Ban events on BDS in urban areas? The Munich City Council has violated freedom of expression, according to the Administrative Court.
KARLSRUHE taz | The BDS movement, which calls for a boycott of Israel, can be discussed in the city of Munich. That has now been decided by the Bavarian Administrative Court (VGH) in Munich. A conflicting resolution of the Munich city council violates freedom of expression.
BDS stands for “boycott, disinvestment, sanctions”. The international movement, founded in 2005, wants to force Israel to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories through political and economic pressure. The movement is controversial, not least because its ranks repeatedly question Israel’s right to exist. This is one of the reasons why critics accuse BDS of being anti-Semitic.
In December 2017, the Munich City Council decided by a large majority not to allow any more events in urban areas that “deal with, support, pursue or advertise” the BDS campaign. The left, the ÖDP, an NPD camouflage list and parts of the Greens voted against the decision.
Then a group of citizens around the retired physicist Klaus Ried planned a discussion about the city council resolution and applied for urban spaces. But the rooms – it was about the city museum – were refused by the city because the discussion would probably also “deal” with the content of the BDS movement.
City council resolution “not neutral”
Ried sued the denial of space, but the Munich Administrative Court ruled in 2019 in favor of the city. Freedom of expression was not violated, since any involvement with the BDS campaign – approvingly or critically – was prohibited.
In his appointment, however, Ried had success at the VGH Munich. This now saw the freedom of expression violated. The restriction is “not neutral in opinion”, because the city council decision was clearly based on a negative evaluation of the BDS campaign, according to the VGH ruling that the taz has received.
According to the judges, a general ban would only be possible if criminal offenses or disruption of public order typically occur at BDS events. However, it is not evident that such discussions regularly involve sedition, insults or similar crimes. It is also not evident, the judgment continues, that the BDS movement in Germany incites hatred against the local Jewish population and thus threatens public peace.
The judges expressly left open whether they would classify the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, as the Bundestag did in 2019. Because that’s not what matters in this procedure. Although anti-Semitic concepts violate human dignity and are therefore unconstitutional, according to the judges, the area of protection of freedom of expression also includes extremist, racist and anti-Semitic statements. The fact that the recognition of Israel’s right to exist has long been one of the maxims of German politics does not change the priority of freedom of expression, which the city must also observe when allocating state spaces.
The decision is not yet final. The Munich judges allowed the appeal to the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig. (Ref: 4 B 19.1358)