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January 14, 2020 12:58 pm

Activists ‘Boycotting Not Only Israel, but Jews in Germany,’ Munich City Councillor Charges in Escalating Row Over Peace Conference Disinvite

avatar by Ben Cohen

German peace activists demonstrating against the arms trade in 2019 (illustrative). Photo: Reuters / Ralph Orlowski.

Anti-war activists in Germany were at the center of new allegations of antisemitism on Tuesday, as a row over the cancellation of an invitation to a Jewish member of the Munich City Council to address an annual peace conference in the Bavarian capital escalated once again.

Dieter Reiter, the mayor of Munich, told local news outlets that the decision by organizers of the International Munich Peace Conference to nix a speaking invitation to Marian Offman — the city council’s sole Jewish member  — was insulting.

“To put it mildly, I consider it an affront to the city if the city representative is rejected as a speaker,” Reiter told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Reiter confirmed that no other speaker would be sent as a representative of the council, pointedly adding that any future use by the peace conference of Munich’s prestigious Old City Hall, which dates back to the 15th century, was now “open to discussion.”

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The controversy over the canceled invite to Offman has festered for nearly a month. Thomas Rödl — the main organizer of the conference, which brings together activists from the peace movement as a counter to the annual Munich Security Conference — explained that Offman’s stalwart opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel was the reason for his being rejected as a speaker.

Accusing Offman of having “dealt aggressively and in a polarizing way with political groups and events that critically assess the policies of the government of Israel,” Rödl told Munich city officials in a letter last month of his worry that “these topics would dominate the event in the Old City Hall, which are not the subject of our program” should Offman address the gathering.

On Tuesday, Rödl doubled down on this position, telling the Taz news website: “We feared that Offman would make this an issue, and that our event would be disturbed by heckling and confrontation.”

Critics of the decision have questioned the organizers’ contention that the issue of Israel was absent from their agenda, pointing out that the Feb. 14 event at the Old City Hall was focused on the conflict between the US and Iran, with Prof. Katajun Amirpur — a scholar of Islamic studies who has defended the Iranian regime — set to be the main speaker.

They have also asked why a Jewish politician who opposed the BDS campaign was being denied the right to speak when, last May, parties from across the German political spectrum united in the Bundestag behind a resolution that denounced the BDS campaign as antisemitic.

Offman himself has been in no doubt that the reasoning behind the decision to disinvite him was antisemitic, telling Taz that what he had experienced was “quite clearly Israel-related antisemitism in its purest form.”

The city councillor emphasized that he had been invited to the peace conference as an official representative of the mayor of Munich. He said that he had not intended to mention Israel at the event, where his remarks would have focused on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.

It was therefore “obvious that the Jew Marian Offman was simply not wanted as a welcoming speaker,” Offman asserted. “Also because of his position on Israel, of course.”

Offman said that he remained shocked by the decision to rescind his invitation. “I would never have thought that this was possible today,” he told Taz. “Peace activists are boycotting not only Israel, but also Jews in Germany.”

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