I don’t particularly enjoy shopping and when I travel to Europe, which is really at our doorstep since we moved to Israel, shopping is not my passion, but I do love shopping for food. When it comes to food shopping, there is nothing to top a department store in Berlin, Kaufhaus des Westens.
At KaDeWe, as Germans call it, you can buy anything edible that you could possibly imagine, from succulent seafood and chocolate to American marshmallow fluff and peanut butter. I have been to the store on two visits to Berlin and have been wowed by the food floor both times.
The last time that I was there, however, I was aware of the history of the store. It was bought in 1927 by a Jewish family, the descendants of Hermann Tietz, the Jewish inventor of the German department-store concept. The family set out to expand and modernize KaDeWe, but those plans came to a halt a few years later after the Nazis’ rise to power in 1933. The Hitler regime forced the store to be sold to non-Jews. Other Jewish merchants around the country were subjected to an organized government boycott.
That all came to mind again this month when the German parliament, the Bundestag, passed a resolution condemning the international movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, BDS, as anti-Semitic. In the resolution, the German parliament noted that the BDS movement’s “don’t buy” stickers on Israeli products recalled the Nazi slogan “Don’t buy from Jews.” And the resolution added: “The pattern of argument and methods of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic.”
I live in Israel and would never support a boycott of the country. I also have to assume that some of those around the world who are attracted to BDS are indeed anti-Semitic.
But I think a clear distinction needs to be made between anti-Semitic activity and anti-Israeli activity. To the extent that BDS activists seek to undermine Israel because it is the nation-state of the Jewish people, they are anti-Semitic.
But opposition to specific Israeli policies, including, for example, Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank, is not. Broadly labeling
Israel’s critics as anti-Semitic does not serve Israel and also weakens our ability to call out anti-Semitism when it clearly does surface.
And even the term anti-Israel is used carelessly: opposing the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not make one anti-Israel. In the April Knesset election, I voted for the Blue and White party, which sought to defeat Netanyahu’s government. It is headed by three former Israel army chiefs of staff. The party received not only my vote but that of 1.1 million other Israelis.
I recently saw a headline that labeled Breaking the Silence, which is a left-wing group of Israeli army veterans who oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, as anti-Israeli. But opposition to the occupation does not make them anti-Israeli either.
Germany has a special historical responsibility to support Israel’s well-being. It is therefore entirely appropriate for its parliament to come down squarely and forcefully on Israel’s side, but I think supporters of Israel must not confuse activity that opposes specific government policies with anti-Semitism. The point of my column is not to debate whether the BDS movement is inherently anti-Semitic or not, but rather to remind those of us for whom Israel’s well-being is important that not all opposition to Israel’s current government is anti-Israeli and that certainly not all anti-Israel activity is anti-Semitic.
Some critics of Israel’s government, including myself, are critical because they love the country.
Cliff Savren is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Ra’anana, Israel.