Germany will fight but won’t outlaw BDS, head of Bundestag says

Visiting Jerusalem, Wolfgang Schäuble vows to tackle boycotts ‘politically,’ dismisses concerns over state of Israeli democracy

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

German Bundestag President Wolfgang Schaeuble pays his respects during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Memorial for Fallen Israeli Soldiers during his visit to the Knesset the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, October. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
German Bundestag President Wolfgang Schaeuble pays his respects during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Memorial for Fallen Israeli Soldiers during his visit to the Knesset the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, October. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Germany currently has no plans to outlaw the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, the speaker of its parliament said Thursday.

“We fight it politically, but we don’t believe that it is fought more successfully through prohibitions,” Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble told reporters in Jerusalem.

“We are relatively hesitant regarding prohibitions, since our constitution doesn’t give the parliament much room to enact prohibitions, and rightly so, because we believe that is up to an independent judiciary,” he added.

In April of this year, the Bundestag passed with an overwhelming majority a resolution rejecting any attempts to boycott Israel. “The German Bundestag decidedly rejects the activities of the BDS movement, which calls for the boycott and the isolation of Israel,” the resolution read.

Asked by The Times of Israel about Israel’s decision to boycott the far-right Alternative for Germany party, known in Germany as AfD, Schäuble replied: “A parliamentary democracy starts with respecting whoever is elected in free and democratic elections.

“We are all elected, we all have the same rights and also the same duties. The rules apply to everyone. Part of the rules — and I won’t tire to say this in Germany — is a certain basic consensus that lies at the root of our constitution, and that is that we affirm the responsibility that is born out of German history. That must not be questioned in Germany.”

Schäuble, 76, added: “In Germany, opinions are not subject to punishment, as foolish as they may be. But denying the Holocaust is illegal.”

In his talks with Israeli officials this week, he discussed the AfD’s recent electoral successes — it is now the third-largest party in the Bundestag — and stressed that “we don’t accept any form of anti-Semitism,” he said.

At the same time, he said he stressed that the resolution on Israel and BDS passed in April was supported by the AfD, which claims to support the Jewish state and to oppose ant-Semitism.

Schäuble, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right CDU party, is one of Germany’s most experienced and longest-serving politicians. A member of the Bundestag since 1972, he has held several senior ministerial posts, including as minister of the interior and minister of finance.

He came to Israel this week at the invitation of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein in honor of Israel’s 70 birthday. His itinerary included visits to the Knesset and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, and meetings with President Reuven Rivlin, Chief Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut, Joint (Arab) List chair MK Ayman Odeh, and other dignitaries.

President Reuven Rivlin (R) meets with Bundestag President Wolfgang Schauble at his official residence in Jerusalem on October 25, 2018. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

Besides bilateral relations between Jerusalem and Berlin, he said he discussed with his interlocutors various regional matters, such as the Iranian nuclear deal, the situation in Turkey and Saudi Arabia and Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But, he stressed, he came mostly to ask questions and to listen — not to tell Israel what to do.

“I didn’t make any demands, that’s not my thing,” he said regarding Israel’s West Bank settlement policy, adding that Jerusalem was aware of Berlin’s position on the matter.

“Whether [telling another government what to do] is terribly helpful is generally doubtful, but it’s certainly not the job of the president of the parliament,” he said.

He cited Edelstein, the speaker of the Knesset, as telling him that, on the peace process with the Palestinians, “Israel doesn’t need public advice,” and therefore decided to hold back on stating Germany’s position.

According to a readout of their meeting Wednesday, Edelstein told his German counterpart that “There is no immediate solution with the Palestinians. The situation of the residents of the Gaza envelope is very difficult. Hamas harms the residents of Gaza. Instead of using the money to improve the lives of civilians, it invests in terrorism.”

Speaking to a dozen German and Israeli journalists on Thursday at the King David Hotel, Schäuble dismissed a question about the various controversial pieces of legislation that were discussed in the Knesset, such as the Jewish-nation state law.

“I have few worries about the stability of Israel’s democracy,” he said. “Israel has such a high degree of democratic maturity and diversity, and also a high degree of debate culture and I don’t even mean that ironically, so that I am really not worried.”

Schäuble added that he was “worried enough about democracy in Germany and Europe,” referring to challenges arising from “disruptive communications technology” that seriously threaten the integrity of Western political systems. “They change drastically, and we don’t have convincing answers,” he said.

Most Popular
read more: