We Asked

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

Protest in Berlin, circa 2018. Photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy. Creative Commons license.

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? 

“How much longer do you think you can continue to speak this way in Germany” asks a person who wanted to remain unnamed at a public event by the Leftist Rosa Luxemburg Foundation on the 20th of October. The head of the foundation’s Ramallah office had described the decades-long violence of Israel against Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and 1948. She described the politics of Israel as the consequence of it being a settler colonial state that aims at taking land. The unnamed person quoted above meant exactly this: describing things concerning Palestine from a viewpoint that insists on examining all the facts might be less possible in Germany in the future. This is just a little glimpse of what is happening on the discursive level, that is,  when it comes to speaking about Palestine.

Standing up for Palestine had already been almost impossible in Berlin even before the most recent events. In Germany,  nearly all Palestine solidarity demonstrations and vigils have been banned so far. The police regularly issue statements banning these demonstrations until a specific date. Nevertheless, people continue to register demonstrations with the police. Frequently, the police department cancels these demonstrations only a few hours before they are meant to take place. This manifests a tactic of exhaustion: people plan and hope for the protest and then, once again they are put on hold. Some protests have been able to take place as part of larger demonstrations under other headlines, for example “The Global action day against neocolonialism.” 

Then, there are the many incidents, reported by people in Neukölln, (a neighborhood largely inhabited by communities from WANA) in which the police demanded the Palestinian flag be taken down from balconies, and other places. Hence, there are also attempts to control any use of private space that affects the ‘public look’ of the city.

The largest and rather unprecedented crackdown is currently taking place in schools. Even before the most recent crackdown, teachers who are not so knowledgeable about the question of Israel and Palestine have been rather unsure about how to deal with the topic. But what we see right now is far more systematic. The schools have become a tool for suppressing and controlling pupils who are of Palestinian heritage, other Arabic-speaking students, and students with a Muslim background. 

For example, after some students of Palestinian background  expressed solidarity with Palestine at a school in Berlin, and a teacher tried to ban such expressions using violent behavior, the Berlin Senate Department for Education, Youth, and Family issued a statement on the 13th of October which announced discriminatory measures to be implemented against students. Furthermore, schools can take educational and disciplinary measures as well as enact bans. Of particular concern is the fact that the Senate Administration even advises schools to call the police against children and young people for expressing solidarity with Palestine. 

This statement bans the following: 

1. Wearing relevant garments (e.g., the kufiya) visibly.

2. Displaying stickers with inscriptions like “free Palestine” or a map of Israel in the colors of Palestine (white, red, black, green).

3. Cries of “free Palestine!” and verbal support for “Hamas and its terrorism.”

How are activists responding to this repression? 

Currently, the ideological and repressive state apparatuses are on alert and working in an interconnected way, this includes the educational sector, media, and the police. The heavy and disproportionate violence of the state offers no option for releasing the anger of the large Palestinian diaspora. Why would the police do this instead of allowing them to blow off some steam by protesting? This repression likely comes from the fear of well-organized Diaspora communities outside the realm of the German state, who continue to mobilize. 

Only a few days after the October 13 letter from the Berlin Senate Department for Education, Youth and Family Affairs, teachers and pupils came together in a self-organized conference and shared with each other the incidents of discrimination and racism with regard to Palestine and discussed strategies of confrontation. This means that new spaces are popping up right in the middle of the ever more shrinking space the German state allows.

Kifaya-Focal Point Against Anti-Palestinian Racism for Pupils and Parents, is a network of pupils, parents, school teachers, students, researchers, lawyers, and others from the anti-discrimination and art scene. It was founded in order to support students, teachers, and parents confronted with discrimination at schools. They demand the withdrawal of the statement  from the Berlin Senate Department for Education, Youth and Family, and have furthermore formulated guidelines for students on their rights when communicating about Palestine-Israel. They also offer other kinds of legal support. 

At the universities that have issued one-sided statements, students and heads of the students’ groups have also gotten together to think about creative methods to show solidarity with Palestine. 

People are present on the streets to not only show solidarity with Palestine but also to actively resist the German state´s repressive policies and thus exposing the meaning of its “Israel solidarity”: water cannons set on peaceful protestors

Can you tell us more about the background of Pro-Palestine repression in Germany? 

Anti-Palestinian repression has been especially prevalent since the so called “BDS resolution” (official title: Resolutely opposing the BDS movement – combating anti-Semitism) of the German parliament was passed in May 2019 in which the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement was declared to be antisemitic. Even though the Parliament claimed in 2021 that no organizations that receive financial support from the state had lost their funding due to alleged support of the BDS campaign, there are numerous incidents in which individuals lost freelance jobs due to overcompliance from the employer’s side. 

Furthermore, individuals known for their stance in the fight against antisemitism, but who also had critiqued the BDS resolution, bore heavy consequences. For example, Peter Schäfer, the director of the Jewish Museum Berlin. In 2019, Schäfer was forced to resign after facing harsh critiques of a tweet made by the museum that suggested a newspaper article was “worth reading.” The referenced article spoke about a call from 240 Israeli and Jewish scientists who strongly criticized the Bundestag’s resolution.

In 2022 and 2023, Berlin enacted preventive blanket bans on demonstrations for Palestinian rights. Furthermore, particularly around the Nakba day on May 15, in both of these years, protests in solidarity with Palestine – whether registered by Palestinian individuals or their Jewish allies – were banned in the wake of huge racial profiling campaigns in the supposed areas of protest, especially around Neukölln. In 2023, “Palestinian looking” people were searched and in many cases fined or detained around Nakba day. In this context, the current massive crackdown in Germany comes as no surprise! 

How do you see the way forward? What must be done? 

As is well known, the German left is severely divided around the question of Palestine. In the period from the 1960s through 1980s, positions of solidarity with Palestine were rather prevalent on the German left despite heavy disputes. However, this changed starting in the 1990s, against the background of Germany’s reunification. Born of the aim of agitating against rising German nationalism, a new discursively influential current developed on the left: the so called “anti-deutsch” (anti-German) or “anti-national” position. Anti-deutsche take an explicitly pro-Israel position, claiming to be explicitly anti-antisemitic, hence conflating all Jewish life with the state of Israel; to them, being Jewish means being Israeli. They therefore consider any political claim that could “harm” Israel as the Jewish state to be antisemitic. This is even extended to “the right of return” for Palestinian refugees enshrined in the UN-resolution 194.

Recently, in an act of solidarity with Israel, anti-deutsche also suggested that the “current crisis” could be solved by European states taking in all inhabitants of Gaza. The anti-deutsch  position has not only translated into open support, for example, for the Gulf wars of 1991 and 2003, as they would allegedly lead to more security for Israel. At the same time, they have also supported open attacks on people wearing symbols of Palestine and the interruption of pro-Palestine events. Absurdly though, this anti-German left, by defending Israel’s right to exist and its defense by all means, hence also defend the position of the German state and appear very national. 

What is clear is that the German left needs to sit down, take a deep breath, and begin to to understand how the genocidal violence and authoritarian militarism abroad (meaning the Israeli state whose right to self-defense many of them are supporting) is causing an intensified authoritarian crackdown on racialized people and their allies in Germany. Be assured that this development will not be confined to Palestine-solidarity activism. As we clearly saw with the disproportionate crackdown on climate activism in Germany, the state’s crackdowns are encroaching on all spheres of leftist activism. Standing up for Palestine and for racialized people displaying Palestine solidarity in Germany appears today to be a core issue to fight the shrinking of our spaces and the expansion of state violence in Germany! This analysis should guide our activism on the German left. 

Ansar Jasim is a political scientist. She is interested in civil society movements and transnational solidarity from a theoretical and practical perspective with special focus on Syria and Iraq.