On Saturday, up to 150,000 people took to the streets of London to express solidarity with the population of Gaza. The following day in Berlin, 1,000 people gathered at Potsdamer Platz for the same reason. Yet seven minutes before their rally was set to begin, the police announced it had been prohibited. Cops began beating, pepper spraying, and arresting people.
Despite what you might have read, this rally was not about celebrating Hamas. The organizers said they would not tolerate Hamas flags or antisemitic slogans. The ban was preemptive – nothing illegal had happened, yet the police claimed that something illegal could happen. The right to assembly (Article 8 of Germany’s Basic Law) is thus reduced to nothing.
For almost two years, Berlin has banned all pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Now, at Hermannplatz, on Sonnenallee, and throughout Neukölln, police are harassing individuals for wearing a kuffiyeh, a Palestinian scarf. They even banned a demonstration by Jewish Berliners Against Violence in the Middle East. Does this sound like a celebration of Hamas?
One Israeli Jewish woman tried to demonstrate all by herself, standing at Hermannplatz with a sign: “As a Jew and an Israeli – Stopp the Genocide in Gaza!” Police immediately approached her to declare this an “unlawful assembly.” How can one person be an assembly? It doesn’t matter. The video ends with a heavily armed German cop in a black uniform detaining a Jewish person for expressing the wrong opinion. Does this look right?
The United Nations are saying that Israel’s siege of Gaza is a “a blatant violation of international humanitarian law.” In Berlin right now, it is not possible to express UN positions on the street.
By cutting off water and electricity to the more than two million people of Gaza, the Israeli army is committing a war crime. Just listen to Ursula von der Leyen, the conservative German politician who heads the EU: “Attacks against civilian infrastructure, especially electricity, are war crimes. Cutting off men, women, children of water, electricity and heating with winter coming – these are acts of pure terror. And we have to call it as such.”
However von der Leyen was accusing Russia of war crimes, not Israel. Attacking civilian infrastructure is apparently no longer “terror”, but in fact covered by the “right to self-defense.”
For Americans in Berlin, the biggest shock came when Bernie Sanders visited last week. Sanders, whose father’s family was “wiped out” in the Holocaust, might well be the most famous Jewish politician in the world. Yet Saskia Esken, the head of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, cancelled a meeting with Sanders because he had stated: “The targeting of civilians is a war crime, no matter who does it.”
It would be nice if the German state were serious about fighting antisemitism. But just look at Hubert Aiwanger. As a teenager, he distributed fliers at school calling for a new Auschwitz. When this was revealed, he didn’t apologize. He just mumbled something about an evil twin. Aiwanger was just confirmed as Bavaria’s vice-premier. This is no isolated case: Maaßen, Sarrazin, and Höcke are among the politicians who have gone public with antisemitic views. The German state only fights antisemitism when that can be instrumentalized to repress racialized people and migrants.
This is a very strange time for us “Ausländer*innen” in Berlin. In our home countries, it’s a matter of course for leftists to stand with colonized people being besieged and bombarded. This is why you hear so much English at Berlin’s banned demonstrations.
Does anyone seriously believe that tens of thousands in London, New York, or Paris – including thousands and thousands of Jewish leftists – are motivated by hatred of Jews or love of Islamists? What a dark view of the world! The reality is that many people desire peace and justice. The Berlin government cannot ban such sentiments forever.
This article continues the agreement between theleftberlin and neues Deutschland to mirror Nathaniel’s Red Flag column which originally appeared on nd here.