Berlinale: Filmmakers say what the rest of the world is saying

At the Berlinale film festival, Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers called for equality and peace. German politicians want to ban such hateful talk


The Berlinale film festival ended on Saturday evening with a gala, but if you read the German press, it was actually a “scandal”. The speeches were “alarming”, “shameful”, and “frightening”, full of “Israel hatred” and “antisemitism”. What had happened?

Yuval Abraham and Basel Adra, an Israeli and a Palestinian, won an award for their documentary film No Other Land. Abraham spoke for just 36 seconds:

“In two days, we will go back to a land where we are not equal. I am living under a civilian law, and Basel is under military law. We live 30 minutes from one another, but I have voting rights, and Basel is not having voting rights. I am free to move where I want in this land. Basel is, like millions of Palestinians, locked in the occupied West Bank. This situation of apartheid between us, this inequality, it has to end.”

His co-producer Adra took just 21 seconds:

“I’m here celebrating the award, but also very hard for me to celebrate when there are tens of thousands of my people being slaughtered and massacred by Israel in Gaza. Masafer Yatta, my community, is being also razed by Israeli bulldozers. I ask one thing from Germany, as I am in Berlin here, to respect the UN calls and stop sending weapons to Israel.”

These are sober statements of liberal democratic principles. Who would dare to contradict? Should systematic inequality based on ethnicity (known in international law as “apartheid”) continue? Should Germany keep ignoring UN resolutions?

German politicians are claiming this will cause “damage to the Berlinale”. The opposite is the case: their demands for extreme censorship are a mortal threat to Berlin’s art scene. Do they even realize how far outside the global mainstream they are? In calling for a ceasefire, Saturday’s prizewinners were saying what the whole world except for Germany is saying – even Joe Biden has been mumbling about it.

Once again, we see how this virulent solidarity with Israel comes at the expense of Jewish life in Germany. What do we call this ferocious desire to silence Jews who don’t comply with the German Staatsräson? Last week, the Israeli director Udi Aloni said: “It seems like there is a new form of antisemitism in Germany, that no one calls antisemitism: the censorship of progressive intellectual Jewish voices.” He admitted that he was afraid to quote Walter Benjamin or Franz Rosenzweig in this country “because I might get canceled”.

It seems German politicians don’t want us to hear these speeches. They cannot defend the reality – so they try to avoid discussions about it. We must hear Israelis and Palestinians when they stand together to call for equality and peace.

This is a mirror of Nathanlel’s Red Flag column, written for Neues Deutschland