New IOC head to resign from controversial Arab-German trade group

Thomas Bach, under fire for heading organization allegedly promoting Israel boycott, still mum on whether he’ll allow a minute of silence for the Munich 11

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

Thomas Bach (photo credit: Sven Teschke/Wikipedia commons)
Thomas Bach (photo credit: Sven Teschke/Wikipedia commons)

The newly elected president of the International Olympic Committee intends to resign from the presidency of an organization purported to support the anti-Israel boycott movement, The Times of Israel has learned.

Thomas Bach, a German sports functionary who was elected Tuesday for an initial eight-year term at the helm of the IOC, is the chairman of Ghorfa, the Arab-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Founded in 1976, the organization is accused of helping companies make sure they avoid any trade with Israel. Since Bach’s election last week in Buenos Aires, several Jewish groups have called on Bach to step down from his position at the trade group.

Bach also came under fire from Jewish groups for opposing a minute of silence for the Israeli victims of the Munich 1972 terror attack during last year’s Olympic Games in London.

“He will resign as the president of the Ghorfa,” Christian Klaue, the head of media at the German Olympic Sports Confederation and Bach’s spokesperson, told The Times of Israel. He also denied that Ghorfa had anything to do with the Arab world’s boycott of Israel.

Bach had promised to step down from all his other positions bar one — the chairmanship of the supervisory board at Weinig AG, wood processing company based in his hometown of Tauberbischofsheim — if he got elected to head the IOC, Klaue said.

Bach himself has not publicly commented on his controversial presidency of  Ghorfa. In his candidacy for the IOC top job, he promised that he would move to Lausanne “and devote myself as a volunteer to the service of the IOC.”

In German media, Bach’s membership in the Ghorfa — and his close relationship with the Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, who lobbied actively on the German’s behalf — was described as problematic weeks ago. After he was elected, Jewish groups immediately called for Bach to resign his post at Ghorfa.

“Since 1988, the IOC has flown the UN flag at all competitive sites of the Olympic Games, thereby binding the UN as a partner in sharing responsibility for the positions of the IOC and their consequences,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, Shimon Samuels, wrote in a letter to the special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on sports for development and peace, Wilfried Lemke.

“This would arguably include the conflict of interests of newly elected IOC President, Thomas Bach, who is simultaneously Chairman of Ghorfa … [T]his Chamber reputedly continues to issue certificates of negative origin, proclaiming that contractually supplied goods contain no elements of Israeli origin. Such discriminatory certificates camouflaging the boycott of Israel were banned as illegal by the German government over twenty years ago.”

Samuels also lamented that Bach, then a IOC vice president, argued for the denial of a moment of silence in honor of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists during the 1972 Munich Games, calling on the UN to demand Bach’s resignation from Ghorfa. “His continued maintenance of both positions will result in boycott polluting sport in violation of the declared principles of both the UN and the IOC.”

The director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin center, Deidre Berger, said it betrayed “the principles of sportsmanship and fair play for the IOC to be headed by someone who actively participates in ongoing Israel boycott campaign measures.”

Ghorfa continues to issue certificates of German origin for trade with Arab countries. Its earlier practice of issuing certificates verifying that no product parts were produced in Israel stopped in the early 1990s when Germany enacted trade regulations forbidding the use of certificates of origin to enable de facto trade boycotts, the AJC stated.

“In response to a query by Viola von Cramon, a Green Member of the German Parliament, the German government confirmed on June 20, 2013, that Ghorfa continues to issue certificates of German origin, verifying that no product parts were produced in Israel, for trade with Arab countries,” the group said in a statement. “The German government says officials from various ministries have spoken on a number of occasions with Ghorfa representatives, including during a high-level discussion last summer with Mr. Bach, about the continuing practice of issuing certificates of origin.”

A “Saudi Arabia Business Guide” published by Ghorfa, for which Bach wrote the foreword, states: “For religious reasons, there is an import embargo on various goods such as e.g. alcoholic drinks and pork. All imports from Israel are forbidden.”

But Klaue, Bach’s spokesman, denied that Ghorfa was involved in any boycott of Israel. “There is no political activity from Ghorfa. They are not political,” he said. The organization merely helps Arab countries with paperwork required by the European Union and the German Chamber of Commerce to certify the origin of products, he said.

“Ghorfa is offering this service for the embassies of the Arab states. This is correct. They are offering this service and have to follow the law of the Arab states. But they are not politically involved in that,” Klaue said. “This is not an issue of Ghorfa but of sovereign states.”

Klaue also said that Bach has been asked many times whether he would reconsider his stance on allowing a minute of silence for the Israeli athletes that were killed in 1972. “I’m sure he’ll give an answer to that question whenever they have discussed it and whenever that [will become] a topic again,” he said. “But until then I don’t have answer for you on that.”

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