stance against BDS. In August 2017, for example, Frankfurt City Council approved a bill that would prohibit the use of municipal funds and facilities for BDS. The measure was passed on to the city parliament for a vote. Uwe Becker, the deputy mayor and city treasurer for Frankfurt, who initiated and is steering the legislation to passage, told The Jerusalem Post:
The BDS movement does not only strongly resemble the “Don’t Buy from Jews” argumentation of former times of the National Socialists, but the movement is built on the same toxic ground and it is poisoning the social climate in the same dangerous way.33
Earlier that month, Humboldt University in Berlin lodged a criminal complaint against three BDS activists who disrupted a talk by MK Aliza Lavie and an Israeli survivor of the Holocaust. The three faced charges of trespassing at the event with MK Lavie.34 In September 2016, it was reported that the school authorities in Lower Saxony launched an investigation into BDS activist Christoph Glanz’s comment to a YouTube clip that said moving Israel to Germany was not an “absurd idea.” Glanz is a public-school teacher in the city of Oldenburg.35 On the other hand, German authorities were very heavily criticized for funding organizations that promote BDS. According to NGO Monitor, for example –
The German federal government provides millions of euros to political advocacy NGOs in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, through a variety of frameworks, including German federal funding programs of the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the German Federal Foreign Office, government-funded church aid, and independent development NGOs.36
NGO Monitor explains that officially, the funding is aimed at “combating poverty, securing food, establishing peace, freedom, democracy and human rights, shaping globalization in a socially equitable manner, and preserving the environment and natural resources.” However, the funding is allocated to, among others, organizations that promote anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) and “lawfare” campaigns, anti-Zionism, promotion of a “one-state” vision, anti-Semitism, and violence.