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UN experts publish letter criticising German anti-BDS law

Special rapporteurs make public criticism of legislation after receiving no response from Germany, noting that criticising Israel 'is not antisemitic'
A march calling for justice for Palestinians moves through the streets of central London on 11 May (AFP)

United Nations experts have published a letter they sent to the German government expressing dismay at the country's law targeting the pro-Palestinian boycott movement and affirming that criticising Israel “is not antisemitic”.

Five UN special rapporteurs made the letter public this week after a 60-day period of reply ended without a response from the German authorities.

In May 2019, the German parliament passed a motion condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as antisemitic.

The law - titled “Resisting the BDS Movement with Determination – Combating Antisemitism” - accused BDS of utilising "patterns and methods" used by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The BDS movement, which was founded in 2005 by Palestinian activists, responded by accusing Germany of "complicity in Israel's crimes of military occupation, ethnic cleansing, siege and apartheid".

In their letter, the UN experts wrote that the law “unduly interferes with the right of people in Germany to engage in political speech, namely, to express support for the BDS movement”.

'The motion may hinder the peaceful activities of human rights defenders, groups and organisations denouncing human rights violations as part of the BDS movement'

- UN experts

“We further express our concern that the motion may hinder the peaceful activities of human rights defenders, groups and organisations denouncing human rights violations as part of the BDS movement by shrinking the civic space available to them to express legitimate grievances,” they wrote.

In the October letter, the UN experts requested information on how the anti-BDS law complies with international human rights law, freedoms of opinion and expression, and the right to peaceful assembly.

The letter noted that a sentence aimed at protecting freedom of expression in Germany in relation to Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories was removed from the final version of the law.

“It is not antisemitic to criticise the government of Israel,” they also wrote.

“However, where there is evidence of antisemitic intent in campaigns, advocacy or practices, such acts must be condemned.”

Below is a copy of the special rapporteurs' letter:

In September 2019, the German city of Dortmund reversed its decision to hand a literary prize to the novelist Kamila Shamsie because of her support for the BDS movement.

Israel has tasked the ministry of strategic affairs and public diplomacy, a body that was founded in 2006 and coordinates with the interior ministry, to work against the BDS movement.

In 2018, it issued a list that included almost 20 international NGOs whose members will be denied entry into Israel, including the UK's Palestine Solidarity Campaign organisation.