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Christine Buchholz MdB on discussing Palestine in Germany

My contribution to the discussion with Haneen Zoabi and Susan Neiman organized by The Left Berlin – Internationals working group


Question: How is the bombing of Gaza being discussed in Germany

My sympathy goes out to all those who have lost loved ones and friends in Israel and Palestine. In the current escalation, but also as a result of occupation and blockade over the last years.

At the same time, I know that grief and compassion are not enough to understand the recent escalation.

After the crimes of German fascism and the Holocaust, a left position can only be one that vehemently fights every form of discrimination, exclusion and racism. A position that consistently opposes antisemitism – in general (mostly antisemitic crimes come from the right) and also against attacks like those on Synagogues like in Gelsenkrichen- , anti-Roma Racism, anti-Muslim racism and every other form of racism.

A left position can only be a universalist one. That is, a position that defends human rights for all people – regardless of where they live.

A left position must be internationalist and emancipatory. It starts from the self-activity of people as the decisive means for social change.

A left position must always take as its starting point the critique of the actions of its own ruling class.

A left position has to be consistently against war.

The German government and media

The German government stands firmly by the Israeli government.

Heiko Maas tweeted on Thursday: “Hamas has caused the latest escalation by firing over 1000 rockets at Israeli cities. Those who act so recklessly also bear responsibility for the appalling humanitarian consequences. Israel defends itself because it has to.”

An Israeli friend wrote to me: “This is incitement to violence! Israeli media and politics openly quoting foreign politicians saying‚ ‘Israel’s right to self defence‘, is a carte blanche to bomb Gaza and refuse ceasefire talks.”

This is also the main position in mainstream media in Germany.

Positions in Die LINKE

There are different reactions in DIE LINKE.

There is a minority taking a similar position to Heiko Maas.

The main position is to take a balance between both sides and be against the violence of all sides.

This can lead to speechlessness in the face of the asymmetry of war.

I was positively surprised by the statement of the student association SDS, which took as its starting point the current escalation of forced evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and thus the structural violence that characterises the situation in Israel and Palestine. They wrote:

“As leftists, we are always on the side of the oppressed. We fight against all forms of racism, no matter who it affects. We want a good life for all in justice and peace. That is why we demand an immediate stop to the evictions as well as to the construction of further settlements. We demand a ceasefire. Because those who suffer from escalation are the populations in the whole region. We call for an end to discriminatory and racist laws. And we call for strengthening those who fight for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine. By not remaining silent, but by taking a stand.”

This is the right position to take. From here we have to criticize the support our government gives to the war.

Question: 2 years ago today (15th May), the German Bundestag passed a resolution against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. What are the various responses of Die LINKE to the Bundestag resolution?

The aim of this resolution is to silence criticism of the right-wing Israeli Government, to silence Palestinian voices and to silence critical jewish-Israeli voices.

It aims to silence criticism of the federal government supporting the right wing Israeli Government.

This is not forced upon the German government by something like a ‘Zionist lobby’. This is done in full consciousness by the German ruling class and it has to do with their own interest as an imperialist actor.

The debate about BDS was preceded by a resolution in the Bundestag against antisemitism.

In January 2018, the CDU/CSU, SPD, Greens and FDP introduced a joint motion on anti-Semitism in the Bundestag, which – in addition to positions that could be approved – blames Muslim migrants in particular for strengthening antisemitism in Germany. The motion also condemns the BDS campaign.

The AfD, which wants to hide its fascist wing and its antisemitism, was not attacked in the motion and could easily agree to it, since the motion assigned the main responsibility for antisemitism in Germany to Muslim migrants in particular.

For that reason, DIE LINKE did not vote in favour, but abstained, because it supported the other positions in the fight against antisemitism.

The initiative for the BDS motion clearly came from the right-wing spectrum of parliament. In April 2019 the FDP wrote a motion to condemn BDS, then the AfD put up a motion to ban BDS.

In May an inter-factional motion by the CDU/CSU, SPD, FDP and Greens under the title “Resolutely confronting the BDS movement – combating anti-Semitism” was passed by the Bundestag.

It claims that the BDS call “in its radicalism leads to the branding of Israeli citizens of the Jewish faith as a whole”. It says: “the patterns of argumentation and methods of the BDS movement are antisemitic”.

It adopts the IHRA’s working definition, which I have no time to go in to.

Position of Die LINKE

My position – and that of the majority of the left parliamentary group – was that this motion should be rejected.

My arguments:

  • It is inadmissible to denounce BDS per se as ‘anti-Semitic’.
  • DIE LINKE does not support the BDS campaign as other sister organisations do, but we respect it when people, out of criticism of the Israeli occupation policy, which has been condemned in numerous UN resolutions, support the BDS campaign.
  • Here, criticism and protest is directed against the policies of the Israeli government, and not against Jews. This is legitimate and must not be slandered in a blanket way.
  • Who benefits from equating criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism?
  • First of all, the right-wing government in Israel.
  • The space for open debate has been narrowed far more dramatically in Israel itself. But also in Germany.
  • Conversely, this also makes it more difficult for criticism of PA and Hamas corruption and policies to be articulated within the Palestinian population.

DIE LINKE voted NO, but it was a weak NO.

This is, because our own motion shared many of the false claims of the government’s motion.

I was against it, but this was a minority position.

It had a weaker formulation than the government motion, relating the criticism to Germany and not the international campaign, but continues to place BDS in the context of antisemitism.

I criticised this motion:

  • Because it promotes the thesis that the call for a boycott would “brand Israeli citizens of the Jewish faith as a whole“ and thus promotes antisemitism.
  • Because it did not express any criticism of the German government’s policy towards the Israeli occupation and settlement policy and human rights violation.
  • It had no reference to the policies of the right-wing Nethanyahu government other than a general call for a peaceful solution to the conflict and the two-state solution.
  • It did not have the intention of counteracting the desolidarisation with the Palestinians.
  • It was not an offensive but a defensive reaction to the attacks from the right.
  • And it was a fearful reaction, because it believed that one can thus evade the attacks from the right.

But far from it:

Effects of the BDS resolution

In the time surrounding the decision, there were several decisions that made the fatal effect clear:

  • Cancellation of the account at the Bank for Social Economy for “Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East”.
  • Peter Schäfer had to resign as director of the Jewish Museum.
  • The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation was forced to cancel an event at the Kirchentag Dortmund with liberation theologian Ulrich Duchrow, Kairos Europe and Farid Esack, South African Muslim liberation theologian, activist of the anti-apartheid movement and representative of the BDS movement in South Africa.
  • The event moved to a lawn outside the Kirchentag. Later the Kirchentag president apologized to Ulrich Duchrow.

But also:

  • The Scientific service of the Bundestag took the Resolution apart.
  • Excluding BDS-affiliated persons or groups from using the event solely because of expected undesirable expressions of opinion is therefore incompatible with Art.5 para.1 GG.28
  • In particular, the resolution of the German Bundestag of 17 May 2019 – as outlined above – also does not constitute a basis that could justify such a restriction”.
  • This position is even taken by the lawyer of the Bundestag in a court case against the Resolution as a reason not to deal with the lawsuit against it.

If this is the case, it proves my point from the beginning:

  • The aim of this resolution is to silence criticism of the right wing Israeli Government
  • To silence Palestinian voices and to silence critical jewish-Israeli voices.
  • It aims to silence criticism of the federal government supporting the right wing Israeli Government.

Answers to Questions:

The Party committee of DIE LINKE decided on a declaration that is not perfect, but better than the statement of Susanne Hennig-Welsow and Janine Wissler the day before.

The one-sided and unambiguous positioning of the political establishment on the side of the right-wing Israeli government is not the position, as I perceive it, among the broad population. Certainly there is a minority that criticizes Israel on antisemitic grounds. That needs to be countered. But my experience is that people are empathetic against war and oppression.

One clear change is the emergence of a new Palestinian left, anchored in the migrant movements of recent years – such as Palestine Speaks – and linking up with Jewish leftists organized in the Jewish Voice or the Jewish Federation. These organize together to protest war and occupation, anti-Muslim racism and antisemitism. These organizations have managed to build connections with other, especially migrant, organizations and thus are able to better discuss the question of Palestine. Already before the event, ‘Palestine Speaks’ had declared: “Just as we do not need the solidarity of those who abuse Palestine for their antisemitism, we do not need the solidarity of Turkish fascists who want to poison our struggle. We are absolutely in solidarity with the Kurdish liberation struggle.” Only the German left, with a few exceptions, stands apart from this new leftist movement.

The debate of the Jerusalem Declaration is very helpful. I also want to recommend the study by Peter Ullrich on the IHRA Definition that was published by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

What should we do now?

My suggestion is that the German Left takes these positions on the following points:

  • Supports the goals of Palestinian civil society – an end to the occupation and construction of settlements in the Palestinian territories, the removal of the separation wall, the recognition of equal rights for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and the right of return for Palestinian refugees supported by resolutions of the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council.
  • In Germany, die LINKE does not support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign, but rejects the characterisation of the BDS campaign as antisemitic and clearly opposes space bans and other forms of repression against the campaign, as this massively restricts freedom of expression in human rights discourse.
  • takes a firm stand against antisemitism, anti-Muslim racism, anti-Roma racism and any other form of racism and exclusion. It also does so in the case, when it identifies antisemitism in individuals acting within the BDS spectrum. The German Left bases its arguments on these statements or facts, not on their support for BDS.
  • openly and clearly says no to war

Finally I want to stress, that it is important to create spaces for common debate and action. And I invite you to join DIE LINKE, take part in our debates and make DIE LINKE better.

Appeal to the German Left – Solidarity with Palestine

Saying “the Middle East is too complicated” is no longer an option. It’s time to take a stand


Open Letter with 220 first signatories, mainly non-Germans living in Germany

As people of diverse ethnic and national identities living in Germany, we are appalled by the reluctance of many people to criticise the Israeli state, despite its manifold crimes. We call on our counterparts in the German Left to join us in our unambiguous support for Palestinians against Israeli aggression.

Residential houses in Gaza have been bombed by Israeli jets with a large number of fatalities, many of them children. The Al Jazeera and AP offices have also been destroyed in a targeted strike. And yet the German media – and much of the German Left – chose to focus on missiles aimed at Israel by Hamas.

The Israeli assault on Gaza was generally reported as retaliation, or as counter-strikes. There was barely any mention of what came before – the invasion of the al-Aqsa mosque at the height of Ramadan with stun-grenades, tear gas, and “skunk-water”, the armed settlers attempting to expel the Palestinian inhabitants of Sheikh Jarrahfrom their homes in East Jerusalem, and the Israeli lynch mobs teerrorising Palestinians first in Jerusalem, later in many other cities. These dangerous provocations have been encouraged by Benjamin Netanyahu in an attempt to save his leadership – and to evade a prison sentence.

Twelve people died from rockets fired from Gaza, including two children. Meanwhile in crowded Gaza, with its extremely limited or unavailable clean water, electricity, and medical services, at least 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, were killed.

In Berlin, peaceful demonstrations for Palestine were brutally attacked by the police. The internationalist block of the Revolutionary Mayday demonstration was similarly attacked. These attacks on racially othered people speak to a pattern of targeted repression. Yet the extent to which the police will be able to criminalise solidarity depends in part on our ability to mobilise people who don’t fit their racist stereotypes.

The Left knows about media bias, about police violence, and about racial profiling. Yet when it comes to Palestine, too often too many people state that the Middle East is “too complicated” an issue. While most people do not support the Israeli government, many are reluctant to speak out against Israeli violence or to express clear solidarity with the Palestinian people. Many choose instead to focus on the distorting narrative that equates criticising Israel with being antisemitic, even though this has been exposed as false and manipulative again and again by many Jewish people and organisations; including the recent Jerusalem declaration.

Nonetheless, we are witnessing an international movement of solidarity with Palestinians mobilising in huge demonstrations. Even in Germany, we have seen unprecedented mobilisations, with an estimated 15,000 people demonstrating in Berlin on 15 May – 10 times as many as attended the most recent significant Palestine demo seven years ago.

It is true that there have been attempts by Turkish nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists to hijack some demonstrations and chant anti-Jewish slogans. We condemn such language wholeheartedly. Yet the overwhelming majority of demonstrations – many supported or organised by Jewish groups – have clearly opposed antisemitism, as did a statement by Palästina Spricht which organised most of the biggest demos. This has not stopped the media from demonising all demonstrations as being antisemitic.

Any serious movement for social change is a movement that fights colonialism, But for too long, while the international movement has taken to the streets to defend Palestine, Germany has stayed at home, It is finally time to seize this moment to get on the right side of anti-colonialist history. Fight to ensure that Palestinians can be free, equal, live in peace, and thrive, in Palestine, in Germany, everywhere.

You can sign the original appeal and view the names of the signatories here.

Deutsche Version

Appell an die deutsche Linke – Solidarität mit Palästina

Als Personen verschiedener ethnischer und nationaler Identitäten, die in Deutschland leben, sind wir entsetzt über die Zurückhaltung vieler Menschen, den israelischen Staat zu kritisieren, trotz seiner vielfältigen Verbrechen. Wir rufen unsere Mitstreiter:innen in der deutschen Linken auf, sich uns in unserer eindeutigen Unterstützung für die Palästinenser:innen gegen die israelische Aggression anzuschließen.

Wohnhäuser in Gaza wurden von israelischen Kampfflugzeugen bombardiert, wobei eine große Anzahl von Menschen getötet wurde, darunter viele Kinder. Auch die Büros von Al Jazeera und AP sind durch einen gezielten Angriff zerstört worden. Und doch konzentrierten sich die deutschen Medien – und ein Großteil der deutschen Linken – auf die Raketen, die die Hamas auf Israel abschießt.

Der israelische Angriff auf Gaza wurde im Allgemeinen als Vergeltungsmaßnahme oder Gegenschlag dargestellt. Es wurde kaum erwähnt, was davor kam – die Invasion der al-Aqsa-Moschee auf dem Höhepunkt des Ramadan mit Blendgranaten, Tränengas und “Stinkwasser”, der Versuch bewaffneter Siedler, die palästinensischen Bewohner:innen von Sheikh Jarrah aus ihren Häusern in Ost-Jerusalem zu vertreiben, und die israelischen Lynchmobs, die Palästinenser:innen erst in Jerusalem, später in vielen anderen Städten terrorisierten. Diese gefährlichen Provokationen wurden von Benjamin Netanjahu gefördert, um seine Macht zu retten – und um einer Gefängnisstrafe zu entgehen.

Zwölf Menschen durch Raketen aus dem Gazastreifen ums Leben gekommen, darunter auch zwei Kinder. Einstweilen sind im überfüllten Gazastreifen, in dem sauberes Wasser, Elektrizität und medizinische Versorgung extrem begrenzt oder nicht verfügbar sind, mindestens 248 Palästinenser:innen, darunter 66 Kinder, getötet worden.

In Berlin sind friedliche Demonstrationen für Palästina brutal von der Polizei angegriffen worden. Der internationalistische Block der Revolutionären 1. Mai-Demonstration wurde in ähnlicher Weise attackiert. Diese Angriffe auf rassistisch ausgegrenzte Menschen sprechen für ein Muster der gezielten Repression. Doch inwieweit die Polizei in der Lage sein wird, Solidarität zu kriminalisieren, hängt zum Teil von unserer Fähigkeit ab, Menschen zu mobilisieren, die nicht in ihre rassistischen Stereotypen passen.

Die Linke ist vertraut mit der Voreingenommenheit der Medien, mit Polizeigewalt und mit Racial Profiling. Doch wenn es um Palästina geht, behaupten zu viele Menschen, dass der Nahe Osten ein “zu kompliziertes” Thema sei. Während die meisten Menschen die israelische Regierung nicht unterstützen, zögern viele, sich gegen israelische Gewalt auszusprechen oder klare Solidarität mit den Palästinenser:innen zu bekunden. Viele konzentrieren sich stattdessen auf die verfälschende Darstellung, die Kritik an Israel mit Antisemitismus gleichsetzt, obwohl dies von vielen jüdischen Menschen und Organisationen immer wieder als falsch und manipulativ angeprangert wurde; so auch in der jüngst veröffentlichten Jerusalemer Erklärung.

Nichtsdestotrotz erleben wir eine internationale Bewegung der Solidarität mit den Palästinenser:innen, die sich in großen Demonstrationen ausdrückt. Selbst in Deutschland haben wir beispiellose Mobilisierungen gesehen, mit geschätzten 15.000 Menschen, die am 15. Mai in Berlin demonstrierten – zehnmal so viele wie bei der letzten bedeutenden Palästina-Demo vor sieben Jahren.

Dabei hat es Versuche von türkischen Nationalisten und islamischen Fundamentalisten gegeben, Demonstrationen zu unterwandern und antijüdische Slogans zu skandieren. Wir verurteilen das entschieden. Doch die überwältigende Mehrheit der Demonstrationen – viele von jüdischen Gruppen unterstützt oder mitorganisiert – hat sich klar gegen Antisemitismus ausgesprochen, wie auch eine Erklärung der Initiative “Palästina spricht”, welche die meisten der größeren Demos organisiert hat. Das hat die Medien nicht davon abgehalten, alle Demonstrationen als antisemitisch zu verteufeln.

Jede ernsthafte Bewegung für sozialen Wandel ist eine Bewegung, die Kolonialismus bekämpft. Deutschland ist allzu lange zu Hause geblieben, derweil die internationale Bewegung auf die Straße gegangen ist, um Palästina zu verteidigen. Jetzt ist die Zeit gekommen, diesen Moment zu nutzen, um sich auf die richtige Seite der antikolonialistischen Geschichte zu stellen. Kämpft dafür, dass die Palästinenser:innen frei und gleichsein, in Frieden leben und sich entfalten können – in Palästina, in Deutschland, überall.

Du kannst den Appell hier unterzeichnen, sowie die Namen der UnterzeichnerInnen sehen.

Pints, Chips and Guacamole

How the UK Labour Party lost Hartlepool and is losing the Red North


The scene: Hartlepool in the North East of England, a constituency that voted 70% Leave in the Brexit referendum and historically votes Labour. It also elected a man in a monkey suit as mayor three times in a row. A by-election caused by the resignation of the incumbent Labour MP, who is facing sexual harassment allegations, is imminent.

Enter by parachute: Saudi Paul. Paul Williams, a People’s Vote (Remain) campaigner and recipient of an all-expenses paid trip to Saudi Arabia. After his lavish trip, Williams lauded Saudi Arabia as “modern and progressive”, hence the nickname ‘Saudi Paul.’ The only candidate on the party’s ‘long-list’ of potential election candidates, perhaps a nod to Saudi-style ‘democracy’ in the selection process. He’ll make a fine New New Labour candidate.


The UK Labour Party is now firmly in the grip of its right wing. The Leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has devoted his first year of leadership to purging the left of the party and agreeing with the incompetent and murderous Conservative government. The former left wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, remains unable to sit as a Labour MP although he is a member of the Labour Party and an MP. The party has lost many thousands of members and is rumoured to be struggling financially due to cuts in union funding, the reduction in membership fees, and money spent on expensive legal battles.

Starmer’s Labour has been floundering in the opinion polls for some time and struggling to offer a vision, or any actual policies, to the country. They just want you to know that they are not the dreadful other guy who articulated a vision of hope to millions of voters. It is probably not a great time for a by-election. However, play things right and it could be a platform from which to finally articulate a positive vision for the post-COVID UK. Spoiler alert comrades, they did not play things right.

Act 1: Election Campaign

The candidate, chosen from a Starmer’s office-approved long-list of one, was not local and as a prominent People’s Vote campaigner perhaps not the obvious choice for Leave-voting Hartlepool. Still, he looked respectable in a suit and was in tune with the leadership’s current (lack of) direction. Labour have held Hartlepool since 1974, how hard could winning here be? Surely it’s a place where anyone in a red rosette will win.

The campaign got off to a lethargic start. MPs were sent to campaign in Hartlepool due to an apparent lack of volunteers from the area. That awful Corbyn never had this problem. Local polling showed that the Conservatives looked likely to take the seat from Labour.

Enter centre stage: the Labour leader and his team of shiny blue suit-wearing minders. The plan was for the leader to be seen drinking pints of beer and eating fish and chips, like a working class person. So he did this over the course of a few days; photo ops holding pints, shovelling down fish and chips by the sea, awkwardly grinning near members of the public. He also embarrassingly tried his hand at boxing, down the coast in Hull. He pawed at a punch bag a few times and joked about wearing boxing gloves to debate the Prime Minister. Just one of the lads. Surprisingly, this patronising strategy did not cut through to voters.

Enter stage right: The Prince of Darkness himself; Lord Peter Mandelson (having been made a Lord for services to evil, or something). Remember him? Disgraced former MP of Hartlepool, stalwart Blairite, had to resign twice for corruption, good friend of dead paedophile Jeffrey Epstein? For some reason, the Labour Party thought it would be a good idea to dig him up and wheel him out during the election campaign.

The ‘guacamole’ in the headline refers to an incident during Mandelson’s time as Hartlepool MP where he reportedly mistook mushy peas (a northern takeaway staple) in a local chip shop for guacamole (I like guacamole but it doesn’t really go with pie and chips). This is not a man in touch with the local community!

I assume that by summoning this Blairite relic the Labour leadership hoped to repeat the success of the early Blair years, forgetting that it is no longer 1997 and Blairism is no longer popular (see UK election results of 2010 and 2015, and centrist parties across Europe). The Third Way is proving to be a dead end. Mandelson once said of working class Labour voters that they can be taken for granted because “they have nowhere else to go.”

The outcomes in Hartlepool and other former Labour Heartlands prove him wrong. Mandelson is now part of leader Starmer’s inner circle of advisors so we can look forward to seeing more of him and his doomed attempts to recreate New Labour. I doubt the electorate will cherish this opportunity as much as we’re expected to.

Interval: Time for a pie and a pint, fellow working class lads. Hold the guac.

Act 2: Election Result and Aftermath

On 6th May 2021, Labour lost the by-election to the Conservatives, who took 51.9% of the vote; a huge increase on their previous 28.9%. Labour immediately sought to explain this catastrophic defeat as a COVID ‘vaccine bounce’ for the government candidate, or due to the lingering demonic influence of previous leader Corbyn. The candidate, Saudi Paul, said that no one had mentioned Corbyn during canvassing, but Mandelson made the opposite point that a lot of people had mentioned Corbyn during canvassing. Hard to know who to trust here.

The by-election took place at the same time as the local council and mayoral elections in England. The results in the local elections were also bad for Labour, it lost a total of 327 seats and control of 8 councils, including Durham County Council which had been Labour-run since 1925. The argument for the ‘vaccine bounce’ doesn’t work here as a lot of council seats were lost to the Greens and Liberal Democrats, who campaigned to the left of Labour. Or at least offered some reasons to vote for them. Where Labour did well, it was due to candidates who had stood for something more than pints and flags, such as Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester.

Starmer said that he took full responsibility for the poor election results, then promptly sacked deputy leader, Angela Rayner, from her positions as Labour Party Chair and National Campaign Co-ordinator. Starmer was unable to sack her as deputy leader because that is an elected position, but I bet he wanted to. Rayner is a better politician than Starmer, not more principled, but more experienced and with a loyal group of supporters in the Parliamentary and wider Labour Party, and she was not having it.

Rayner’s team started briefing the press about the sacking and the poor relationship between her and Starmer. Shadow cabinet members were then sent on TV to insist that she wasn’t being sacked, but rather promoted. In an apparently panicked move from Starmer, Rayner was given 3 new shadow cabinet roles. As Starmer supporters liked to say, at least before he was doing so badly, thank goodness the grown-ups are back in charge!

Critic’s Review

I can’t see a way forward for Starmer’s Labour Party, in the North or elsewhere. Social Democratic parties who try to tread the neoliberal centre ground are not doing too well across Europe. The term ‘Pasokification’ applies here. In a recent TV interview, Labour’s shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, was asked to explain what the Labour Party stands for. He replied that he could not as it was confidential!

The current Labour leadership appear to stand for nothing. Or if they do stand for something, they’re not about to tell the likes of us what it is. They have no vision to communicate, no principles to uphold. They are waiting on their focus group results. To see which way the wind is blowing. They offer voters a vacuum; a void. With these uninspiring characters at the helm, Labour as a force for positive change is done for.

I’d urge UK socialists to get active in social movements, trade unions, and their communities. Recent anti-racist direct action in Glasgow prevented two men from being taken away in an immigration raid. It is through this sort of action we can effect positive change, rather than waiting for the beige Sir Keir and his shadow cabinet of empty suits to do it for us.

Anger and Dismay in Palestine

Berlin Bulletin No. 189 May 23 2021


It’s no great surprise that most German media, reporting on the Israel-Palestine war, was one-sided, bigoted and misleading. There were samples of fairer treatment at first, showing the demolition of Palestinian homes, the shutdown of a meeting place for young people, the far-right gangs marching in East Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs,” and the invasion of the al-Aqsa Mosque at the height of Ramadan with stun grenades, tear gas and “skunk-fluid” spray. There were even timid hints that Netanyahu’s provocations aimed at distracting attention, gaining popularity and avoiding a prison term, even if it led, as he certainly knew and planned, to a major round of violence.

However, the fairer reports dwindled as the media returned to “Israel’s need for self-defense, the right of every country” – with no mention of any similar Palestinian need. It equated rockets fired from Gaza, or those ten percent which pierced Israel’s protective “Iron Dome” and then wreck homes and cause deaths, with the constant, hour-long torrents of death and destruction blasted by one of the strongest military forces in the world into a small, densely populated confine, which could in no way deter the fighter-bombers and missiles, the drones circling low, night and day, over homes and families, for Gaza had no “Iron Domes” sent over by US arms producers. The media seemed largely to accept the huge disproportion, showing the mourning and heartbreak when a Jewish child was tragically killed by a rocket, but remaining almost silent about Palestinian children.

Ibrahim al-Talaa, 17, told of feeling it was the end for himself and his family.

“The Israeli warplanes bombed many different places in my area with more than 40 consecutive missiles, without issuing the prior warnings they used to issue in the past three wars. The sound of the bombing and shelling was so terrifying that I cannot describe it… As the bombs fell heavy and close, the house was shaking as if it would fall on our heads… My nerves collapsed and I was about to cry out, but I tried to restrain myself, just to give my family some strength. I saw my 13-year-old sister crying in silence. I hugged her for a while trying to cheer her up.”

Maha Saher, 27, a mother of two daughters, Sara, 4, and Rama, five months old, told how, during the heaviest of attacks, her daughter Sara wept uncontrollably, asking for her father to return home.

“I don’t fear death itself. But I fear to lose one of my children – or they to lose me…I fear they will target my apartment while we are sleeping, as they did with the al-Wehda street massacre.”

Israeli warplanes had bombed three houses on al-Wehda street on Sunday, killing 42 civilians, mostly women and children. “They then destroyed the street itself to prevent the ambulances and fire trucks from reaching the destroyed buildings and wounded people,” she said.

It was Al Jazeera which quoted one father: “We awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of the bombardment… Now only two of our family are alive. 14 members, women, children and men, are gone. Six are still under the rubble.”

For much of the world, the sixty-six dead Palestinian children remained little more than numbers, like the daily count of new COVID cases. There almost seemed to be media rules for one-sided reporting.

Ongoing descriptions of conditions in Gaza were equally rare. Unlike Ashgerod or Bathsheeba in Israel, there was a water shortage, an almost total lack of clean water. We were not told what three or less hours of irregular electricity meant for people with COVID whose oxygen containers need electricity – or incubator babies when generators stopped working. And aside from the days and nights of bombing, how many were told of the decades of enforced shortages, joblessness, isolation, hopelessness and abiding fear in Gaza?

Such one-sidedness might be blamed only on Israel for not permitting journalists to enter Gaza. For the few already there, at Associated Press and Al-Jazeera, bombs aimed at their building, after a 60- minute warning, destroyed equipment and prevented further pictures of Gaza from their rooftop.

However, German media bias is part of a larger picture with a long history.

Back in 1949 the newly-founded Federal Republic of Germany soon grasped that the worsening Cold War enabled it to welcome back all but the most notorious Nazis in every field: schools, courtrooms, the police, universities, top military posts, the diplomatic service, all political levels, even as chancellor or president and, in the most essential, basic power positions, the same economic titans who built up Hitler and fattened themselves on war profits achieved with mass slave labor.

But there were two conditions for acceptance in the western community of nations. One was loud espousal of democracy and freedom, with elections and a variety of political parties, as long as they were not too conspicuously pro-Nazi – and safely supported western free-market rule.

The second obligation was a repeated, wordy repudiation of anti-Semitism and total approval of anything said or done by the government of the newly-founded Israel.

Germany has held to this exercise in bonding. A key episode was the Eichmann Trial in 1961. Israel refrained from any finger-pointing at active former Nazis and Shoah-leaders, most notably Hans Globke, known as “the second most important man in West Germany”. In gratitude, Globke’s protective boss Konrad Adenauer agreed to help finance and build up Israel militarily, with 2 billion marks for a starter.

This policy, praised as admirable repentance, cemented the West German rebirth as an industrial, political, military bastion and attack base against the “Bolshevik East”. However, the obligations remained. Did Israel support Guatemalan killer troops with Galil rifles und Uzi machine guns, and all bloody dictators in Central America with weapons and surveillance equipment? Was it eagerly supportive of apartheid South Africa, also in weapons development? Was it the last remaining supporter in the UN of Washington’s illegal blockade of Cuba after even semi-colonies like Palau backed away? Take care! While progressive Jewish journalists in Israel opposed their reactionary government, the mildest utterer of criticism in Germany was quickly condemned as an anti-Semite! Or if Jewish as a “self-hater!” Ignore that rule at your peril – of almost total censorship and ostracism!

This applied most strictly to the expanding settlement of the West Bank. Roads shut down for Palestinians, with roadblocks and checkpoints at every turn, ever smaller shares of limited water supplies, family ties between Arabs in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank restricted by walls and Israeli soldiers, West Bank children jailed, even tortured for throwing stones, homes with panicked children smashed into at all hours and the recurring bombing of Gaza recalling World War Two (or Korea and Vietnam) – it was all defended, even welcomed by nearly every political leader, publication and journalist as “necessary self-defense of our eternal friend” – through thick and thin.

As the polemics against “Palestinian terrorists” increased, whose violent or non-violent rebellion against occupation justified every countermeasure, I turned, always a history buff, to a speech by President Andrew Jackson in 1833, when he asserted that the Indians “…established in the midst of another and a superior race… must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear.” They soon did; the U.S. Army moved 60,000 Indians to arid territory west of the Mississippi, with thousands dying in the “Trail of Tears.” Are there no parallels today?

In November 1868 George Custer and his Seventh Cavalry attacked the Cheyennes and Arapahos and slaughtered 103 warriors, plus women and children. He reported “a great victory … the Indians were asleep… the women and children offered little resistance.” He boasted: “The Seventh can handle anything it meets … there are not enough Indians in the world to defeat the Seventh Cavalry.” We know what happened to him.

No, Hamas is not modeled after Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse. But don’t Custer’s boasts find echoes in loud words heard in the Knesset? And again we must face the question: Which are the terrorists?

In Pontecorvo’s film The Battle of Algiers about the fight for independence after 130 years of French oppression, explosives concealed in baskets kill innocent French civilians. To a bitter rebuke, the Algerian response was: “Give us your bombers and you can have our baskets.” Desperate desires for freedom and equality, with no available peaceful response to torture and repression, lead almost inevitably to violent responses – anti-apartheid bombs in South Africa or the explosive derailment of German trains, even with civilians, by antifascist French partisans. Rockets from Gaza were nasty and bloody, but what else was available against fighter-bombers? And with 12 Israelis killed, two of them children, but almost 250 Gazans, 66 of them children, I must again ponder: “Who are terrorists?”.

The world is grateful for the ceasefire, but the price for it was heavy. Beyond the tragedy of any human loss or maiming on either side, airstrikes in Gaza hit 17 hospitals and clinics, wrecked the only Covid testing laboratory. Fifty schools were damaged or closed, three mosques were leveled and 72,000 Gazans lost or had to leave wrecked homes. Water, electricity, sewage disposal are now almost hopelessly crippled, far worse than before.

As those eleven terrible days ground on, the German media (as in the USA and elsewhere) found it increasingly difficult to distort or ignore what was really happening. More and more people questioned the almost total support for Netanyahu by every party except the LINKE (and even it was sadly split on some aspects). As a result, as if by command, the focus was altered. It was not Gaza’s rockets that became Germany’s main enemy but again anti-Semitism.

Of course it existed and, as always, had to be fought, relentlessly, as part of a century-long struggle. Anti-Semitic attacks or actions have indeed increased in recent years – committed mostly by Germanic Nazi-types who hate Muslim “foreigners” as much or more than they hate Jews. In fact, “anti-Islam” attacks were in the majority, if only because so many more Muslims live in Germany than Jews. But also, perhaps, because there are neo-fascist nests ensconced in the ranks of the police, the armed forces – even in some of the high positions which fascists wholly dominated in postwar years.

Of course, Palestinian desperation inevitably spread to Germany among sons, daughters or cousins of those killed or again homeless in Gaza or suffering under repression in the West Bank and Israel.

A week ago I took part in a demonstration to oppose the bombing of Gaza, alongside many thousands, mostly young Palestinians and other Arabs living in the West Berlin borough of Kreuzberg. Anti-Israeli feelings prevailed in countless signs, most of them hand-made on cardboard. But I saw and heard not one example of an anti-Jewish nature, I saw no crossing of the line to racism. The atmosphere was determined but peaceful; the sunny weather lent almost a picnic aspect.

After two hours my feet gave out and I left for home. Then, in the evening news, I learned that at the end of the march some group had indeed shouted anti-Semitic slogans. This caused the police to step in – hard. Or was it because the huge crowd, though dutifully wearing the obligatory face masks, could hardly keep to full social distancing in the crowded streets? So the march, one of three in Berlin alone that day, ended in violence and many arrests. As for the shouters, it seems that some may have been far-right Turkish groups. Long experience also leads to a suspicion that they included, in part, some hastily recruited provocateurs, so at least the closing minutes of what had been a peaceful demonstration would provide the media and the politicians just what they wanted. They did. The sober, fair description of the event by a journalist on Berlin’s official TV channel was quickly deleted – and replaced by an amazingly abject apology for “biased reporting.”

This disturbed march became the centerpiece of a campaign fed by excited reports about stones thrown at a synagogue, anti-Semitic smearing of a few plaques, burning of Israeli flags in two cities, a punch to someone wearing a kippa. All nasty, but not very hard proof of what the media shouted: “Alarming Antisemitism on the Rise!!!” Yet under the klieg lights the politicians outdid themselves in their warnings, while always adding their defense of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state – but now tending to avoid direct mention of Benjamin Netanyahu. Who could admire him?

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the right-wing Christian Social Union, notorious for his efforts against refugees and immigrants, demanded “the full force of the law” against anti-Semitism.

Annalena Baerbock, the Greens’ candidate to be next German chancellor, interrupted her attacks on détente with Russia to visit a synagogue and declare that “I am shaken to hear that Israeli flags are being burned in Germany…In these difficult hours we stand firmly at the side of Israeli women and men…Israel’s security is part of German state reality“.

Armin Laschet, her Christian Democratic rival in the race for top office, not wanting to be outdone, demanded that the flag of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) be forbidden in Germany – although this secular, pro-Marxist organization rejects anti-Semitism.

A counter-demonstration was quickly organized at the Brandenburg Gate, where more political leaders added their anxious voices, denouncing burnt or torn flags and stones and again stressing Germany’s unalterable support for Israel’s right to protect itself. The dead children of Gaza went unmentioned.

It was a professor with Palestinian background who noted sadly: “I believe it is time for the people of Germany and the German elite to stop making Palestinian children in Gaza pay for the crimes of the German people against European Jews.” No halls were available for people with such ideas.

As for those Arabs demonstrating in Berlin; most of them, born here, could not be deported. But they had better watch their step! I could not help but recall the months after Pearl Harbor and how Japanese-Americans were depicted – and how they were treated! Or some Asian-Americans today!

So many people confuse the views and policies of some fanatics and some leaders, whether fundamentalist Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists, with large groups of very varied human beings in each category. To counteract this, in Germany, I would offer two suggestions – though without much hope of great success (except perhaps on a local scale):

Why couldn’t the Jewish Community in Germany state its disavowal of all repression of Palestinians in the West Bank, in Israel and in Gaza, its rejection of the accelerated settlement of West Bank areas, the discrimination of the Arab language within Israel, and the isolation and suffocation of Gaza – all policies of Netanyahu, his Likkud and other parties – and thus make clear that these are not “Jewish policies” and should not be Israeli policies. It could then call for a united front of both Jewish and Muslim groups and people in Germany to oppose all forms of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or attacks against anyone because of color, religion or cultural differences. This might be the best way to oppose the sinister elements that have troubled Germany for so long, most terribly when in control, and still sinister when underground. Such a mass coalition could be a model for all of Europe and beyond.


Previous Berlin Bulletins, a bio, photo and a list of my books, in English and German, are available at:

Interview with a Chilean activist

Following massive protests in 2011 and 2019, 78% have Chileans have voted to remove Pinochet’s constitution


Interview with Rafaela Apel Marcel in Los Molles, Chile

Hi Rafaela. Could you start by telling us who you are and where you are currently politically active?

Hi Phil. I am a Chilean-German and am 38 year old. I was born in Germany, grew up in Chile, then moved to Germany as a teenager. Now I’m in Chile again with my own teenage daughter.

Currently, I’m part of a small collective called “Cabildo Ciudadano” (Citizen Assembly) in Los Molles, a small village at the central coast where I live. The collective was originally created to organize just that, citizen assemblies, in order to start writing a new constitution, as what we are “just” citizens and not experts. But the news that yet another huge and ugly construction project was underway, buildings with hundreds of apartments to be placed just in front of the beach and just over the wetlands around the water channel between the mountain and the sea, forced the collective to focus on stopping this.

It is not just that the wetlands that will be destroyed with all their amazing flora and fauna. Hundreds of new apartments with all those summer visitors will also worsen the problem of water supply, drainage and electricity in the village. All those housing companies care about is money and they go on with their construction in spite of repeated protests and partial legal achievements of the citizen organizations in Los Molles.

You grew up as the daughter of Chilean political prisoners who fled to Germany. A couple of years ago, you returned to Chile. Why did you return, and was Chile what you expected it to be?

Yes, my parents were Communist Party members in the time of Allende and fled to Germany from the subsequent military dictatorship. They met for the first time in the city of Frankfurt-Main, where they remained politically active in solidarity with the Chilean people.

I was born in Frankfurt and my parents returned to Chile with me in the mid 80’s as Pinochet’s government started to give signs of decay. So I grew up in Chile and returned to Germany with my parents when I was a teenager. The first time they fled from the dictatorship, the second time they moved to Germany seeking better job opportunities.

Now, after 20 years living in Germany, explaining why I returned to Chile is a bit difficult. I think there are many reasons. My parents moved to Chile first, and being close to my parents is surely one reason. Generally, I think I put on my thinking cap and decided that the advantages of living in a country with this overwhelming nature and warm people outweighed the economic difficulties I partly knew that I would have. After all, living by the ocean and/or the mountains and having many friends also means a better quality of life.

On the other hand, after 20 years of living in Germany, I became very accustomed to having a living wage and the basic services ensured for me and my daughter. I now realize that I idealized a bit the things that I missed from Chile. I knew, of course, that life was harder in Chile than in one of the most prosperous countries of Europe, and I thought I was ready to face that fact. But coming back has actually been much more difficult than I expected.

Living in a rural area, the chances of getting a job contract in my profession are very low. Also, only now am I getting a sense of the living conditions in which most Chileans live and I am starting to really internalize the anger and impotence people feel here, even though I still don’t count as one of the poorest.

It’s like absolutely no service is functioning well while you work too hard long hours for what does not even amount to a living wage, all the while the wealthy are hoarding unimaginable sums of money, not only through exploitation, but also from stealing directly from people’s resources. Here you get a permanent sense of injustice. It’s like every day, one way or the other, you get a reminder that capitalism is an unjust society.

How much of the old Pinochet régime remains?

The constitution of 1980, written under Pinochet, is the most significant element remaining from the military dictatorship, because it preserved and guaranteed its ideological bases beyond its own temporal span.

In 1980 the AFP system was established which is a pension system run by investment funds and which came as a market friendly alternative to the redistributive and solidary character of the previous one. The AFP system requires high contributions and at the same time provides miserable pensions. It consists of personal and forced savings in individual accounts, which are not ultimately a solidarity fund.

Alejandra Matus, Chilean journalist and writer dedicated to the spread of information about human right abuses under Pinochet’s regime, explains in her book “Myths and Truths of the AFP” how that system makes it impossible to get decent pensions. Citizens have protested nationwide with the movement called “No+AFP” (AFP no more).

In 1981 Pinochet privatized the institutions of higher education which were previously free of charge. Neither the 2011 massive student protests nor the new leftist political organizations that emanated from them have been able to substantially change that.

This same year the “Isapres” were created, which are health insurance institutions run by the private sector to finance health care, which the majority of Chileans can’t access because of its high charges. For the rest of the people there is the state run FONASA which collects 7% of employees’ monthly income.

Since 1939 abortion under certain conditions was legal, safe and free, but in 1989 Pinochet criminalized the interruption of pregnancy under any circumstance. By the end of 2017 abortion was decriminalized, but only on three grounds: rape, risk of the mother’s life and unviable pregnancy.

Finally, the Chilean police institution with its military character and constant human right abuses is another thing remaining from Pinochet’s era.

How has Chile been affected by the “pink tide” in Latin America?

In Chile there was no “pink tide”, meaning the wave of somewhat progressive governments like Venezuela. With all the difficulties and failures of those governments, the fact that a huge amount of people, at least for a while, were participating in government decisions in a democratic way, makes them totally different from what happened in Chile under Bachelet’s presidency.

Her so-called “center left” government was the continuation of a coalition named “Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia” (Coalition of Parties for Democracy), a conglomerate of center left and center right parties that took power after the 1988 national plebiscite in which the majority of Chileans rejected Pinochet’s rule. Their objective was to reinstate democracy in Chile, and it is true that mass incarceration and the torture under Pinochet stopped, but they essentially continued Pinochet’s legacy and the whole project of establishing neoliberalism in Chile.

What the governments of the Concertación actually did was to administer, under the flag of democracy, the neoliberal project of the so-called “Chicago Boys”, a group of Chilean economists working with Pinochet who sought to drastically implement deregulation, privatization, and other free market policies.

Bachlet’s second term followed the massive student protests of 2011 and promised a series of changes, among which was the drafting of a new constitution and “free education”. But her government did little. Indeed, an example of their strategy to administer democracy under the motto “changing everything to change nothing” is the way in which they handled the 2011 student movement. Instead of providing free and quality education for all, the government limited itself to granting individual students a kind of loan for education, for which poor students had to apply.

So, after bureaucratic inspection, some poor students “won” their entry into university, which is obviously far from the student movement’s demand of education as a basic right. Out of the profound critique and the comprehensive proposals student leaders laid on the table, the government made nothing more than to grant a miserable coupon.

Bachelet suppressed further student protests and continued the repression of indigenous communities in southern Chile using Pinochet’s anti-terrorist law. In addition, the largest labor union federation (CUT) associated and collaborated with Bachelet’s coalition, with the Chilean Communist Party itself joining the government.

Looking from abroad this could be seen as a “progressive” government, given that the left is somehow in it, and indeed many people abroad thought that Bachelet was making significant changes, but the reality looks very different.

Can you tell us something about the recent protests in Chile which started as a protest against transport prices?

As young students heard the news that a subway journey would cost 30 pesos more, instead of responding with the typical submissive reaction they knew from their parents, they opted for civil disobedience and mass fare-dodging. They refused to continue seeing their parents pay more and more transportation fees while they didn’t even earn enough to pay other basic needs like education itself or health care, or sometimes even food. The minimum wage is at $320.000 pesos (360 Euros) although the prices of basic needs are partly comparable to European ones. Thus, having more than one job and going into debt is sometimes the only way to survive.

So student protests were seen by the wider population as totally justified and protesters went to the streets to support the children, among which were also their teachers. The protest rapidly transformed in a nationwide uprising, which was heavily repressed by Piñera’s government with some dozen deaths, thousands of young people arrested, some of which are still today in “preventive arrest” without a trial; people who lost their vision in one or both eyes as a result of pellets shot by police directly in their faces; scenes of torture in police and even in metro stations, etc.

One of the most significant slogans of the protest was “It is not about 30 pesos, it is about 30 years”, alluding to the decades of the so called “transition to democracy”, in which the savage neoliberalism implanted by the dictatorship was strengthened by both conservative and so called “progressive” or “center left” governments AFTER the official end of dictatorship in 1990.

Chile is currently voting for a new constitution. Why?

At least since the 2011 massive student protests, there is a broad awareness among citizens about the need to change Pinochet’s constitution. Throughout the constitution, in every crucial issue the freedom of the market is favored over everything else — it is designed to make socialization of basic human needs impossible.

So every time social movements gain enough support to advance the cause of winning universal access to a service, the government in place brings the amendment proposal to the constitutional court, to which the court systematically responds by declaring the proposed amendment “unconstitutional”. For this reason, the drafting of a new constitution became a key demand during the 2019 unrest.

On November 15 of the same year, the leadership of all political parties, except for the Communist Party, signed the “Agreement for Social Peace and a New Constitution” – completely behind the backs of the people and even of their own party bases. This Agreement established obstacles for the Constitutional Convention.

The most criticized restriction has been the rule that established a quorum of ⅔ of the convention’s delegates for an article to be approved. For the opposition, this rule would make significant changes impossible, since just ⅓ of the delegates would be sufficient to have veto power, that is, to stop the approval of any discussed article. But there were also other restrictions, like the prohibition of revising international treaties or the character of the Republic, mainly undermining the Convention’s autonomy and sovereignty.

The referendum consisted of two questions: Do you want a new constitution? Agree/Disagree – and – Which type of organ should write the new constitution? Mixed Convention or Constitutional Convention.

78% of the voters were in favor of getting rid of Pinochet’s constitution and in favour of people’s ability to directly choose the totality of the constituent members in a “Constitutional Convention”, over the proposal of a “Mixed Convention” with a fifty-fifty share of popularly elected members and current members of the congress.

The constitutional elections in Chile have seen massive wins for independents. Who are these independents and what do they stand for?

I think the vote for independent candidates is a direct reflection of the general crisis of the political system, a crisis whose effects we have seen worldwide every now and then since 2011, with protests and occupations demanding, or better said, trying to establish more effective forms of participation in political decision making.

We have also seen this in the emergence of new political parties both to the left and to the right of the “two party system”, as in many countries around the world with that kind of low intensity democracy. It especially reflects the popular rejection of traditional political parties. People seem to reject both the parties of the opposed political wing (there were right wing independent candidates as well) and their own traditional leaders, opting for candidates with a political trajectory that is closer to social movements or at least for candidates with a “clean” political curriculum, free from corruption.

As for the massive vote for leftist candidates, I think the 2019 revolt has everything to do with it. “Chile despertó” (Chile has awakened), another frequently heard protest slogan, means that workers are becoming more and more aware of how economic and political elites are enriching themselves to the detriment of the people, which also translates into a growing awareness of who are their main adversaries in the political arena. Also, the many effects of the health crisis caused by Covid-19 in Chile intensified social injustices to the point of exemplifying them, this way contributing to said awareness.

On the other hand, the difficulty of collecting thousands of signatures in order to put an independent candidate on the ballot meant that many independent leftist candidates opted to go to elections with the patronage of a political party. Some went with the Frente Amplio, others with the Communist Party, others chose to unite within an independent list, a tactic that in the end had very good results.

So, the point is that the massive vote for leftist candidates doesn’t necessarily mean a blind trust from the part of the voters of the leftist opposition parties, nor does it mean that their vote was nothing more than a “populist” vote, as some critics within the left are suggesting.

On the contrary, the fact that the independent lists got more votes than the Frente Amplio and the Communist party together, proves that voters are not blindly following any established political force. From the other point of view: this is the time for the Frente Amplio to prove that they side with the people.

The Communist Party, for its part, is now gradually recovering from a drop in credibility, mainly because of the good management of one of its members, Daniel Jadue, as mayor of Recoleta, a district of Santiago. Both Gabriel Boric from the Frente Amplio and Daniel Jadue (who, by the way, is of Palestinian descent) are looking forward to present their candidacy to the presidency.

It looks like the right wing will not win the one-third of the vote needed to stop constitutional changes. What will this mean in practise?

It was a two-day election. On Saturday, very few people went to the ballot boxes apart from the people living in districts that traditionally vote for the right wing, with a turnout of just around 30-35%. The reason was partly that many people feared that the ballot boxes could be manipulated overnight and preferred to wait until Sunday to cast their votes.

But on Sunday morning, the low turnout continued. Political television programmes started analysing the reasons for the low turnout and you could read the left wing on social media already starting to blame each other for the impending defeat.

Fabiola Campillai, one of the many people who were shot in the eyes and blinded during the 2019 protests, appeared on television seemingly disappointed by the low turnout. After all, what was the point of voting to change the constitution and then letting the right wing write the same one with a few cosmetic changes? Were protesters imprisoned, injured and tortured for nothing?

I think this was the turning point, because many people suddenly feared a right wing victory and ran to the ballot boxes a few hours before closing, with many people from poorer districts even denouncing the low availability of public transportation to get to them.

Some election result facts:

  • The Constitutional Convention will be made up of 155 Convention members, 81 women and 74 men;
  • The ruling party concentrated 63% of campaign financing for Constituents, but only obtained 24% of the seats;
  • Piñera’s government lost key governorships and mayorships;
  • Rodrigo Mundaca, historical social fighter for water rights, won the governorship of Valparaíso in the first round;
  • The Christian Democratic Party won only 2 seats in the Convention;
  • The corrective mechanism of Parity in the Convention was applied more to integrate men than to integrate women;
  • There will be at least 6 LGBTIQ constituents;
  • The far-right Republican Party failed;
  • An ancestral authority of the Mapuche People, Machi Francisca Linconao, will be writing the new Constitution of Chile.

Nobody expected these results. The right wing parties together didn’t even reach the ⅓ of the votes needed to be able to veto the approval of any discussed article of the new constitution. That’s one of the most surprising results of the election. Also, it is now more than evident that the ruling coalition has lost its electoral base, a condition that is making them consider withdrawing their candidacies.

Together with the right wing, the candidates of former president Bachelet’s ex-coalition mentioned above, the now non-existent Concertación, were the big losers of the election. So here we have two main political pillars of the prevailing regime losing their electoral base completely.

Now, with this unexpected change of circumstances, some are saying that it wouldn’t be tactically wise for leftist movements to bring down the rule of the 2/3 , because then it would be easy for the right wing together with the renegades of the Concertación to obtain a relative majority without there being a veto power to stop them. Instead, the left should expand the repertoire of participation by incorporating and recognizing decisive, participatory, consultative and binding mechanisms towards citizens.

What is the state of the Chilean left? How well prepared are they to benefit from the changing mood?

I think the future of the leftist forces is directly linked to their ability to correspond to the popular aspirations manifested in the 2019 unrest. What this election definitely demonstrated is that the destituent power of the revolt is very well alive and kicking and that the overwhelming majority of the population wants radical changes. The left will have to avoid hesitating when it comes to putting up a fight for those changes, and to avoid giving in to the pressures of both the right wing and the ex-Concertación.

Regarding the Constitutional Convention, the terms established by the Peace Agreement do not make this task very easy. In general, the fact that there is no common radical (constitutional) program behind which leftist forces would unify, results in immediatism, electoralism and subordination to the politics of the transition. But the “Chile that has awakened” is going to punish opportunistic politics from leftist parties as well. Leftist forces will need to push for a break with the Peace Agreement’s restrictions, opening up the constitutional debate towards popular and left organizations and also to the general public.

In spite of the sudden delayed participation in the election, the ultimately low turnout (about 42,5%) requires further analysis. The votes of confidence for the new constitution and the convention are fragile votes, and their steadiness will depend a lot on how the convention unfolds and on the new mayors’ performance. In Chilean society, there is a deep skepticism expressed in the high abstention of particularly young voters, who voted in the plebiscite for a new constitution written by popularly elected constituents but did not mobilize to elect its representatives.

As I said earlier, now is the time for the left to show which side they are on and to act. Whether the left is well prepared for this task remains to be seen.

A final question: we are seeing great upheavals in Palestine, say, or in Colombia. To what extent is this reflected in Chilean politics?

In Chile, there is a huge community of Palestinians, the largest outside the Middle East. Palestinian migration to Chile goes back to the 19th century. They were initially met with ostracism, but were able to establish themselves over time as successful merchants and entrepreneurs.

The Palestinian community in Chile today represents a wealthy and educated elite that is able to influence politics and state foreign policies, regularly bringing the Palestinian Cause into the agenda using their institutional positions. Palestinian descendants are active for the rights of Palestinians and the liberation of Palestine. I think this is also the reason why the Palestinian Cause is very well understood by the Chilean left.

With the growing number of migrants from other Latin American countries and with the waves of mass anti-neoliberal protests throughout the world that started a decade ago, there is a growing consciousness among the Chilean left of the need to put an eye on popular movements in other countries and of the importance of internationalism to push for radical transformations.

However, there is still a lack of international networks. One major difficulty is to concentrate on a complex national reality and, at the same time, understand and get involved in a different, also complex context.

What’s happening in Palestine or Colombia is met with interest in Chile as well. Popular outbreaks or advances for the left, especially in the continent, make the Chilean left hopeful and people are increasingly able to draw parallels between the movements happening abroad and their own.