Response to: “German–Israeli Relations: Quo Vadis? Susanne Wasum-Rainer, Ambassador of Germany to Israel, 2, September 2019 (Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs)
In her article (German–Israeli Relations: Quo Vadis?: Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs: Vol 13, No 2), Ambassador Wasum-Rainer offers a broad analysis of contemporary relations between Israel and Germany. Her analysis, which appears in the same volume as David Witzthum’s excellent contribution on the complex relationship between Adenauer and Ben Gurion, covers a number of dimensions, including on the 2019 German Bundestag condemnation of the BDS movement, and adding: “We are against any form of antisemitism and we are not going to tolerate movements that call into question Israel’s right to exist. As Chancellor Angela Merkel put it, the existence of the State of Israel is part of our Staatsräson. This is exactly what the spirit of the decision of the Bundestag is about.”
From there, however, the ambassador abruptly moves to an undifferentiated defense of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), stating, “We must also be careful not to overstretch notions.” These groups, she asserts, “play an essential part in a well-functioning and vibrant democracy. …unless they cross red lines, like the ones I stated above, we have to uphold their right to express themselves, and in so doing, ensure the wellbeing of our pluralistic society.”
What is left unstated is the fact that NGOs, including a number funded by Germany ostensibly for humanitarian, human rights, and development programs, play a major role in the BDS movement. and the Israeli response on this issue cannot simply be dismissed as an “overstretched notion”. The Ambassador’s blanket embrace of the vast spectrum of political advocacy groups, without criteria or boundaries (other than the red line of antisemitism), would include many that are fundamentally anti-democratic, and some that are linked to terror organizations. Furthermore, in dismissing the Israeli debate on often untransparent NGO funding from foreign governments, including Germany, the Ambassador reinforces the image that these policies are a form of intervention in Israel’s democratic processes.
Instead of criticizing Israel’s public discourse on the issue, we would hope that in a future statement, Ambassador Wasum-Rainer will respond substantively, including continued German government support for NGOs that, in her own words “cross the line.” There are at least 2 ministries and 34 government agencies, state-owned limited liability companies (GmbH), political foundations, as well as state-funded church aid organizations and NGOs involving millions of euros annually that are highly relevant. For example, the German International Cooperation Agency (GIZ) and Friedrich Ebert Foundation have been funding PNGO (Palestinian NGO Network) since 2014. One of PNGO’s main objectives is “supporting the BDS movement.” The group also requires its member NGOs to “be in line with the national agenda without any normalization.” In addition, GIZ funds the Palestinian NGO known as Miftah, which regularly promotes BDS propaganda, accusing Israel of “colonization, oppression and denial of the basic human rights of the Palestinian people.”
Therefore, instead of trying to close the door on discussions regarding the very important “civil society dimension” of German-Israel relations, we urge the Ambassador and other German officials to participate in a frank and open exchange, in which all of the issues are on the table.
Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg, President
Olga Deutsch, Vice President