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Bloque Latinoamericano Manifesto, Part 1

As part of an ongoing transformation, Bloque Latinoamericano are publicising their political manifesto.


26/05/2024

This manifesto is from the Bloque Latinoamericano, which has been translated by theleftberlin team. We will be publishing it in three parts – this is part 1.

Introduction

Our organization has changed over time, based on the needs, wishes and experiences of its active members in relation to the social context in which we live. These needs arise from the double anchoring of the Bloque Latinoamericano as part of a bridge of historical and political connections between the territory from which most of us come or to which we are politically and/or emotionally connected, Latin America, and the territory in which we currently live, Berlin.

This process of collective construction has led us to to reflect and make decisions regarding our organizational structure and decisions, as well as in terms of how we can advance the political goals we have set ourselves. We accept these transformations as something necessary, because we as a collective are a living organism, in constant movement, and can change our structure if necessary.

This gave rise to the need to systematize our organizational experiences in a document that would convey the changes, assurances, commonalities, routes of struggle and analyses that move us. A document that helps to understand our current process, both retrospectively and with a view to the future.

The purpose of this document is to explain where we come from, what we do and what we, in the framework of our political goals, seek in order to achieve a profound and revolutionary transformation of society, the society in which we live and which lives within us. This document allows us to look at the traces of the journey we have traveled. It allows us to understand the process that we have have gone through in almost five years of collective life, thanks to the many comrades who have contributed their perspectives, their passion, their ideas and their work to our organization and continue to do so.

How we came to be the organisation we are

The Bloque Latinoamericano was born in November 2018 as an alliance space between collectives and individuals linked to the political processes of different territories of Latin America-Abya Yala. It emerged from the need to develop a policy of active solidarity with our territories and to organize the resistance of migrants in Germany in the face of the advance of the right on both sides of the ocean.

Over the course of time, we developed our own political goals and defined tasks to achieve these goals, which led to a change in dynamics, toward practices common to a collective. We therefore decided to focus our efforts on two fundamental axes: migrant self-organization and solidarity as well as political work with Latin America-Abya Yala, with trans-feminism and anti-racism as the overarching perspectives of all of our political work. The context of the pandemic was an opportunity to, more than ever, open up and politicize the discussion about collective care in political work, which became another central axis for the development of our collective.

Today we define ourselves as a political organization in which we, the members, share political goals and are joined together in tackling political practice in a way that’s common to all of us. As we recognize that many of our goals, especially the short-term ones, are shared by other organizations, we actively participate in networks and alliances and help to build them. In order to make our demands visible, we take part in campaigns, which we see as important tools for political struggles in various areas of society. Through our political practice, we have understood that these three levels complement each other and are necessary for social change. Without organization, the networks, alliances and campaigns that we can build have no body to give them continuity over time. It is political organization that provides us with the tools to build networks and alliances with those who think differently from us, and more importantly, to mutualize the tools for even more effective and more powerful campaigns.

Important concepts to understand this document

Although we make an effort to use language that is as simple as possible and to remind ourselves how we spoke and thought before we started moving in political spaces, we are aware that this text uses some political concepts that may not be understood by everyone in the same way. This is due to the fact that this text connects diverse social experiences from different Latin American countries with the language and political traditions of Germany, which also enrich us as a collective.

For this reason, in the following paragraphs we briefly clarify what we mean when we use some specific terms. Because we also believe that it is part of our political task as a political tradition. We believe that all of these terms can be transformed. Even if they serve us today as a magnifying glass with which we view our present, they can be transformed or discarded at any point in time, according to our needs.

In this document we talk about the construction of people’s power. This concept, which is widespread in the Latin American social movements, is hardly mentioned in the perspectives of the left in Germany. The building of people’s power means organizing from below, starting from the oppressed who, through their prevailing normal state can succeed in break through mobilization, that creates spaces of their own power that are autonomous and subversive to the dominant social order. Countervailing power consists of transforming the places of life (of work, study, recreation) into an alternative social power; into spaces that allow us a glimpse into other forms of the organization of society. This power can be local, communal or regional, until it manages to become a second territorially anchored power at the national level, which questions the legitimacy and monopoly of the state itself.

People’s power presupposes a political subject: the people (el pueblo). For us, el pueblo is the collective identity that makes so much sense in Latin America when it comes to talking about a of a political subject of transformation. The idea of el pueblo unites all the people who suffer at different levels under the violence of this imperialist system. We are all part of the people – all of us who experience this violence and who, through this identity, seek a response of solidarity based on love for others and the possibility of building an alternative society.

In the following pages, the concept of imperialism plays an important role. If one speaks of imperialism from the perspective of Latin American territories, it is not an academic discussion, as is the case for many people in Europe. We have experienced imperialist policies on our territories in Latin America during all the genocidal coups d’état of the 1970s, during which  the US government used Plan Condor to kill an entire generation of people who were fighting for the construction of socialism, and thus turned our continent into a neoliberal laboratory. The imperialist policy is also present in the economic economic and political blockade of Cuba that has existed for more than 60 years. And it was also evident in the attempted coups d’état in Venezuela in 2002 and in Bolivia in 2019, which were supported and promoted by organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS). This imperialist system has centers, i.e. countries where the extractive wealth, generated by their sponsored policies, is accumulated, and peripheries, which have a strong economic dependence on these central countries. A clear example of this dependence is the foreign public debt, which is almost always illegitimate and in some cases even illegal.

We use the double term Latin America-Abya Yala. The term Abya Yala refers to the name that was used for the area we now call Latin America before its colonization. We believe that the reuse of this term is also an attempt to recognize ourselves in a history of resistance against the workings of colonization.

We see ourselves as a collective that combines different elements of organization from political, social and common interest groups. When we say that we are a political organization, we mean that we are a collective that sets itself long-term and short-term political goals in order to change reality. This means projecting ourselves into the future and building an organization that is able to integrate the experiences of different generations, struggles and movements. When we speak of common interest organizations, we mean, for example, trade unions or student centers. That means, organizations that fight against economic or institutional actors for the improvement of the conditions that affect their members in a particular area of life such as work, study or, in our case, migration. When we talk about social organization, we rely on the concept of the social movement, which is used in Latin America to refer to organizational processes that take place in resistance to neoliberalism, in struggles for access to education, housing, work or culture. The movements are often characterized by the fact that they identify with their expropriation (landlessness, unemployment, homelessness) or the threat to the logic of communal life (community movements, assemblies) and emerge in the geographical or social peripheries and penetrate the centers. The precise way in which these different elements are combined is an open question to which we will find answers through political praxis, i.e. through the combination of practice to transform reality in our context and of reflection on that very practice.

The first chapter of this document contains our political-ideological perspectives. This designation combines two elements that although different, work together in our daily practice. By political practice we mean a concrete debate that attempts to change reality. Ideology has to do with the paradigms that guide us. They are the lenses through which we read reality in order to work on the construction of a new system, a system based on new values and desires within the framework of a project of a world without oppressors and oppressed. Within the political ideological practice, we identify tactical elements that aim to achieve an immediate goal and strategic elements aimed at achieving long-term goals.

In this text, we will use the terms political activism and militancy as synonyms. While in some contexts the word militancy refers exclusively to the willingness to use violence in political struggle, in other contexts it is a generic term that encompasses political activism. In this text we use the term in this second sense.

We have decided to use non-binary language throughout the text. This means that we amend words that presuppose the gender identity of a person so that this is no longer the case. We do not believe neither that the construction of a male ‘we’ in this patriarchal society includes women and others, nor that a generalized feminine includes identities that feel outside the gender binary. For this reason, and because language also has the power to change reality, we believe it is important to neutralize gender in our linguistic practice.

About our internal operating principles

In this chapter, we describe the internal dynamics, or the organic life, of our collective. The following sections condense our understanding of the tools we have had to acquire in order to create an organization that provides space for diversity in ideological positions and perspectives but achieves unity in action and facilitates reflection on our own practice and the human relationships we build around them. These are imperfect tools that are constantly being revised.

Decision making

In the Bloque Latinoamericano there are various spaces in which decisions are made: The plenums for evaluation and projection, the monthly meetings and the meetings of the working groups.

The plenums take place once or twice a year and serve to evaluate the work performed and the (re)definition of the organization’s strategic objectives as well as the projection of specific goals and lines of work for the next period. The meetings take place once a month and discuss topics that affect the organization as a whole. These may arise from the political situation or from the work of the working groups. The meetings have a consultative character and decide on the the routes that the organization should take with regard to the the topics discussed. This space is reserved for reserved for political discussions. An attempt is made to keep organizational or operational debates to a minimum.

The working groups implement the political goals defined in the plenums and assemblies and have relative autonomy to make decisions about their specific work and address issues arising from their interventions in grassroots movements or in processes of processes of political struggle and mobilization.

During the debates in the three decision-making bodies we endeavor to reach a consensus, giving all participants the time they need to understand the discussions and participate. If a consensus is not possible, we make decisions by majority vote. We are of the opinion that this is the most democratic way to, on one hand, avoid giving individuals the power of veto and, on the other hand, to ensure that minority positions are aired and taken into account when evaluating the decisions made. Debates can be resumed in any of the instances if it is believed that more time is needed for the discussion.

Criticism and self-criticism as tools of reflection

We fundamentally assume that growth comes from criticism. This can apply to ourselves, to our projects, to our comrades, and to the organization of which we are a part. In order to be an instructive tool, we believe it is fundamental that critique is practiced in organic spaces of the collective and not in informal spaces. It is important to understand that a critique of an action of the Bloque, no matter from which comrade it came, is ultimately a critique of ourselves. In this way, criticism is depersonalized and becomes a political tool to improve our collective practice.

Sometimes it becomes necessary to practice critique of certain comrades. Explicit criticism is always better than rumors, intrigues, and comments made behind their backs. In this case, we try to keep in mind that the mistakes that comrades make in their political actions are made with the intention of working on improving our collective. It is likely that the more criticism we receive the the more we do. This can sometimes be a sign of personal and collective growth. But even taking on tasks cannot be a justification for not wanting to review our ways and behaviors, if they have caused our comrades to criticize us.

For criticism to be constructive, it must be accompanied by a suggestive proposition. This means that, as much as possible, an attempt should be made to formulate alternatives to improve what is being criticized. It is desirable that this proposal is  collectively formulated and a debate about how we can become better arises, and not simply that the criticized behavior is simply dismissed or completely devalued.

It is important to engage with criticism of the Bloque from people or groups outside of it, even if we do not agree with it. This means that we must take the time to reflect on it and identify the relevant elements contained in this criticism, address them and work to incorporate them into our effors for transformation. In this way, we transform any criticism from the outside, whether constructive or destructive, into an opportunity to develop further.

Collective care and conflict resolution

The creation of spaces in which we feel comfortable and in which there is affection is part of our transformational horizon for society. Even if it is not possible to create spaces that are completely safe in the sense that they are free from all violence, our obligation is to make all spaces in the Bloque as safe as possible and, above all, to equip ourselves with tools to eliminate all forms of violence that we reproduce step by step.

In this way, we want to build the society that we are fighting for in the here and now.

The Bloque Latinoamericano has a group and a guide for collective care and conflict resolution, in which the aim is to support comrades who need it in the search for a solution to a conflict that cannot be addressed or resolved between the people involved. The aim of the group is to mediate, intervene and create spaces to resolve conflicts that may arise between comrades.

In addition to the actions of the group, we collectively reflect on the ways in which emotions permeate our political practice, and we try, through political education and reflection on our practice to identify and eliminate the forms of violence that we reproduce. Every member of the Bloque Latinoamericano must have a deep commitment to the fight against transphobia, misogyny, racism and classism.

We do not envision a society without problems and conflicts, but we envision a society in which there are more and more tools that enable us to forge bonds of solidarity and understanding. That is the goal we are working towards.

The process for participating in the Bloque Latinoamericano

Our collective has an open structure, i.e., all those who agree with the with the political goals and working methods of the Bloque can join. The process for participating in takes place gradually, as we are a multi-level structure that one has to get to know and understand bit by bit. The first way in which everyone who is interested in our collective can participate is attending into our grassroot groups or the open meetings of the working groups. These take place regularly and everyone is welcome. Participation in internal group meetings and assemblies is intended for those who are involved in working on the political goals of the organization and are interested in contributing to maintaining its structure by taking on internal tasks. 

At regular intervals, we organize events where interested people have the opportunity to to get to know us, to learn how the Bloque Latinoamericano came about, what it does and how one can join. The character of these meetings can be different (it can be an informational event, painting banners together or a picnic), the important thing is that we create spaces to get to know each other and exchange ideas. Other than that, we also see it as the task of all those who have been in the collective for a while to accompany the newcomers. We know that entering into a new space can cause doubt and confusion, and we consider it fundamental to build up empathy and understanding.

“Knowledge is not something that people have, knowledge is something that you create”

Interview with Dario Farcy and Aquarela Padilla from the Bildungszentrum Lohana Berkins


03/11/2023

Thank you so much for being here and for your time! Could you start by introducing yourself and the Centro de Educación Popular (CEP) Lohana Berkins?

Darío Farcy: Thank you very much, Andrei and The Left for the interview! I am Darío Farcy from Buenos Aires, Argentina. There I worked with the self-managed movement and was a teacher for almost 10 years in the popular education movement (educación popular). I was a teacher in the Bachilleratos Populares. They were high schools for people who couldn’t finish state high school, and so they didn’t have the possibility to go to university or to have better-paid jobs. I was also part of different left political parties and studied political studies in the University of Buenos Aires.

Aquarela Padilla: My name is Aquarela Padilla, I come from Venezuela. I have lived in Germany for around six years. I am part of the coordination team of the the Centro de Educación Popular Lohana Berkins. I have experience in educación popular in Venezuela, especially in feminismo comunitario with Mujeres por la Vida, and political education with and for workers. I also have experience in alternative or transformative communication and media work.

I would also like to present our Centro de Educación Popular. We are an educational center that was founded a year ago, by and for migrants in Berlin. Our purpose is to create a space to collectively build tools as migrants and improve our reality of life. This also means understanding our reality here, and for this we need an educational process. We implement educación popular, or we are inspired by this political-pedagogical practice, which comes from Latin America but has spread throughout the whole world and is often part of massive movements. We have different educational formats. Our goal is not only to create tools and to better understand our reality, but also to strengthen our communities.

Can you tell me more about who Lohana Berkins was and why you chose to name the center after her?

DF: Lohana Berkins was an activist. She was what we call in Spanish “a militant.” In English that sounds a bit harsh, but that is how we describe the commitment of different activists, because we think there is a difference between being an activist and doing political things, and having a full commitment for politics. That is why we call ourselves and Lohana militants.

She was part of the of the Communist Party of Argentina. She was a trans woman and one of the first trans women to have the possibility to work in the state as a deputy’s assitant. Later, she was one of the key people in developing the gender identity law in Argentina. She died in 2016, but had the possibility to see the approval of this law. Lohana was also one of the leaders in forming a textile worker’s cooperative for trans people called Nadia Echazú, founded in 2008, and one of the few spaces where trans people could have a proper job and legal work. She was also one of the first visible trans activists and militants in society, and fought throughout her life for educación popular. She was also involved in the bachillerato popular, a popular education center in Argentina, and Mocha Cellis, a high school for transgender people.

So we wanted to give some kind of honor to her life and her fight, and highlight her experiences and ability to fight both the state and against a society where trans people were totally obscure. The idea was that we wanted to connect this with migration. Since migrants play a very important role in society, but at the same time, are not visible for most German people. That is the reason why we chose this name.

Lohana was also a migrant, she was born and grew up in the northern part of Argentina, a very racialized region. She went to work during her transition in Buenos Aires, and she also suffered from a lot of discrimination because she was both brown and trans. Her membership in the Communist Party was also very important to us, because we need to have strong structures and training, organization, political identity, all while representing different kinds of identity.

AP: It is important to talk about the original idea of educación popular, both how it works but also why we use it. We came up with the idea of creating the Centro de Educación Popular Lohana Berkins due to the needs of our community and migrants, based on our experience as activists in Bloque Latinoamericano. We were confronted with not being allowed to participate in German spaces due to language. We understood that it was normal for people to want to volunteer in their own language, but it created a huge barrier for us in order to be active. That is why we understood that language is one of the main things in order to defend our rights, which is why we started with language courses. The goal was also to understand our rights and the legal structures of Germany. If you cannot participate in a democratic space in German, if you don’t understand the laws, it’s impossible to defend your rights. So we wanted to create a space which was different from formal German languages course, like Volkschochschule, but a instead was somewhere where alternative learning could take place.

The methodology is different, but so are the debates and the political approaches we discuss. We want to talk about themes and things that are connected with the real life of migrants. We want to talk about migration, we want to talk about racism, we want to talk about political and police violence.

Let’s continue talking about the German language classes. What does a German class in the Center look like? What do you do?

DF: In a normal language course, you have the owners or bosses of the school, you have the teachers, and there’s no democratic process to define the content of the course.

AP: We have a coordination group of three people that get together with the teachers to think through the whole program. We talk about the methodology, the language, the grammatical structure, how to improve the skills of the students, and also the political insight and the political perspective of the course. So since the beginning, the process is a democratic one.

The content and the theme of the course is accumulative. We don’t tend to think like, “there is this new idea, this is a perfect idea.” This is not representative of the students’ experience of the courses. We base it on the needs and experiences of the students, and also our own experiences that we have accumulated from giving these classes.

DF: Educación popular is a political perspective of education that is based on the real life of those involved in the process. Not only students, but also teachers and coordinators, workers in the space. The idea of a popular location is holistic, it is connected with the idea of the whole.

AP: That is why the beginning of each course, we try to find the level of students’ German, how they can express themselves, their needs, problems, but also the interests of the students.

DF: So if someone is interested in gender perspectives in Germany, we prepare the program of the course based on this and their needs. Not only the structural needs, like fighting against racism, but also their individual and rational needs. Housing, the fight for the right to the city, the fight for fair rents. There’s a history in Berlin of organizing against exploitation, against this housing sector. At the beginning we established a preliminary program with some draft ideas regarding the content, but in the process we realized we needed to focus the contents around the topics the community was debating.

AP: In doing that, you have the possibility to create a connection between the individual needs of the students, the structural problems they face, and their skills in German.

Can you talk more about the role of the educator and coordination team, and what they do? As well as the exchanges between yourselves and the students, while avoiding the creation of a hierarchy of knowledge?

DF: From the perspective of popular education, knowledge is not a thing. But knowledge is not something people have. Knowledge is a collective process, it is created by individuals but it’s always a collective thing. That is why we talk about learning through doing. Of course, as the coordination team, we are learning every day. Not only due to the input of the teachers, but also from the students. From a symbolic perspective, the process of doing popular education in Germany creates a new way of understanding popular education. And that is the key point of this process of creating knowledge that is connected to language and political organization.

AP: So the educator is an activist, is a militant. From the beginning, popular education is a different way of doing politics. It’s very important that the whole group understands that the first goal is not knowledge, but political responsibility. And educators need to feel this responsibility, and create this political pedagogical process.

DF: There is also the need to act in solidarity regarding knowledge and tools, which is why we share skills and knowledge. It’s not like you as an individual have some kind of skills as a teacher, and you preserve that, and use these as something you want to sell. Because in the private sector or the market, the thing that teachers sell is their ability and skills to know better. We are trying to fight against this privatization. That is why we talk about this idea of the political responsibility of being a popular educator.

AP: I also want to talk about the connections and similarities between an educator and a student, which are more important for us than the differences.

Both students and teachers need to have these democratic and active commitments in order to reach the goals of the classroom. If some of the parts are not working, or missing that aim, the process is not going to work. Because if we say we learn through doing and everyone in this process is both learning and teaching, the student also has a role of teaching and giving their skills in solidarity.

DF: So it’s not only that the teacher has an active role while the students receive, but both are receiving and giving. Of course, it should be be clear who has the responsibility for which part. But this clear responsibility does not mean that one is active, and one is passive. The idea is that we can create a dialogue between the different levels of popular education.

AP: So the shared idea is the commitment in order to transform society and in doing so, the idea of transforming themselves. This idea is the commitment that we always need to pursue and understand as a goal.

DF: Of course, that puts language and political themes in a second level. But that is the structure that we need to develop. The main goal is to transform reality. And we understand the importance of transforming the people who are going to transform reality. We want to do it through popular education.

I imagine that there are also moments where this doesn’t happen, when people would rather be passive listeners than participating. How do you convince people to participate in educación popular?

DF: I think it works in different levels. For example, there’s people who are more comfortable with lectures, or with books. And so when you present some kind of new topic through a book, maybe 20-30% of the class is going, “okay, that’s great.” But 70%, maybe not, they want to find a way where they feel more comfortable. When we acknowledge that, we ask what tools we have at our disposal, in order to reach the other part of the class. Maybe theater and acting skills, so in the next class we say we will talk about the housing problem in Berlin through acting, one person is the landlord and one the tenant. And you reach 40% of the people that don’t feel comfortable learning through books.

We use different methodologies to reach students, especially when they are at different levels. Maybe one day you use a movie to talk about something, or a song.

With teachers it is more difficult. Because all the teachers, as well as ourselves, went through the formal process of learning how to teach. So with the teachers or the coordination team it’s more about formation and training. We give trainings in order to understand how popular education works. Sadly, you always have some people who don’t understand it. We need to accept that maybe popular education is not for everyone, but in most cases people understand that solidarity is a better way of teaching.

AP: In the beginning, popular education feels strange for many people who are used to silently being given knowledge. When you talk about different methodologies, people will try it feeling like it’s a game. They begin to understand that they can feel good about learning German, they can make mistakes.

You start to connect learning, political insight, inputs, and the creation of community. This is something most people say at the end of their course, that they’ve learned German without it being a painful experience. Most of the things that we do create this idea of solidarity, this idea of sharing skills and collectively creating knowledge and making it accessible for most people.

DF: Again, knowledge is not something that people have, knowledge is something that you create. This is the crucial point to understand that creation is a process which includes making mistakes. And creation is a process of making things. But these products don’t belong to one person, rather they are collective. Property does not disappear, but we get mixed property between the individual and the collective. For me, this is very important to break this privatization of knowledge.

AP: This process, of course, is a challenge for everyone. It’s important to have this commitment in order to accept the challenge, and to admit that we don’t have every answer and that this too opens up possibilities. There is also the possibility that the process doesn’t work. It is an open process, not a closed one, and like every open process there is a potential of failure.

How do you adapt this to everyone? Migrants to Germany have different experiences, different histories of migration, and different ways of being and working in Germany. How do you bring this together and include all of these different experiences in the process of education?

DF: Of course, we try to adapt the experience to the needs of the students and teachers. But this is not an individualized process of education. We try to create a common experience, a common understanding of education, taking into account the needs not as individuals, but as the experience of a collective process. Let me give an example. Say a student asks for an individual teacher. It’s not going to happen, because do not give individual classes. But if there are 15 students and 10 are saying they need a more individualized experience, than we try to create solutions for that. But it should be debated and discussed, with collective answer rather than an individual one.

I explain that because, when we talk about experiences of migration, it’s very important that we can identify the things in common, but also the differences. Our process has three phases. The first phase is before we meet the students. First, we create an ideal subject (based on our experiences as migrants and militants) of what migrants are and need, knowing that at the end this is not real. It is only a way of framing the program and the course.

After that comes the phase of having the course and working with real students. Because we base our program on this ideal migrant, we know we need to make changes throughout the classes. For example once we thought that one of the most important things for migrants is how to deal with visas. During the classes, no one wanted to talk about that. Most of the students wanted to talk about housing, identity and climate justice.

And at the end of the course, we make an evaluation of these processes. Of course, that is a process that has its own risks. We want to work with migrants that come from the periphery or the semi-periphery. But in this course, we now have a lot of people from the United States and other countries of the North. We see that as a challenge that we need to address. Because our idea was working with people that were racialized, or in precarious work.

I think that migration has the potential to be this common ground, as well as the need to talk about politics. Also it’s very important to create this common ground, this idea of being open to sharing and of being open to learn in a different way, this political and pedagogical empathy. I think that is the common ground more than migration.

AP: Migration could be the way to be more organized, or it could be the first step to achieve assimilation. We fight against that. That is something important, because not all migrants are leftists and want to transform reality. A lot of migrants want to be assimilated, they want to be German. That is why we think that migration could be a tool to organize people, but also we need different aspects, we need to bring these aspects into the mix in order to have a leftist course, with students who want to transform reality. It’s not that all the people are going to be active in politics now, they’re not all are going to be deputies of the Left Party, but we aim to create a common ground and ideological ideas to share different perspectives. Through this, and through collective teaching and thinking, we can transform reality. That is the common ground at the end, not just migration.

The center has been active for a year, and now you have a fundraiser until November 7th. So what are your plans for the future? Where do you see the center going?

AP: Yes, we have a crowdfunding campaign at the moment, and this comes from the difficulties we have to self-finance. Projects like these, built both by and for the migrant community, are very difficult to finance. It is also very difficult to explain what we are doing precisely. That is why we need financial resources to strengthen our structures, to pay our teachers, and to rent our space. We are a self-administered project, and that is naturally a challenge. This crowdfunding runs until the second week in November.

The projects for the future are varied. But the first and most important is that we need a better structure. We need more people in our coordination group, but also in our pedagogical team and for communication. We cannot work precariously ourselves. We also want to expand our educational spaces for the community, as well as expanding our cooperations.

And we have begun a beautiful and important project to systematize our experience. Educación popular also has the goal of reflecting, at some point, on what we have done and how we can do better. This is also to identify possibilities: what they are, how our goals have changed, and why. We must reflect on the whole process, and for this we need a systematization. This takes a lot of hours from people. This is important not only for us and to improve our own work, but also for other initiatives. We would like other people in this country to have the chance to create similar centers, and for our experiences to serve as an inspiration for other projects.

DF: Popular education is a process that is alive. And I think that throughout this connection and these new experiences, new processes, this idea of popular education could be enrichened and strengthened not just here but in the Americas, too. That is why we wanted to do this text about methodology and political perspective based on our experience, to spread and expand the tradition of educación popular.

And next week we are going to present an investigation about extractivism, crisis, and debt and how these processes in Latin America affect migration or create new ways of understanding migration. This was a collaboration with an NGO called Movement Hub. We are very proud of creating more academic or theoretical knowledge. We are not afraid of doing that because we approach this from our experiences as activists and militants.

Support the fundraiser for the Bildungszentrum Lohana Berkins here.

Bildungszentrum Lohana Berkins is organising a series of meetings in Spanish in the first half of November.

WE TOLD YOU SO!

A commission of experts proves Deutsche Wohnen & Co. Enteignen right


15/07/2023

Unfortunately, that alone won’t be able to wrest 243,000 apartments from for-profit companies.

On 28 June 2023, when the experts’ report was made public, I heard no champagne corks popping in my neighborhood, despite the large number of activists who live there. Since 2019, 3,000 individuals citywide have campaigned against housing corporations that neglect their properties but pay investors good dividends. The Deutsche Wohnen & Co. enteignen (DWE) initiative developed from many failed attempts to get a grip on Berlin’s skyrocketing rents. I’ve written about this in earlier articles.

In the last two years, it felt as if little was happening given the pandemic restrictions and election rerun needed after incredibly poor planning in 2021 had resulted in insufficient ballots, late poll openings, and voters being turned away. In late April this year the new conservative mayor, Kai Wegner (CDU) took office. Since then, Berlin politics seem to have taken a sharp right-wing turn, especially regarding transport and climate policies despite our laws—and common sense. Last week was the planet’s hottest. Ever.

Negative trends in housing have not slacked during this period: Although prices for apartments have slumped, construction, including affordable housing, has been slowed due to supply chain problems, building costs, and higher interest rates. Rents have continued to rise and tenants are threatened by the acceleration of several disadvantageous practices. I touch on these concerns in this article but concentrate on three initiatives related to Reichenberger Kiez in Kreuzberg, where I’ve lived for nearly 19 years: DWE, “Initiative Hermannplatz,” and “No Hype No Hide.”

For starters, the terms used by Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen. DWE used the German word for “expropriate” to great effect: politicians violently reacted to the mere thought and a lot of ink was spilled. Just saying the word was enough to cause an otherwise calm dinner partner to jump up and shriek their rejection. (That happened to me.) But once the initiative had gained momentum and the name was established, discussion turned to the “socializing” (Vergesellschaftung) foreseen in Art. 15 of Germany’s Basic Law. Sebastian Engelbrecht of Deutschland Radio explained the distinction: socialization applies to whole branches of industry, as per DWE, whereas expropriation refers to confiscation for specific projects, such as a farmer’s field for a highway (which must be reimbursed at market prices, a nonstarter for DWE).

To recap

On the evening of 26 September 2021, learning that one million Berliners had voted for the referendum—59.1 percent of eligible voters [1 ]DWE activists did open lots of champagne bottles! With the DWE cheerleaders, we partied well into the night.

But true to her party’s ongoing support for the construction industry (which over decades has involved real sleaze), the new Social Democratic Party (SPD) Mayor Franziska Giffey rejected DWE’s approach. To buy time, the new SPD-Green-Left Party governing coalition proposed a 13-member “commission of experts” to study the referendum’s legality and feasibility.

In fact, a referendum represents the peoples’ will, which is to be followed. But acknowledging DWE’s novel approach and the years needed for a referendum to reach the ballot, the campaign had decided to not present a law. Instead, the DWE referendum called on the government to write one.

After lots of discussion, DWE agreed to “accompany” the commission, and used its right to name three people who were not part of its campaign to the commission: a human geographer and urban researcher, and two constitutional experts.

The commission worked for over a year. But the minutes were not always published, and Berlin’s lack of a land registry (Kataster) meant that the experts had no hard data on the quantity, value, or ownership of city real estate. In late June, the commission’s 156-page report was presented to Berlin’s current mayor, who begrudgingly accepted it, repeating his skepticism for the umpteenth time.

What’s in the report???

According to DWE’s summary for journalists, the report refutes virtually all the reservations about DWE. With respect to one of its most basic questions, the experts unanimously agreed that Berlin has the competencyto legally regulate a socialization of real estate holdings of large housing companies located in Berlin.” That is, DWE is in line with Art. 15 of the Basic Law. This issue was especially critical after Germany’s constitutional court ruled in April 2021 that Berlin lacked the authority to institute a rent cap­—a decision that immediately swelled the ranks of DWE supporters and contributed to the referendum’s success.

It’s worth looking at specific points.

The majority of the commission holds socialization à la DWE to be “proportional.”

The report says that socialization is a suitable approach to reduce those rents and to at least stabilize other rents throughout the city. In addition, Berlin would benefit from fewer people needing financial assistance to pay the rent.

Flatly rejecting the mantra Bauen! Bauen! Bauen! (Build! Build! Build!)” and protests that socialization “does not create a single new apartment,” the commission wrote that “ramping up new construction is not an alternative for securing the permanent supply of affordable housing.” There’s no way around it: socialization is necessary.

As for the price tag, “Assessment can be based on the income from the non-profit management [2] envisaged by the project.” Exactly what DWE has been saying all along! Its “fair rent model” bases compensation on moderate rents—way below the €36 billion bandied about by naysayers.

Furthermore, considering the level of compensation, the commission decided that in ensuring affordable housing, tenant interests outweigh the profit-making interests of housing corporations. Socialization can be financed through promissory bills repaid by rental income. Berlin can decide what’s affordable and need not go into debt compensating the current owners. Four members opined that compensation should not be significantly below market value. But it need not be at the same level.

The commission agreed that the 3,000-apartment threshold per company is legally permissible “in view of the efficiency of such an approach in developing the required total portfolio.” That does not represent “unequal treatment,” and excluding coops, city-owned and non-profit housing enterprises is justified because they benefit the public.

Finally, most commission members are of the opinion that socialization can be practiced for all holdings of housing companies listed on the stock exchange, including private equity funds. Even more companies than DWE had envisioned. The initiative is jubilant: “This will allow us to capture more companies than expected, including private equity funds. We can tackle the root of the problem: housing speculation!”

New DWE posters proclaim its success: “Expropriation is doable. No more excuses!”

Now what?

It’s time to write the law!

Unfortunately, the CDU is instead planning a “framework law” which would not come into force for two years—because the conservatives want time to legally challenge their own law. However, in late May, the SPD base criticized the CDU’s maneuver. Perhaps that’s what led to the SPD senator for urban development, housing, and construction, Christian Gaebler, announcing on local TV that a socialization law would be developed in parallel with the framework law. (But the very next day, he said the opposite to Berlin’s parliament.)

This points to a fundamental problem: the expert commission was staffed by the government that was voted out in February! The CDU had no say in it: unsurprisingly, the dissenting minority voices are conservatives.

So what should we do? Lobby our elected representatives? DWE is concerned that they could draft a law—which would take a few years to be written and debated—that is designed to be rejected by the constitutional court.

The safer approach would be to stage a second referendum, this time with a specific law. (Put on your walking boots!)

DWE is discussing the next steps. It’s July and hot as hell, and schools, families, and the city government are on vacation. Over the summer, we’ve got to explain to Berliners what the report means. DWE should also draw attention to the danger that, as a pacification measure, the city could buy back more apartments for the city housing companiesat today’s astronomical prices. That would only further burden the city and reward speculation. We’ve been there and done that.

While waiting for the commission’s report, DWE produced podcasts, organized events, and published background information, while Kiezteams continued to meet and also addressed local concerns, including the end of the period in which private developers have to offer apartments at affordable rents: for up to 30 years. After that, they can charge market rents. Berlin entered this millennium with 430,000 subsidized apartments; in 2021, it had just 142,343 left. By 2025, subsidies will end for more than 50,000 additional apartments, and with prospective tenants no longer having to prove they need assistance, landlords will be incentivized to get rid of the old ones. Urban sociologist Andrej Holm calls this “publicly financed gentrification.”

But Hamburg recently passed a law forcing new social housing to offer affordable rents for 100 years. Anything Hamburg can do, Berlin can, too!

Another problem confronting many tenants whose apartments have been sold are claims of “Eigenbedarf” (personal need). Fortunately, Berlin’s law preventing a new owner from claiming to need their property for a period of 10 years was extended last month. However, according to Sebastian Bartels of the Berliner Mieterverein (BMV), the huge increase in such claims indicates the need for extra protection, including a total prohibition on Eigenbedarf in areas requiring special efforts to protect the current population mix (Milieuschutz), along with restrictions related to the length of a tenant’s lease and age.

In the past, the city has saved entire buildings in protected areas by pre-emptively purchasing those whose sales would likely cause tenants to be driven out. But in November 2021, Berlin’s Vorkaufsrecht, the tenant movement’s most powerful tool, was declared unlawful. The Liberals (FDP)—the same party that refuses to consider introducing a speed limit on highways to lower CO2 emissions—are stalling new legislation.

According to Katrin Schmidberger (Green Party speaker on Berlin’s housing, rents and budget policy), in an interview of 4 July in ND, the current CDU-SPD government rejects building more affordable housing within the S-Bahn ring. It’s also preventing districts from freely disposing of housing subsidies to protect tenants. In addition, districts that contest specific construction projects promoted by the CDU-SPD will lose authority over them—the same way jurisdiction for Karstadt on Hermannplatz [3] was transferred from Kreuzberg’s BVV (district parliament) to Berlin’s Senat (city government).

What IS happening with the plan to raze the department store on Hermannplatz and replace it with a version of the mammoth building from 1929?

There’s very little information available! It’s possible that the Signa Group—a holding with three separate companies, one of which owns Galeria—of Austrian billionaire René Benko (who has been convicted of corruption and accused of bribery, tax evasion, and illegal donations) is in financial trouble. Last October, Signa wanted another €234 million in state aid for Galeria (after getting €680 million in the last three years), before announcing—barely six months later—that almost half its stores would be closed within the year. With visions of deserted city centers (where Benko’s stores occupy prime locations) and 17,000 new jobless employees, the government caved in to his demands. Oddly enough, his creditors renounced around €2 billion, department store workers bit the bullet—and Signa paid out €450 million in dividends. [4]  This month, the European Central Bank is investigating all the banks doing business with Signa.

Some commentators consider that the Signa Group is too big to fail (it’s definitely much too convoluted to explain here!), while insiders assume that financial woes explain why Signa recently sold its unfinished 134m-high building and adjacent department store on Alexanderplatz. That was one of the three prestige projects—on Hermannplatz, Alexanderplatz, and Kurfürstendamm—that Signa was given the right to build in exchange for ensuring jobs in four Berlin department stores in a Letter of Intent (LoI) of August 2020. Not that the two are related. Incredibly, calls for the government to halt all collaboration with Signa because the corporation broke its word by closing local stores fall on deaf ears. Hunh?

Meanwhile, on Hermannplatz

Back to my neighborhood and the campaign regarding the future of the department store that Benko owns on Hermannplatz. This spring, citizens were invited to comment on the building plans—in an online, non-binding, “participation” farce. The energetic efforts of Initiative Hermannplatz to collect 7,000 signatures protesting Signa’s plans, along with rallies, demonstrations, and even a “presence” on Hermannplatz in the form of a small kiosk, have merely succeeded… in stalling the project.

To counteract widespread rejection of the plans by its low-income neighbors with mostly immigrant backgrounds, Signa mounted an extravagant social media campaign and nostalgic exhibit about the original building, and opened “Dialog Hermannplatz” with a café and bike route through the block. A banner appeared on Galeria’s façade: Nicht ohne Euch (“Not without You” in informal German) while nearby tenants were forced to remove their critical banners under threat of immediate expulsion. In response to the numerous objections, from sketches showing only white people enjoying themselves to the environmental damage caused by demolitions and the excessive use of concrete, Signa has repeatedly announced modifications and published pretty new plans. But it has never explained its real intentions.

In a recent event about the class struggle on Hermannplatz presented by the Berliner MieterGemeinschaft, Niloufar Tajeri, architect and prime mover of the Hermannplatz initiative, said that the Ver.di union representing Galeria workers continues to cling to the LoI, hoping against hope that it really will protect their jobs. But she pointed out that employees in other German cities have self-organized to save their stores and is confident that when push comes to shove, employees at Hermannplatz will also become active. She explained how the project threatens her neighborhood, describing it as not just about building and environmental concerns, but a plan with negative social ramifications as well.

Tajeri also cited two practical issues. The first is that the project conflicts with historical preservation regulations (pertaining to just a small part of the current building). But preservation is open to interpretation, and with jurisdiction over such matters recently transferred to the city administration in what Left Party speaker for urban development Katalin Gennburg calls “deregulation for investors,” such objections are unlikely to affect the plans.

However, a second matter has been gaining attention since a high-rise project on Alexanderplatz caused part of the subway’s subterranean structure to collapse last October. The significant damage will continue to prevent the U2 line serving Prenzlauer Berg and Pankow for many months to come, aboveground construction has been halted, and other subway lines at the station, including the U5, may also be affected.

With respect to Hermannplatz, according to Tajeri, not only do two subway lines cross there, but also the tunnel for transporting broken cars to the BVG workshop.

Hype & Hide in Reichenberger Kiez

Closer to home, luxury housing projects in Reichenberger Kiez backyards have reached new magnitudes. Arguably, the neighborhood’s gentrification began in 2010 with CarLoft, an apartment building with an elevator that allows tenants to park their cars at the door. (I’ve already railed about how gentrification serves to suburbanize cities… Does it get any crasser?) Vigorous protest, including paint bombs and even stones, did not stop the project, although the owner later admitted that he’d had to lower his selling price. Recently, however, a 263 m2, four-room apartment at Reichenberger Str. 80 was advertised for €2.9 million. OMG.

More recently, Kiez residents were incited to act by the audacity of the latest luxury project, “Hype & Hide.” Buyers are promised it’ll be like living “in a private park, embedded in an inspiring neighborhood marked by authentic charm.” In fact, with most of the trees chopped down for the builders, between €690,000 and €2.5 million buys you a view of the rear of a modest 1970s apartment block, with a parking area lined by spindly and browning arborvitae shrubs, likely planted to offset the noble trees that were felled.

My attention was drawn to a poster showing the addresses of nine luxury projects in the neighborhood. I knew it was incomplete because once construction is finished, new housing is hidden from sight and protected by locked and surveilled doors. I can no longer locate the two built near me just a few years ago.

When the first permit to build behind the apartment houses at Reichenberg Straße 140–42 and Lausitzer Straße 11–15 was granted in March 2017, the tenants appealed to Kreuzberg’s parliament (BVV). Building councilor Florian Schmidt promised to contact the developer and arrange a meeting for all involved. The project was never realized. But gradually the metal workers’ collective was forced to move and their buildings were razed. For years, the space was strewn with rubble and refuse. In 2022, when a new building permit was given, the neighbors confronted the BVV about the lack of citizen involvement promised two years earlier. They wondered how “Hype & Hide” fulfills the district’s stated aim of unsealing the ground and making the district greener, and how it addresses Kreuzberg’s housing crisis. The answer: The plans meet building code requirements; no citizen participation is foreseen. The only possible action is to spoil the developer’s marketing efforts. (That’s in the official response!)

With that in mind, “No Hype & No Hide” organized a first neighborhood walking tour that kicked off with an activist in the guise of a sparrow mourning her degraded environment after the garden was bulldozed and numerous trees felled for a different luxury project. (In fact, the new 5-story luxury building—“in the middle of Kreuzberg, yet shielded from all the hubbub”—will deprive the activist’s apartment of any direct sunlight.) The 40 or so participants then moved on to CarLoft, a few blocks away, leafletting passersby and dancing to DWE protest songs. We ended the walk by hanging our banner and a funeral wreath with handwritten condolences on the Hype & Hide site fence, while the Lauratibor chorus [5] sang the Kiez anthem [my English adaptation]: What elixir is more potent than money? What unites us? Let’s go into the streets and find the potion of resistance!”

Berlin lacks 47,000 affordable apartments. Urban densification measures, which is widely regarded, though not accepted, as inevitable, are paving over gardens and chopping down trees. But destroying our environment for luxury buildings does nothing to alleviate Berlin’s housing shortage.

Things will just heat up further. “Buy luxury, buy trouble!”

Last month, the new rent index (Mietspiegel) was published: since 2021, rents in Berlin have gone up by 5.4 percent. Unfortunately, the index is based on the rise in consumer prices and doesn’t take into account the loss in real wages. But without it, landlords would compare apartments and make assessments, which would probably be less favorable for tenants.

Don’t be surprised when your landlord sends you a letter soon. Do check the proposed increase carefully and contest whatever is illegal: rent hikes of more than 15 percent in three years are not allowed. According to a BMV survey, private owners overcharge the most. Your greatest contribution to Berlin could well be helping to control rents by not accepting illegal increases.

Im the midst of these depressing developments, I find some relief in learning that the inimitable Museum der Dinge (Museum of Things), which lost its lease when the complex at Oranienstraße 25 (also home to the neighborhood institutions of the nGbK, “one of Germany’s most important and largest art societies,” and the Kisch & Co. bookstore), has found temporary new digs at Leipzigerstraße 54. The museum is scheduled to close in early November and reopen in its new premises in April 2024. Eventually the museum will find a permanent home in a building that hasn’t yet gone up. Visit now!

Unlike my earlier articles, I wrote this feeling depressed and overwhelmed. Two years ago, everything was still in flux. Now it seems that everything but rents are stagnating. The only approach that I see capable of helping ensure Berlin’s future as a livable city is education. But don’t just learn and get involved in the issues that directly affect you (possible rent increases and the owner’s claim to need your apartment, Eigenbedarf [6]) and your neighborhood (which could be luxury-housing projects or social service providers being chased away by excessive rents), but also Berlin as a whole (DWE)!

One of the most encouraging developments of recent years is that environmental issues are being linked to housing. According to figures presented by Daniel Dieckmann of the very long and ongoing fight for Habersaathstraße 40–48 (in Mitte), Germany’s building and construction sector alone consumes 90 percent of raw materials, produces 40 percent of CO2 emissions and 55 percent of the waste. Students at the University of Kassel have written an open letter to the Federal Minister for Housing, Urban Development, and Building, demanding a moratorium on demolitions and new construction so that Germany can meet its climate targets, and have even greater ambitions. DWE, Initiative Hermannplatz, and No Hype No Hide all emphasize climate concerns. Think about your part.

Well-informed Berliners will make a difference—or die trying. Take the potion of resistance into the streets.

We told you so! (By the way, my dinner partner came around to supporting DWE—even before we won.😉)

© Nancy du Plessis 2023

Footnotes

1 Had non-German residents been able to vote, the figure would have been much higher. Voting restrictions were addressed in the English-language “Right to the City” campaign.

2 DWE’s booklet (“Gemeingut Wohnen”) discussing the public service company (Anstalt öffentlichen Rechts, AöR) to manage the socialized apartments is available for free download (in German)

3 Karstadt was merged with Kaufhaus to become Galeria, the last big chain of German department stores.

4 Btw, in 2019, Benko bought Manhattan’s Chrysler Building: he likes Art Deco.

5 Reichenberger Kiez’s fantastic protest opera

6 For more information about Eigenbedarf, a pamphlet in German from the Mieter:innengewerkschaft Berlin (Berlin Tenants’ Union) is now online.

 

Antisemitism Definition Suppresses Palestine Solidarity in Germany

Interview with the European Legal Support Center’s Advocacy and Communication Manager Alice Garcia


18/06/2023

The European Legal Support Center (ELSC) defends and empowers advocates for Palestinian rights across mainland Europe and the United Kingdom through legal means. It released a groundbreaking report,“Suppressing Palestinian Rights Advocacy through the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism – Violating the Rights to Freedom of Expression and Assembly in the European Union and the UK”. We interviewed the ELSC’s Alice Garcia about the report.

Can you describe what the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition is, and what the ELSC report tells us about it?

The supporters of the IHRA definition argue that it’s the only definition of antisemitism that fights what they call – Israel related antisemitism, or the “new antisemitism”. Basically, this means any anti-Zionism and criticism of Israeli policies and practices. This “new” antisemitism theory goes back a few decades. It was pushed by a few individuals and organisations who are aligned with the Israeli government agenda, such as Dina Porat, the head of Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry. It was funded by the Mossad, and members of pro-Israel advocacy groups such as the Community Security Trust in the UK, the Anti-Defamation League, the European Jewish Congress and B’nai Brith International. This is documented by Anthony Lerman, a former head of the word Jewish Congress’ institute of Jewish affairs. In 2006, the European Monitoring Center on racism and xenophobia (EUMC), adopted this definition to reconceptualize antisemitism. However it abandoned this because of concerns. The the advocates of the definition tried to find another organisation to give it legitimacy. Finally the IHRA – an intergovernmental organisation working on the remembrance of the Holocaust, adopted the definition in 2016. The history of this definition shows the original purpose – to suppress criticism of Israeli policies and practices. But it’s important to remember that criticism of Israel or Zionism is speech that is protected by freedom of expression. So, conflating it with antisemitism does not stand ground. It is a tactic to silence Palestine advocacy and to shield Israel from accountability for its violations of international law.

There’s already been a lot of writing about and criticism of the IHRA definition and the controversial examples of supposed antisemitism that are attached to it. What does your report bring that’s new?

The ELSC documented case studies through incident report forms and interviews, open source research and fact checking. Often we also provided legal support or advice to the individuals or groups affected by unfounded allegations. For the first time, we have a comprehensive document that presents case-based evidence of infringement on the democratic rights of individuals and groups caused by the implementation of the IHRA definition in the EU and UK. The report is based on 53 incidents alleging antisemitism that invoked the IHRA definition, in Germany, Austria and the UK. It also comprehensively documents how the definition was institutionalised at policy level by the EU. We expose the EU’s consistent ignorance or denial of the concerns; and warnings from many civil society actors regarding the political agenda behind this definition. We have been telling the EU for years that this is problematic for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. In 2019 the EU Commission established a working group on antisemitism to work with affected communities. When European Jews for Justice in Palestine, representing various Jewish groups across Europe, applied to be a part of the group they were deemed not representative. Similarly, when the EU published their strategy to combat antisemitism in 2021, they ignored dozens of submissions from civil society actors criticising the IHRA definition. Our report also rebuts the Commission’s claims that the IHRA definition does not harm human rights. We therefore urge the EU to cease implementing the IHRA definition and to reconsider its endorsements and adoption, and the same for member states and institutions. We hope that this report is a tool to advocate against adopting or implementing the IHRA definition in other contexts. Because there is still a push to have it adopted as widely as possible. Currently, the UN is drafting its own plan to combat antisemitism, to be presented in September. 

Defenders of the IHRA definition claim that it clarifies between criticism of Israel and legitimate antisemitism, why is this not true?

There is a caveat in the definition, that criticism of Israel like that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. What does that mean? It’s very vague and problematic, because any country can be criticised for human rights violations. And Israel is often criticised because there are extreme violations happening there. So human rights groups will be targeted for having supposedly disproportionate scrutiny over Israel, but in reality they also criticise China, Russia, Hungary, and so on. Of course, some groups and individuals focus primarily on Israel-Palestine, so they do not make similar criticisms of other countries. Does that make them antisemites? No. Just like people people focusing on China are not Sinophobes. And one other thing, Israel is not ‘any other country’, it is occupying another nation and practising apartheid against a specific group of people.

There’s a growing conflation, where practically everything can be incorporated into antisemitism. Is this what you see in your cases?

That’s exactly what’s happening. Sometimes there is not even a link between the alleged antisemitic content of a statement and the examples of the definition that are raised to target this specific speech. For example. In one of the cases in the UK, not detailed in the report, a student faced complaints for alleged antisemitism. The complainants had scrolled her social media and complained because she’d liked a tweet criticising the alliance between Israel and the US. That was the whole content of the tweet. The complainant raised the IHRA definition and said that this was antisemitic. We have dozens of cases like this. People think ‘oh, I will take my magic tool, the IHRA definition’. And that’s enough to say that it’s antisemitic. It was enough for the university to open a formal investigation against the student, and a disciplinary proceeding that took months which eventually rejected the allegation, after legal intervention. The IHRA is also often used alongside other accusations, such as not respecting democratic values or being too political. For instance, in the Netherlands, universities place administrative burdens on students to prevent them from organising their events. We have a case where students wanted to organise a workshop on how to cook Palestinian hummus. For two years they are trying to organise this event, but are prevented because it’s said to be too political. Or, another tactic is to make unfounded allegations of support of terrorism; or alleging ties with groups listed as terrorist groups by the EU or other member states. Usually it’s about Hamas or PFLP, and the ties are not substantiated.

The IHRA’s proponents also claim that it’s not legally binding, and thus safe to use. This report debunks this with evidence. Can you explain how this claim that the definition is ‘non-legally binding’ isn’t representative of how it’s being used? 

This definition is constantly being branded as “non-legally binding”, whether in the definition itself, or by EU officials. This supposedly means it does not harm free speech. But actually, tools like the IHRA definition don’t have to be codified in law to have concrete effects on human rights. The report shows this. We explain how it has been adopted through policies and so-called non binding resolutions adopted in parliaments. As soon as these policies or strategies are treated as authoritative by the relevant institutions (whether a local council, a university, parliament, or a state) then it has a de facto binding effect on individuals. Someone who explained it very well is the former UN Special Rapporteur on racism. She published a report in October 2022, which we quote. From the moment that states use the IHRA definition as guidance for judges, police, law enforcement and teachers to determine what is antisemitic, then it has a binding effect. Also, the EU Commission itself expressed this in their 2021 handbook on how to implement the IHRA definition. It recommends referencing the IHRA definition in legislation, using it to train judges and police officers. How much more binding than this can it be?

Although this definition is supposed to help fight antisemitism, you argue that it’s actually implemented in a discriminatory manner. How so? 

In the documented cases, the allegations of antisemitism invoking the IHRA definition were overwhelmingly targeted at Palestinians, Jewish people, and organisations that advocate for Palestinian rights. And this suggests that the IHRA definition is being implemented in a discriminatory manner. We have no data about how the IHRA definition is being used against anyone else but Palestinian rights advocates. But the cases that came to our attention and are in the media all concern Palestinian rights advocates, and primarily Palestinians. Among the 53 incidents that we documented, 42 incidents involved the targeting of groups with members who are people of colour; or of individuals who are people of colour, and among them were 19 Palestinians. Then there were 11 incidents of Jewish groups or individuals targeted, in particular those with anti-Zionist views or sympathy to the Palestinian struggle. This data clearly shows potential discrimination in the way that the IHRA definition is implemented. The other component of how the IHRA definition is discriminatory is that it is a tool of anti-Palestinian racism. We look at the description of anti-Palestinian racism that was conceptualised by the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association last year in the landmark report they published. They described it as a form of anti-Arab racism that silences, excludes, erases, stereotypes or dehumanises Palestinians or their narratives. It takes various forms, such as excluding or pressuring others to exclude Palestinian perspectives, or defaming Palestinians and their allies with slander, such as being inherently antisemitic, a terrorist threat or sympathiser, or opposed to democratic values. So it is very clear, as shown in our report, that the IHRA definition is a tool of anti-Palestinian racism. Because by allowing unfounded allegations of antisemitism against critics of Israel, the definition de facto silences advocates for Palestinian rights and therefore erases the narratives of Palestinians and their legitimate calls for justice.

On to Germany. There’s a lot of discussion about the situation here. You’ve considered Germany here as one of three case studies. How exceptional is the repression in Germany, and how is it similar to other countries?

Germany is definitely exceptional in Europe in the sense that anti-Palestinian racism is so institutionalised. Palestinians and their allies are preemptively banned from demonstrating in the streets to commemorate the Nakba, their catastrophe. It’s also one of the countries in Europe in which we received the most requests of legal support because of the extreme climate of censorship and repression against Palestinian rights advocates. The conflation of anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel with antisemitism is completely normalised, and this for so called raison d’état. Berlin is also the city in Europe with the biggest community of Palestinians, yet their identities are completely erased and denied. Children in school are being reprimanded for even saying that they come from Palestine, the teacher will tell them ‘oh well this is not a country’ or ‘oh you mean Israel’. Also, Germany has systematised the use of anti-BDS resolutions. These resolutions concretely restrict activists rights in terms of renting spaces for events, or getting funding. So again, a non-binding policy that is often adopted through resolutions. These resolutions are adopted at a local level or regional or federal level to suppress any activity or events related to BDS. These anti-BDS resolutions are not unique, because Austria is similar. In France and Spain, there have been attempts to criminalise boycotts. And the UK is now on the way to propose its own anti-BDS bill. So, in that sense, Germany is more “normal”. And we have to remember that this is part of a global strategy, promoted by the Israeli government. Including through its Ministry for Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism. But we could say that Germany has one of the most worrying patterns of repression in Europe right now.

So can you give us a concrete example from the report about how the IHRA definition has been used in Germany?

I think I have to mention the Nakba demos. The IHRA was mentioned in all but one of the prohibition orders of the demonstrations related to the commemoration of Nakba in Berlin. It happened in May 2023, but also in May 2022. They reference it, and then add that the organisations and individuals taking part in the demonstrations are anti-Zionist, and therefore antisemitic. I am not even talking about all the racist sentences that are in the prohibition orders. It’s very worrying that the police used this definition as a tool to legitimise what is an undue restriction of freedom of assembly based on extremely racist assertions, as we explained in a statement and a video.

You write that the IHRA definition was endorsed by the German Federal Government in 2017, as well as various Länder over the two years following that, and used widely in anti-BDS resolutions here. What can local activists do in the face of these resolutions?

Many activists already challenged these anti-BDS resolutions in court, and so far, they have been very successful. In four cities — Munich, Oldenburg, Bonn and Frankfurt — the courts ruled that the restrictive measures carried out by municipal authorities constituted violations of fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and equality. So the judicial system in Germany still tends to resist and to protect fundamental rights. These initiatives are, of course, a model for activists. But these cost money and time. These decisions took years to be issued. Ideally, in the face of this jurisprudence, local authorities should now revoke their resolutions. This is why the legal battle of the BT3P, a group of activists challenging the federal Bundestag’s anti-BDS resolution, is crucial. The complaint was filed in 2020 and is still in the court of appeal, but could create a national precedent that could have effects everywhere in Germany.

Your report describes the successes in the UK in challenging the IHRA in courts, but this comes at a high cost and lengthy trials, as we’re seeing as a result of the last two Nakba Days in Berlin. What risks come with this court-based approach, even if we’re often winning in the courtroom?

Judgments are not always in our favour. So there is a risk of having negative precedents for the movement. But so far, we can count mostly on victories, which is empowering and confirm that we are on the side of justice. But, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will witness a change in the mainstream narratives in Germany or the rest of Europe. As well, German judges often depoliticize and don’t touch on the elephant in the room. That is the question of the right to criticise Israel and the silencing of Palestinian voices. Then, of course, proceedings are lengthy and expensive, and often an emotional burden to those concerned. But that is why strong movements and networks of support are really crucial. This pushing back works, and we have many victories to show that.

Some optimism, then. Can you provide an example of these victories? 

There is the case of Dr. Anna-Esther Younes, a Palestinian-German academic, which is still ongoing but so far really successful. Dr. Younes was surveyed and smeared by this organisation called RIAS Berlin, which claims to monitor antisemitism. RIAS sent a secret dossier to the organisers of a public event where Dr. Younes was supposed to speak in 2019. The day before the event she was disinvited because of this dossier smearing her as an antisemite, sexist, and a supporter of terrorism, etc. All this without substantiating the allegations. Upon receiving this the organisers, at the instigation of Die Linke Berlin and its leadership, disinvited her. So, Dr. Younes came to us. We filed a complaint against RIAS because they withheld the dossier which Dr. Younes requested access to (in line with European Data Protection Law), and the Berlin Data Protection Authority found that Dr. Younes’ right to access her personal data was denied. This decision followed a months-long public media campaign as well as a lawsuit brought against the Berlin Data Protection Authority for its inactivity. Dr Younes got access to the dossier and appealed to get the court to recognise the damage made to her reputation and that the preparation and transmission of the dossier was not legitimate.

What would be the implications of a victory in this case?

If RIAS is finally made accountable, which is what we aim for, then their surveillance of human rights advocates will stop. Remember that RIAS, in the  lawsuit against them, stated that they collected information on Dr. Younes in order to “identify her positions on Israel and BDS”. This group targets Palestinian rights advocates or academics writing about Palestine like Dr. Younes, then try to find things to frame as antisemitic based on the IHRA definition. They then send this information privately to other organisations and institutions. With concrete, terrible consequences on these people which can completely exclude them from academia, and damage their reputation. It also  violates data protection law. So if we are successful, then we hope that RIAS Berlin and others will stop this illegal practice. Because many activists fear being surveyed, and this gives a good precedent for their safety. 

You also write that section 46 of the German criminal code has been amended by a bill referencing the IHRA definition in regards to hate crime. Can you explain this?

A law was passed in 2021 against far-right extremism and hate crime. It amended paragraph 46 of the penal codes to include antisemitism among the motives and aims to be considered by courts in sentencing perpetrators. Section 46 doesn’t mention the IHRA definition. But the bill leading to this law amending the Code did mention the IHRA definition as a reference tool, for determining what is antisemitic conduct. It also references the examples attached to the definition. Even though this was in the bill and not the final law, it still entails risk; because preparatory works and materials are still used by courts when they interpret meanings and purposes of a law. So, a reference to the IHRA definition, even in the bill, could influence and mislead German courts. They may falsely interpret criticism of the Israeli government as antisemitism, which is subject to prosecution and punishment. It therefore exposing Palestinian rights advocates to criminal charges. This poses a serious threat to freedom of expression.

In Berlin where there’s such a large Palestinian community, many of them refugees, the right of return is often discussed. How does the IHRA definition’s claim that it’s antisemitic to question Israel’s right to exist, affect this Palestinian right of return?

We haven’t touched upon that question a lot, but the right of a state to exist is not a concept recognized by international law. There is a right to self determination in international law, but for people not for states. I can refer to two expert reports published on our website. These challenge this prevailing narrative around the notion of Israel’s right to exist from a legal perspective. It’s undeniable the state of Israel exists upon the expulsion and displacement of Palestinians. Perpetrating this displacement for Palestinians sustains the continued presence of the state of Israel. The criminalization of this criticism directly renders this right of return obsolete or a non-right. But in any case, we have observed several incidents of suppression of Palestinian rights advocacy where this notion of Israel’s right to exist is very broadly interpreted and instrumentalized to purport allegations of antisemitism. This is often used to repress anything related to the Nakba; or its’ advocates who carry banners in protests that show the map of historic Palestine; or people expressing the concept of settler colonialism of Israel.

“We should not give up on Germany”

Israeli historian Ilan Pappe on 75 years Nakba, the new Israeli protest movement, and discussing Palestine in Germany


04/03/2023

Questions: Phil Butland, Emily Baumgartner and Gregory Baumgartner

Hello, Ilan, thanks for speaking to us. Could you start by briefly introducing yourself?

My name is Ilan Pappe. I’m a professor at the University of Exeter in Britain, where I’m the director of the European Centre for Palestine studies. I’m also a historian, and a social and political activist.

The main reason we are talking today is that this year the 75th anniversary of the formation of the State of Israel. One of your books called the event, the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Could you explain what you meant by this?

The ethnic cleansing of Palestine is actually the project of the settler colonial Zionist movement to take over the Palestinian homeland. At the right historical moment, from its perspective, it was able to take over much of the land and expel many of the native people from their land.

Before 1948, the Zionist movement did not have the power to implement such a massive expulsion of people. But once the British mandate was over, and they had built an adequate military capacity, they used the particular circumstances of the end of the British mandate to implement a huge operation of mass expulsion, or ethnic cleansing.

People were expelled in huge numbers because of who they were – Palestinians – not because of what they did. By the end of that operation, half of the Palestinian population became refugees. Half of their villages were demolished, and most of their towns were destroyed. In my understanding of the definition of ethnic cleansing, whether it’s a scholarly, legal, or moral definition, the planning, execution and ideology all justify describing the Israeli action in 1948 as ethnic cleansing.

In many ways, as I point out in the book, this has never ended, because the ethnic cleansing of 1948 was incomplete. And in many ways, it continues until this very day, if not on the same magnitude as the 1940s. But it still very much informs the Israeli actions against the Palestinians until today, wherever they are.

One of the tragedies for me about the Nakba is that the people who were doing the ethnic cleansing and creating refugees, were themselves refugees. People fleeing Nazi Germany, obviously didn’t want to stay in Germany, but they were also being largely denied access to the UK or the US. Did European Jews have any alternative to fleeing to Palestine?

The people who devised and oversaw the ethnic cleansing arrived in Palestine, much earlier – before the Holocaust. And when they arrived in Palestine in the 1920s, they still had options to go elsewhere.

It is absolutely true that since the rise of Nazism and fascism, Britain and the United States closed their doors, and quite a lot of the Jews who came from Central Europe and from areas that the Nazis occupied, had very few options. Palestine was one of the only places they could go to, but they were not the main force that decided on, and or perpetrated the ethnic cleansing. Most of the crimes committed in 1948 were committed by Zionists, many of whom, such as Yitzhak Rabin, Yigal Alon or Moshe Dayan, had been born in Palestine.

But definitely, one of the reasons that Jews came in large numbers in the 1930s to Palestine was that the West closed its gates for Jews who escaped from Europe. But I don’t think that most of the people who perpetrated this ethnic cleansing, were themselves victims of Nazi or fascist oppression.

Who were the people coming to Palestine? The Left was excited about communal Kibbutzim. After the Soviet Union was the first country to recognize Israel, many felt that there was something socialist about young Israel. How accurate was that belief?

The early Zionists were people came from Eastern Europe. And some of them were definitely inspired not only by the ideas of nationalism and colonialism, but also by the ideas of socialism and communism.

We know for example about the most important group that came to Palestine in the 1920s. This core group went on to grow the leadership of the Zionist community until the 1970s, and they were part of a more international socialist movement. Some of them even took part in the 1905 attempt to overthrow the Tsarist regime in Russia.

So yes, it was a fusion of three or four elements. One was socialism. The second was a nationalism which defined Judaism not as a religion but as a national identity. Thirdly, modernism. It was very important for them to build the idea of the modern Jew. No less important was colonialism – the idea that you are entitled to take any part of the world outside of Europe, regardless of who lives there.

But most of the Zionist settlers preferred not to live in socialist Kibbutzim, and therefore moved to the cities. By 1948, only a very small percentage of the Jewish settlers lived in those communes. But they were very powerful societies in terms of defining Zionist policies and strategy.

I think the most important thing was that they really believed–albeit wrongly–was that universal ideologies such as communism, and socialism, did not contradict settler colonialism. But of course, these two perspectives on life do not go together. One cannot be a socialist colonizer. Albert Memmi used to call it the Leftist Coloniser. And actually, you’re much worse in your criminal attitude because you are trying to use enlightened ideas to justify the actions on the ground.

How do you think they were able to square the circle? How could they justify to themselves this mixture of socialism and colonialism?

They still do it, it’s what we call the Zionist Left – which is not a force any more in Israeli politics, but used to be. This group squares not only socialism with colonialism, but also liberalism. The way you do it is by asking for exceptionalism. You say that in any other case, colonizing people, displacing them, and ethnically cleansing them is a crime. But in your case, there is a justification.

Whatever the justification is, you have to understand that there was no other way of doing it. At first, I am sure they found it difficult. But with inertia, and the educational system and indoctrination, they began to believe in it themselves.

No less important is the international reaction. Israelis might have felt differently, had the international socialist movement in Europe said to them: “wait a minute, that doesn’t work. In the age of decolonization, you cannot do what you’re doing”. Or if liberal Americans had said to them: “I’m sorry, but what you’re doing is against our moral values”.

However, they were lucky that the West decided that to accept this idea that you can have this exceptionalism when it comes to Israel and to Jews.

We are talking about a time when India and parts of Africa were being liberated. The Left stood firmly on the side of the anti-colonial movement. And yet–as you say–many of the same people turned a blind eye or even put Israel forward as a socialist paradigm. How did this happen?

In 1975, the United Nation finally had a huge membership of decolonized people. This was unlike the United Nations of 1947, which did not have one representative from the colonized world and legitimized the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine.

In 1975, the decolonized people were the majority in the United Nations. And one of the first things that they did was to pass a resolution which said, Zionism is racism. You cannot be a liberal or socialist Zionist. If you are a Zionist, then you’re not different from someone who supports apartheid in South Africa. That was the message of the United Nation resolution in 1975.

The big question was not what would African and Arab states do–instead focused on–how would the members of the United Nations coming from the West do vis-a-vis such an imposition? And, for whatever reason, Britain and France, and West Germany and later the EU, accepted the Israeli position. This position meant that you cannot treat Israel as a colonialist power, and therefore you cannot treat the Palestinian liberation movement as an anti-colonialist movement.

They accepted the Israeli framing of the Palestinian movement as a terrorist organization, and Israel as a democracy that defends itself. This changed the whole discourse about Israel and Palestine. And it extended the period in which the Left in Israel could think that it had found this amazing way of squaring the circle.

What is really interesting is what happened inside Israel. From 1977 onwards, the Israeli Jewish electorate says, “no, it doesn’t work. You really can’t be both democratic and Jewish”. And we see the result in the November 2022 election [which saw significant gains by the far right – editor’s note].

Israeli voters said: “no, you can either be a democratic state or the Jewish state. This whole idea that comes from Tel Aviv, or the Kibbutzim, that you can be both democratic and Jewish is nonsense.” Unfortunately for everyone concerned, their conclusion was “since we think that there are only two options, either you’re Jewish or democratic, we prefer to be Jewish one”.

That is, Jewish in the way that they understand Judaism, not the way I understand it. Their Jewish state is a theocratic, non-democratic, racist, apartheid state that needs all the power it has, because it still has a problem with the indigenous people of Palestine and those in the neighbourhood who support them.

This is something that leaders of the Left Zionist Movement never anticipated. They could not believe that their own electorate would say: “come on, it doesn’t work, stop, stop lying to yourself and to others. There’s nothing wrong in not being democratic. There’s nothing wrong with occupying someone else’s land and claiming it as yours. And there’s nothing wrong with using violent means in order to sustain your control.”

Do you think that the recent elections, and the new government, represent a qualitative shift in what’s happening in Israel?

It is a culmination of a qualitative shift that already started in 2000. There was a political force which was quite hegemonic in Israel until the late 1970s. They could come to the Social Democratic parties in Europe and say: “we are another social democratic country, no different from you”. And they were the hegemonic power in Israel until the 1970s.

But then the electorate said: “No, we don’t accept you”. Also, Arab Jews said that “because you are European Jews who are treating us in a very racist way, so we don’t want to be part of your version of a European country”. It seems that they are content with a more religious, traditional and racist state. This began in the late 1970s and took time to mature. Losing, or never winning, this Arab Jewish electorate (still 50% of the population) was the biggest failure of the Israeli Left.

From 2000 onwards, there was no social democratic power in Israel to talk about. There are parties who define themselves social democratic, but they don’t have any sizeable electorate behind them. And they have no influence in Israeli politics.

Since 2000, all the governments were either centre-right or right-right. If you look at the Knesset today, there are four members out 120, who define themselves as social democrats. There are more members who define themselves as Palestinian or anti-Zionist, but the vast majority define themselves as Zionists, and nationalist and religious. This is the face of Israel in 2022.

This is not an accident of history. It is an inevitable result of the whole idea of the settler colonial project.

One reaction to this lack of representation in parliament is the demonstrations in Israel which are barely precedented in terms of the size of mobilization against the government. At the same time, these demos clearly have nothing to say about the Palestinians. Do you think that they should be supported? And will they lead anywhere?

My Palestinian friends who are citizens of Israel discussed whether they should join the demonstrations. When consulted, my position was very clear. I said: “first of all, these demonstrators don’t want you there. They prefer not to see any Palestinian-Israeli citizen there. Secondly, the demonstrations are based on the idea that there is no connection between the occupation and the destruction of what is left of the Israeli democracy.”

This assumption of the demonstrators is totally wrong, of course. The two are connected and linked. The changes in the judicial system are meant to enable expansion of settlements and taking more severe actions against the Palestinian. This is the same package. It will take a bit longer for Israelis in Tel Aviv, and the high tech elite, who are worried about the way Israel is going, to see this. Hopefully they might see that there is a connection, but I’m not sure that they will. This is an internal Jewish debate that will have an impact on the Palestinians, but the Palestinians cannot impact that debate.

There is a misconception among some of the critics of Israel, that most of Israel’s money comes from the security services. That is not true. The most important income for Israel comes from high tech. Of course, some of that high tech is connected to security. But the high tech elite in Israel pays a sizeable percentage of the taxes and patriotically retains tens of billions of dollars in Israeli banks, as a statement of confidence in the Israeli economy. Since November 2022, they have begun to take the money out of Israel, and started to look for jobs outside of Israel.

This will undermine the Israeli economy very seriously, because it is a capitalist liberal economy which is based on such flow of money and human capital. It will be very interesting to see the impact on people who usually vote for the right wing, when their socio-economic conditions are affected.

The Israeli Central Bank has already increased interest rates eight times. This means that most Israelis who have mortgages are now paying three times more than they paid a few years ago. For many of them, three times more is half of their salary, and they have no chance of buying these houses.

So they will find it very difficult to pay their huge rent. And this government doesn’t have anyone there who has any capacity to deal with an economic crisis, which hasn’t happened yet, but will happen eventually.

How is the government justifying people having to pay these higher mortgages?

It is very difficult to answer this question logically. Today, the Knesset passed a law that allows Netanyahu to spend huge sums of money on renovating his house and his private aeroplane on the same day that people were told that their mortgage is being tripled. The people whose mortgages are being tripled, are generally people who vote for Netanyahu.

The people who don’t vote for Netanyahu are very well off. This change in the economy doesn’t bother them. But there is a certain psychology here which is not that easy to explain, and is not unique to Israel. Why do the electorate that suffer most from the economic and social policies of the government, continue to support the government?

So far one of the reasons that this occurs in Israel, is due to the government’s ability to tell its supporters that this is the necessary sacrifice for keeping the tribe and the nation together. This togetherness is necessary because we’re facing enemies from within and from without. That’s why they have to blow the Iranian danger out of proportion in order to cement support and divert attention from the socio-economic problems of the society.

So far, it has worked. Every time that they are overdoing these oppressive economic measures, we say to ourselves, okay, now it will burst out. We thought it burst out in 2011, with the social protest movement of half a million people demonstrating in Tel Aviv against the government’s policies on education and housing.

It was mesmerising to see how it petered out. A year later in 2012, Israel went to war in Gaza in order to make sure that the demonstrators will go to the army and go to the war and forget about the social protest. The government has no economic solution for the current crisis. It will try to find a way of diverting the attention–whether it’s a war or a crisis–it is hard to predict, but it is very worrying.

If you talk to the younger generation, they were educated in a particularly indoctrinated educational system. It is very difficult to change their perspective. And Israel de-Arabized many of the Arab Jews (the Mizrahim), giving them the sense that being not Arab is the ticket to be part of the new Israel, and something which will help to distinguish them from the “Arabs” of Israel, who were depicted as lesser persons or human beings, and therefore made them second-rate citizens. There is so much work to be done there, for anyone carving for a change from within Israel.

Some things are logical. We understand why some of the North African Jews moved to the settlements from the poor neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. That was understandable. They lived in a slum, and were offered a villa in the West Bank. So they went with the government’s support. The settlements for the Arab Jews in Jerusalem were built near Jerusalem, not inside the West Bank.

But nowadays, I’m not sure how far the Israeli government can go with this. They have no economic solution to the gap between those who have and those who haven’t. This is a situation that they themselves created. And frankly, they don’t even have the wizards of the liberal economy any more.

What you’re saying, indirectly at least, means that Israeli high tech workers and Palestinians have got a common enemy in Israeli capital. Does that mean that there’s a possibility of them coming together against the same enemy?

Not in the near future, because unfortunately, these high tech people are also indoctrinated by the racist Zionist view that the Palestinians are non-Europeans, and not equal partners. But it may shift. I don’t want to sound overly optimistic. but people who work in the Israeli medical system know that 50% of the physicians in Israel are Palestinians, and that many of the heads of the departments in hospitals are Palestinians. Maybe it will help to re-humanize the Palestinians in the eyes of the Ashkenazi elite of Israel. But we have to wait and see, as it has not happened yet.

The real hope for change lies elsewhere. There is a need, which now seems utopian, for an alliance between the Jews who came from Arab and Muslim countries and the Palestinians all over historical Palestine. I know this is not going to happen very soon, and I’m not sure if it’s going to happen at all. But I would invest most of my efforts there.

How can the Palestinians avoid taking the same path as South Africa? As a supporter of the Initiative for the One Democratic State, how would a single democratic state under capitalist conditions avoid just continuing the old power relationships in a different way?

The Initiative is trying to find bridges between the Left and some of the political forces that emerged in Palestine after the 1970s, including the political Islamic forces. We see that there is a lot of common ground, not only to liberate a place from colonization, but to build a new one, which is based on egalitarian social and economic policies.

What we don’t want, is the compromise that Mandela made in South Africa. In order to see the end of apartheid, Mandela was willing to allow the capitalist interests in South Africa to remain powerful in a way that did not solve the most fundamental problems of South African society and economy. It’s better than having apartheid, but it creates new issues.

The way to avoid this post-apartheid reality is to make sure that while you discuss the means for decolonization, you also develop a social and economic post-colonial vision. Applying the means used to decolonize, you might be able to build a more just society. Namely, just not only in terms of the of the relationship between Jews and Palestinians–which is the main aim–but also between classes, between the rural areas within the periphery and the centre, and so on.

It really behoves the Palestinian Left to redefine its identity and goals, and to openly and critically look at the mistakes it made in the 1970s. This is where this energy can come from. On the Left we believe in intellectual, organic intellectuals, and profoundly looking at the problems and finding solutions. But we also need to be in contact with movements and receive the support of the people themselves.

Who do you think has the agency to enforce change? I agree with you that the Palestinian Left needs a better vision. But Palestinians are largely excluded from the Israeli economy and merely going on demonstrations mean you run the risk of being shot by Israeli soldiers. What will it take to change the balance of power?

A lot of people know what needs to be done. But we all are very bad in knowing how to do this. We need to take into account that Palestinian society is the youngest in the world. 50% of the Palestinians are under 18. And this younger generation has some clear ideas of who they are and where they want to go.

Unlike the politics from above, whether inside Israel or in the Palestinian occupied territories where people are divided ideologically and politically, the younger generation is far more unified in its analysis of the reality and its vision for the future. These energies need to find their way into the structures of representation and leadership that can move all of us in the right direction.

We experienced this both in the West in 2008, and during the so called Arab Spring in 2011-2. People were very hesitant to put their energies into organizational issues. They felt that organization creates bureaucracies, and bureaucracies tame down the energy and become corrupt. This is what they see around them in the Arab world, and also in the West.

So there needs to be a fusion of the revolutionary energies that are there. I think the Left always realized that you need organization and representation. You may be influenced by anarchism, but it doesn’t always work as a transformative force on the ground. We can agree that knowing exactly how to transform things is not easy.

One of the most interesting initiatives, which I hope it will include the Palestinians in Israel, is either to re-organize the PLO, or to find a substitute. It is necessary for all of us to have a more accepted representative, democratic Palestinian leadership that will push us all in the right direction. This is easier said than done, of course.

How could a new State be forged, ideally with economic relations which are divorced from the last century of Zionist war-making? How would it function economically, if there’s no war to constantly generate profits?

That goes together with the whole decolonization process. First of all, you dismantle the racist colonialist institutions. These institutions are based in capitalism. The main problem is not so much the militarized high tech, but the question of decolonization.

The energy that would be needed would be in such a different direction to security, that I don’t think you have to worry about it too much. Because either people will go along with this, or they won’t. And if they do, the high tech community would also have to contribute its share for building a post-colonial state and prioritise for instance, projects of absorbing the Palestinian refugees (since the implementation of the right of return would be crucial for a just solution) and be part of the effort for redistributing land and property and working out a credible mechanism of compensation.

The entry point is really the dismantling of colonialist institutions. These institutions are now so closely connected to the capitalist system, that the very dismantling or weakening of them may also begin with changes to the economic nature of the state.

The 2011 protest movements in Israel showed both the potential and limitations. The movement was huge, but it fell apart as soon as anyone mentioned Palestine. It happened at roughly the same time as the Arab Spring, but there seemed to be zero connections made with what was happening in North Africa. Was this inevitable?

Let me put it this way. In order to change the reality on the ground, our greatest hopes are not for change from within the Israeli society. If someone wants to see a change in Palestine, it would not come from within the Jewish society, but from the ability of the Palestinians to be more unified, and for the Muslim and Arab world to stand behind them.

People or governments in the West standing behind the Palestinian Liberation cause can bring a change. But anyone that waits for change from within Israel as an important component in transforming the situation–will, unfortunately, be disappointed.

Having said this, things are more dialectical. If we see all these things that I talked about–a change in the Muslim world, and in the way that Western governments are acting–this can have an influence on the ability of Israelis to be more assertive and maybe contribute to the change.

I would be very surprised if the current movement will do this. It’s an impressive movement. 100,000 people surrounding the Israeli Knesset on Monday is a show of force. But these people will make sure that the Palestine issue is not connected to their agenda. They will make sure that Palestinian Israelis are not part of this protest movement. And that’s why they will fail.

Maybe one day they will realize that if you want to change the Israeli political system from within, it needs to be done through Arab-Jewish cooperation. You cannot do it without the Palestinians in Israel. But Israel has grown up to be such a racist society, that for the vast majority of Jews, this is an unthinkable scenario.

Who should socialists in Germany and elsewhere be making links with? You don’t see much hope in Israel, and Fatah and Hamas are falling apart with corruption. Who are our partners in the region?

There is a thriving civil society which needs the support from people from the outside. It is very well organized in the West Bank. Even under the Hamas in Gaza, it has enough freedom to act. The same is true about the Palestinian society inside Israel.

And there is a positive development. Jews are no longer creating their own civil societies. They understand the limitation of the power. So if you are an anti-Zionist Jew, you are now joining a Palestinian NGO instead of creating your own. Some of the Palestinian national movements inside Israel used to say: “let the Jews develop their own critical mass and we will develop ours.” Now there is an understanding that it has to go together.

You can see it in Balad, the most important national party inside Israel. Although it never prohibited Israeli Jewish citizens from joining now they’re actively recruiting Israeli Jews, both for the party and also through a network of civil society organizations that is connected with the party.

There is also a call from 150 Palestinian NGOs inside Israel and the occupied territories for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction campaign, It is a very important call, and something that socialist and progressive forces in Europe are ready contribute towards. I know how difficult it is in Germany, because of the legislation and the declaration in the Bundestag. But nonetheless, that should not deter us.

There is also an interesting new initiative. The PLO has started international anti-Israel apartheid committees everywhere in the world. This can form a new energy for the BDS movement or enhance the BDS movement even further. I think these initiatives are very important. You cannot rest. They need to be maintained.

One last question. You will be speaking in Berlin again in May at the Marxismuss conference. The subject is 75 years Nakba, but it’s also an opportunity to addressing some of the problems that we have in Germany. Our problem is not just the Bundestag resolution, but a self-censorship and lack of self confidence amongst the German Left regarding Palestine. How important you think is it to talk raise the issue of Palestine with a German audience?

Very, very important. Germany plays a very important role in this whole question. Germany’s justified guilt is manipulated in order to immunise Israel. Germany is an extremely critical political force in Europe. But it does not dare to take any bold actions as a political system, that would benefit the Palestinians and alleviate their suffering under Israeli oppression.

It’s very important to find a way of convincing the German public that they should not be intimidated. I come from a German Jewish family. I know very well what happened in Germany. We should not be intimidated by that particular chapter in history. On the contrary, that chapter means the Germans should be even more sensitive to the suffering of the Palestinians.

Germany should not deny the past, but instead say that this past requires a moral position on Palestine, not just on Israel. The Palestinians are a link in the victimisation chain that began in 1933. People in Germany who produce knowledge about Palestine–academics, journalists pundits, and definitely politicians–cannot act like they are part of the Israeli propaganda.

I know they are intelligent scholars, journalists, and politicians. It really breaks my heart to see them saying things that they know are not correct. The only reason they’re saying it is because of political, academic, or journalistic utility. They don’t want to be condemned as antisemites. This is more important in Germany than in any other country.

We have a great assignment of convincing them that, supporting the Palestinians is being anti-racist and anti-colonialist, and therefore cannot be an antisemitic act based on the mistaken belief that antisemitism is racism. This is easier said than done. But I think that academics should play a very important role here–in being accurate, in being accurate professional, in not abusing what they do as academics.

Germany always respected its academics, journalists, writers, intellectuals–but when it comes to Palestine, they behave like people with no backbone avoiding the desire to seek out the truth. And this is something that I think they should contemplate. Hopefully we can help them in this process.

We’re nearly out of time. Is there anything you’d like to say before we finish?

We should not give up on Germany. I’m beginning to give up on on the chances of changing Israeli society, but I’m not giving up on the younger German generation. We should still look at Germany as a place where there are processes that have not yet matured. And Germany’s is building itself all the time.