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Germany: State bank freezes account of Jewish peace activist group

Berliner Sparkasse Bank demanded that Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East disclose list of members, including addresses
A rally on Nakba memorial day in May 2023 in Berlin, organised by Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East (photo provided by Jewish Voice)
A rally on Nakba memorial day in May 2023 in Berlin, organised by Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East (photo provided by Jewish Voice)

A state-owned bank in Germany has frozen the account of a Jewish anti-Zionist organisation and demanded the group disclose a list of all its members. 

Judische Stimme für gerechten Frieden in Nahost, or Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East, announced on Tuesday that its account with Berliner Sparkasse was frozen on 26 March with immediate effect. 

"In 2024, Jewish money is once again being confiscated by a German bank: Berliner Sparkasse freezes Jewish Voice account," Jewish Voice said in a statement on its social media platforms.

The group received a letter from the bank informing it that a full list of all members, including adresses, tax documentation, income statements and other internal documents, needed to be submitted to Berliner Sparkasse by 5 April to "update customer data".

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The letter, seen by Middle East Eye, further specifies that these measures are part of "regulatory provisions" that oblige Berliner Sparkasse to "check the data stored about our customers at regular intervals".

"It's a very creepy letter. You'd think they are working together with the state criminal police bureau," Wieland Hoban, chairman of Jewish Voice, told MEE.

Jewish Voice said it did not know whether there was government pressure behind the move, or if the decison was taken by the bank itself. 

The bank also threatened to terminate the contract and close the account if the required documents were not sent by the deadline. The freezing of the account was a "precautionary measure", the letter states.

"As a public corporation, the bank is bound by public law and may therefore not arbitrarily freeze bank accounts without providing an explanation, which it did not,"  Jewish Voice said in its statement.

The organisation hired a lawyer who has cofirmed that the blocking of the account is illegal and constitutes a breach of contract, Hoban said.

'Not in our name'

Jewish Voice was founded in Berlin in 2003 and was initiated as the German section of the umbrella organisation "European Jews for a Just Peace", established in Amsterdam in 2002. 

"We join with Jews in Europe and globally in asserting that the Israeli colonisation and occupation of Palestine and the oppression of Palestinian people is not carried out in the name and in the interest of Jews worldwide. Not in our name!", the website reads.

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Jewish Voice is one of the most prominent pro-Palestine associations in Germany and has in recent months helped organise protests, rallies, events and talks across various German cities. 

The organisation said the move comes amid backlash faced by the scheduled Palestine Congress, a three-day conference set to take place in April in Berlin. The event is financed by ticket sales and donations for which Jewish Voice has offered the use of its account. 

"By blocking our account, the state wants to deprive the congress of its funding," Hoban, who is set to be a keynote speaker at the event, told MEE.

"What happened shows how much the state wants to obstruct and harass the German Palestine movement. Political harassment and intimidation is everywhere. We have the state against us, but we will not be intimidated."

MEE reached out to Berliner Sparkasse for comment, but did not receive a reply by the time of publication.

In response to the freezing of the account, activists and journalists revealed that Germany's ultra right-wing party Alternative fur Deutschland also has an account at Sparkasse Berlin. 

Berlin's Palestine Congress

Berlin's Palestine Congress features a wide range of speakers, organises panels and workshops and provides a networking and organising space for the pro-Palestinian movement in Germany. 

"Together we will discuss the perspectives of our movement on the basis of a common resolution. Practical steps for actions in the workplace, university, school, art and culture will be discussed and decided upon," says the website of Palestine Congress.

'What happened shows how much the state wants to obstruct and harass the German Palestine movement'

- Wieland Hoban, chairman of Jewish Voice 

Keynote speakers include former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, Palestinian journalist and founder of the news outlet Electronic Intifada Ali Abunimah, and Palestinian doctor Ghassan Abu Sitteh, who spent 43 days performing operations in hospitals in Gaza.

Since its announcement, the event has come under heavy attack. Organisers have had their homes searched by police, and German media have called the conference an antisemitic "hate summit", a "congress of Jew haters" and a "shame" for Berlin. 

High-ranking Berlin politicians and members of the government, including the Berlin Senate, have been threatening to ban the event.

The Berlin senate is currently collecting and evaluating data, German State Secretary of the Interior Christian Hochgrebe announced. 

Lea Rosh, director of the Holocaust memorial support group, said: "We have noted with indignation that a congress is being planned that obviously does not serve critical discourse, but rather the networking of anti-Israel and antisemitic groups. We are calling for the event to be banned." 

Organisers of the congress have, however, said there is is no legal basis for a potential ban.

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