We Asked

We asked: How is the Suppression of Palestinian Solidarity Unfolding in Czechia?

From the protest “Not in our name”, Prague, November 21, 2023. Source: ISM Czech Republic

Since the launch of Hamas’ Operation Floods of Aqsa and Israel’s bombardment of besieged Gaza, Palestinians and pro-Palestine activists in Europe have been facing unprecedented censorship, policing, harassment, arrests, gag orders, and threats. In compiling several reports from leftist activists in various locations in Europe, we aim to alert our activist communities across our region to the oppression that Palestinians and pro-Palestinian activism are facing. We also aim to show that this pattern of oppression relies on heavily exaggerating already-existing racist practices such as racial profiling, anti-migration policies, and on activating racist institutional practices such as police intimidation, arrest, and harassment. While these practices are not new, the scale at which they are multiplying is alarming.

— The LeftEast Editorial Board

What is happening in your country regarding suppression of pro-Palestinian expression or protest?

There are attempts to discredit the slogan “From the river to the sea”, a phrase which the Czech Interior Minister described as “over the edge”, but the level of suppression of pro-Palestinian views is far from that we see in France, for example. There have been roughly four demonstrations in the Czech Republic during the month-long conflict, and more are planned, but attendance is relatively low: from tens to several hundred demonstrators. The government in the Czech Republic therefore need not fear too much resistance in the context of events in Israel and Palestine.

The situation is worse in the Czech media, for example, in public radio, where I used to contribute. Opinions that are common in foreign media, for example, in the Guardian, tend to be labeled anti-Semitic in the Czech public space. In my experience, it is harder to write about Israeli crimes in the Czech Republic than about American crimes. My articles on this subject were published with considerable delay, and once an editor called me on the carpet and reprimanded me for quoting “Breaking the Silence” in the Guardian. This has never happened to me in the case of texts I wrote that were critical of US foreign policy.

What are the stances of the government and police?

The Czech government is one of the staunchest supporters of Israel and its occupation policy towards the Palestinians, which is also due to the historical ties between our country and Israel. Czech weapons played a fairly fundamental role during the conflict, which Israel refers to as “The War of Independence”. The Czech government not only strongly supports Israel diplomatically but also by sending military material. As early as the early 1950s, when it was clear that Israel would not become a satellite of the USSR, the Czechoslovak government came down hard on “Zionism” and even used the term against a number of people persecuted during the Stalinist trials. In 1967, during the Six-Day War, Czechoslovakia severed diplomatic relations with Israel. Relations were restored after the fall of Communism in 1989. There is general support for Israel in Czech society, and this includes the police force.

Poster for the International Day of solidarity with the Palestinian people. Source: ISM Czech Republic

How is the pro-Palestinian expression being defined as pro-terrorist, and are there other forms of protest (eg antifascist, for one) that are being targeted as well? 

As far as I know, pro-Palestinian views are not yet considered pro-terrorist in a legislative sense, but only verbally or on social media. Although there is no widespread persecution of pro-Palestinian demonstrators by the police, one demonstrator is being investigated by the police for wearing a sweatshirt with “1972 Olympics” written on it. Police are investigating whether this constitutes promotion of terrorism in connection with the Black September attacks against Israeli athletes. It is, of course, nonsensical to see the pro-Palestinian protests as promoting terrorism. However, there are obvious attempts by state authorities to delegitimize these demonstrations, at the very least, as the above-mentioned case shows.

How do you see the public discussion and the level and quality of media reporting? What are the key and/or critical points? 

The Czech media debate on the so-called Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long been heavily skewed in favor of Israel, using many myths. The narrative is simple: Israel is threatened by dark forces that want to destroy it and is portrayed as a victim.  Islamophobia, an element of classic Czech provincialism and xenophobia, and a fatal ignorance of the conditions in the occupied territories play a significant role in this. And this also applies to Czech media discourse. Czech society was more or less isolated under the previous regime and is not very accustomed to foreign stimuli. Islamophobia in Czech society has been deepened by the so-called migration crisis in 2015, and the Czech media played a large part in that. Although Czech commentators are writing extensively these days about the danger of anti-Semitism, this problem is not typical of Czech society. Anti-Semitism is not as serious a problem in Czech society as Islamophobia today. Czechs are well aware of the horrors of the Holocaust, as almost 80 000 Jews perished during the Nazi occupation. There is a great deal of education in contemporary society in this regard. However, the past regime stirred up anti-Semitic sentiments in connection with its fierce opposition to Israel. However, with the outbreak of the war between Israel and Gaza, anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise again in society.

How are groups managing to express sophisticated analysis of the situation that both supports Palestinian self-determination and avoids antisemitism?

There are several associations in the Czech Republic that have expressed solidarity with the Palestinians under occupation. Two of those that have done so for a long time. One of them is Not in Our Name! – For a Just Peace in the Middle East. The other one, Jewish Voice of Solidarity, is organized around a cultural and social website with the same name.  Five demonstrations have been called during the month-long Israeli bombardment. The positions of these two associations towards the so-called Israeli-Palestinian conflict are ones that I would sign onto myself. Any state is a target for legitimate criticism. And that is naturally more true of states that commit large-scale and long-standing violations of human rights.   Israel is a prime example of this. This criticism must not be conflated with traditional prejudices against Jews as an ethnic and religious group. After all, many Jews are harsh critics of Israel’s repression of the Palestinians and are in no way aligned with Tel Aviv’s position.

Daniel Vesely is a journalist interested in the political, economic, and cultural relations of Western developed countries with the countries of the global South. He has also written on the Middle East and Latin American countries.