Weaponising antisemitism against Palestine solidarity in Germany
The German state’s escalating war on pro-Palestine advocacy under the flimsy pretext of fighting Jew-hatred is steadily eroding civil rights in my country. But the movement is not backing down anytime soon.
An anti-Semite used to be someone who hates Jews. Now it is someone who Jews hate.
This aphoristic statement was made at a solidarity event I attended in London a few years ago by a Jewish activist whose name I sadly do not recall. Yet his words remain the most apt description I have come across to date of the semantic metamorphosis of a term once used to describe adherents of a racist ideology invented by Europeans, but which today is willy-nilly thrown around and hurled at anyone who dares to call out Israel’s own racist system of settler colonial apartheid in Palestine.
The aggressor’s superweapon of choice in this war between narrative hegemony and the truth is the infamous “Working Definition of Antisemitism”: invented by a Berlin-based, pro-“Israel” intergovernmental body that goes by the lofty name “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance”, the IHRA WDA is an adventurous reinterpretation of Jew-hatred as it regards any criticism of “Israel’s” human rights violations to be inherently antisemitic and is routinely used to delegitimise and punish pro-Palestinian solidarity.
Particularly for guilt-ridden Germans, whose understandably heightened sensitivities with regards to their country’s genocidal past all too often lead to counter-productive coping mechanisms (e.g. when under the banner of atonement for past crimes against Jews in Europe, they habitually turn a blind eye to present crimes being perpetrated by Jews in the Middle East), any authority that has the qualifying word Holocaust in it is automatically deemed trustworthy by my impressionable compatriots. Even if it is an outfit as questionable as the IHRA with its 35 exclusively European and Euro-settler colonial (US, Canada, Argentina, Australia and “Israel”) members.
That is why Germans have readily fallen for the group’s cheap trickery and are proving to be the most loyal disciples of this perfidious weaponisation of reimagined antisemitism, one that has set a dangerous precedent of Orwellian language-manipulation designed to satisfy the ideological demands of an apartheid state which Mohammed El-Kurd once described as a “Zionist death cult.”
Just how dangerous the situation has become for those engaged in pro-Palestinian advocacy in Germany, where the IHRA WDA is becoming more and more institutionalised, increasingly at the cost of constitutionally enshrined basic rights, is outlined in two recently published civil rights reports.
Attacking Palestine solidarity is unconstitutional
Much has been written in non-Eurocentric media about the report published on June 6 by the Amsterdam-based European Legal Support Center (ELSC): titled “Suppressing Palestinian Rights Advocacy through the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism”, is a comprehensive case-based study which documents how the adoption of the IHRA WDA has negatively impacted Palestinian solidarity in the UK and the EU (particularly Austria and Germany) between 2017 and 2022. What is unknown to many is that it came on the heels of another report released two weeks earlier which also paints a deeply worrying picture of arbitrary state repression against pro- Palestinian activism in Germany.
Published by ten German human rights groups, the annual Grundrechtereport (Basic Rights report) is a kind of keeping-them-honest counter-narrative to the report on the state of civil liberties in Germany presented each year by the Bundesamt für Verfassungschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution), the country’s leading domestic intelligence agency which is notorious for exaggerating threats from left-wing and Islamic militancy while downplaying the dangers posed by white supremacist, far-right extremism.
Dedicated to analysing “current threats to basic rights and key constitutional principles based on specific cases”, this year’s Grundrechtereport covers a host of issues ranging from the unconstitutionality of racial profiling and German weaponry going to war in Ukraine to how the German state infringes upon the democratic rights of groups as disparate as anti-fascists, climate activists and (pro-) Palestinian protesters.
Titled “No freedom of assembly for Palestinians? Berlin’s protest bans of May 2022.”, the chapter dealing with Palestine solidarity in the country was written by German-Palestinian lawyer Nadija Samour who alleges that the crackdowns on last year’s Nakba protests were in violation of paragraphs 1 and 2 of the constitution’s Article 8 which states that “[a]ll Germans shall have the right to assemble peacefully and unarmed without prior notification or permission. In the case of outdoor assemblies, this right may be restricted by or pursuant to a law.”
Treating as a crime what is not a crime
Samour criticises not only the racist mindset of the German police which views “the Lebanese, Syrian and Turkish diaspora” and Muslims, particularly teenagers and young adults, as a threat because they are “emotionalised and very difficult to influence”, thereby accusing them of a religio- cultural propensity towards violence (congratulations, Germany: you have evolved from the biological racism of your Nazi forebears to the cultural racism of a liberal democratic society), but also the one-sided determinations made by law-enforcement when banning pro-Palestinian protests.
But what is probably the most worrying revelation is the fact that acts which are in no way illegal are treated as criminal offences by the police: “‘anti-Israeli’, but not fundamentally indictable statements such as ‘From the river to the sea - Palestine will be free’” are enough to be deemed a threat and have one’s constitutionally enshrined right of assembly voided, the report says.
An example of this occurred just two days before its publication: at a Nakba Day rally in the southern city of Mannheim, an organiser was approached by an agent of the Federal Criminal Police’s Staatsschutz (state protection) division, which explicitly deals with politically motivated crimes, espionage and terrorism, and was handed a document containing a list of slogans that in the agency’s view fulfil the requirements of an initial suspicion of “Incitement of the masses”, a crime punishable with up to five years in prison under § 130 of the German Criminal Code.
At the top of the list which Free Palestine Mannheim posted on their Instagram account was “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea.” According to the group, one individual who had displayed a placard with that slogan during the protest was officially charged with the aforementioned offence.
Add to this the unprecedented police repression at Nakba Day rallies in the capital Berlin which saw peaceful protests being caught between the rock of being preemptively banned and the hard place of being violently attacked by riot police, it is safe to say that Palestine solidarity will sadly be a recurring feature in upcoming Basic Rights reports.
“Promoting an unapologetic discourse of resistance”
Amidst these truly dystopian developments, the Free Palestine movement refuses to capitulate to an ever-worsening status quo and is taking the fight for the protection of basic democratic rights from the streets to the courts. The endgame here: to shift the acceptable boundaries of what is allowed to be said against “Israel” in Germany and to finally “Free Palestine from German guilt”, as a recently launched campaign by the organisation Palästina Spricht (Palestine Speaks), puts it quite aptly.
Central to this refusal to acquiesce to the German state’s growing anti-Palestinian belligerence by fighting back through the judicial system is the legal case of the the Bundestag 3 for Palestine (BT3P), a trio of individuals who are suing the German parliament for its 2019 non-binding resolution that brandished the Palestinian-led global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign as antisemitic.
Initiated by a Jewish, a Palestinian and a white German activist (an undoubtedly intentional ethnocultural composition that is meant to project heightened credibility), the plaintiffs argue that the resolution has de facto become formal law and that on the basis of this law that isn’t one, fundamental rights are being trampled on, particularly the freedoms of expression and assembly.
Whether their case is successful remains to be seen. But Germany’s judiciary does have a history of reigning in legislative and executive authoritarianism in general and has more than once sided with Palestine solidarity in particular: the acquittal of BDS activists Majed Abusalama, Ronnie Barkan and Stavit Sinai by a Berlin court where they were being tried for disrupting a talk held at Humboldt University in 2017 by a then Knesset member who the group held responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity is one such prominent cause for confidence.
Following that legal victory, Barkan wrote in a Medium blog post that “our win is first and foremost in promoting an unapologetic discourse of resistance to the criminal Israeli apartheid regime in Berlin — the last standing bastion for Zionism.”
How long that bastion on the wrong side of history will be able to defend its losing position in the asymmetrical warfare by the mighty powers that be against grassroots Palestine solidarity in Germany, a movement which by the mere nature of its anti-oppressive cause will always occupy the moral high ground, remains to be seen.