FMP1’s new room booking policy bans Palestine-solidarity

As the “Neues Deutschland Building” forces groups to sign a contract about Israel to use its space, the list of rooms for discussing Palestine in Berlin shrink even further


Franz-Mehring Platz 1 (FMP1) has long been a meeting point for activists in Berlin. Colloquially known as the “Neues Deutschland building” it hosts the left-wing newspaper, and was until recently also the home of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung. I have attended many interesting conferences at FMP1 which have contained challenging and progressive discussions on Palestine.

It is a shock, then, to learn that FMP1 has become part of the current attack on spaces in Germany available for discussing Palestine and Palestinians. Recently, a group of activists asked if they could hold a meeting on Palestine in FMP1. Their request was accepted, but only if they signed a contract accepting the following conditions:

“In particular, we declare that we will refrain from making any statements at the above-mentioned event or prohibit such statements by participants who
a) represent antisemitic content and positions in any way whatsoever
b) question the right of the State of Israel to exist,
c) oppose a two-state solution,
d) support the terror of Hamas or other groups against Israel and its support by organizations, networks and individuals in Germany
e) defend calls for or declarations on the use or justification of terrorist violence as a means of resolving the Middle East conflict or
f) are racist, chauvinistic or glorify violence in any other way”

This appears to be a standard form which will now be sent to anyone who is planning a similar event.

In December 2023, FMP1 updated their statute regarding booking meetings. The statute now includes the following text: “Calls or declarations which justify terrorist groups or other violence to solve international or civil conflicts have no space in FMP1.” The new contract gives us a clearer view of what this means in practise.

Who is banned?

According to the new contract, I – and many others – would be banned not just from organising an Event in FMP1, but from even making a statement there (regardless of whether that statement mentions Palestine).

I have written articles which explain why I think that the One State solution is the only democratic option for Palestinians. Furthermore, as an international socialist I question any State’s right to exist. This includes Mesopotamia, East Germany and Rhodesia, but also Germany, Great Britain and Israel. I specifically oppose the right of a State to exist on the basis of the exclusion and oppression of many of its inhabitants.

Some of the other restrictions in the FMP1 contract look reasonable enough, but are inherently problematic given the current state of debate in Germany. What is “antisemitic content”, for example? Daniel Bax recently wrote eloquently in the taz about how accusations of antisemitism are being used to exclude Jewish artists and intellectuals.

Presumably antisemitism “in any way whatsoever” is meant to include anything which comes into conflict with the highly contested IHRA definition of antisemitism. IHRA has been used to conflate criticism with Israel with antisemitism. This could be used to exclude Judith Butler, Basel Adra and Yuval Abraham, Noam Chomsky, and many others from FMP1.

And what counts as “supporting the terror of Hamas”? Hamas’s politics are not my politics, but Palestinians are hardly unique in using political violence. The Algerian FLN used what could be called “terror” in their fight against colonialism, as did the ANC when they overthrew apartheid in South Africa.

Like many other national liberation movements, the ANC regularly used “terrorist violence as a means of resolving conflict”, including the particularly gruesome strategy of “necklacing” their political opponents (killing them by putting a burning rubber tyre over their necks). We may oppose this strategy, but it is surely clear that the ANC stood on the right side of history. Would Nelson Mandela be banned from FMP1?

Paternalistic White Germans are once more telling Palestinians and anti-Zionist Jews what they are allowed to do or say. Violence is unacceptable, apparently, but the Bundestag has already rejected the non-violent strategy of BDS. When Israeli bombs rain down on Palestinians, German politicians offer muted criticism at best, while German arms exports to Israel are ten times what they were a year ago. But Palestinians must sit back and turn the other cheek?

The main argument, though, is not even about whether Palestinians are allowed to resist their oppression. It is an attempt to forbid us from even talking about it. If we want to end the current inhumane bombing of Gaza, which has cost the lives of at least 30,000 people (probably many more), then we must be able to openly discuss what methods are legitimate (and which we reject). This discussion is now forbidden in many German institutions, including FMP1.

Part of a general trend

The FMP1 contract is not an isolated incident. At the end of last year, the progressive cultural centre oyoun had all its funding withdrawn by the Berliner Senat because it hosted an event by a Jewish organisation. This year the Senat tried, and failed, to refuse funding to any artist who would not sign a declaration which effectively calls any opposition to Israel antisemitic.

More recently, students in Berlin have been threatened with ex-matriculation if they engage in political activity. This is clearly an attempt to clamp down on pro-Palestine activity on Campus, but could also be used to threaten anyone who politically disagrees with this government or any of its successors. With the AfD currently gaining support in Germany, this is a seriously worrying prospect.

The repression is not just a general threat. It has also significantly affected many individuals, like the Documenta artists, Achille Mbembe, Anna-Esther Younes, Candice Breitz, Masha Gessen, Laurie Anderson, Palestinian journalists sacked by Deutsche Welle, plus countless more Palestinians whose names we never hear.

Censorship does not just come from the political Right. Even the left-wing pub the Syndikat has banned any meetings supported by Palästina Spricht. Syndikat – and now FMP1 – joining the censorship bandwagon only strengthens the Right and encourages them to come back for more.

Palestine Congress

In a week’s time, Berlin is going to host a congress which has been described in various media as “a conference of hate” (Bild Zeitung), or “a catalyser for antisemitism, Israel-hatred and an endorsement of Islamism and terrorism” (Kim Robin Stoller to the taz). Leader of the CDU parliamentary fraction Dirk Stettner has called the congress a “disgrace for Berlin”.

The Berliner Senat is discussing whether it should ban the Palestine Congress. Two organisers have already had their houses raided by the police. The state bank, the Berliner Sparkasse, has frozen the bank account of the Jüdische Stimme, which was being used to accept ticket payments. This is not the first time that the German state has closed Jewish bank accounts.

And who are the speakers at this dangerous conference? Former Greek finance minister Yannis Varoufakis, Irish MP Richard Boyd-Barrett, editor of the Electronic Intifada Ali Abinumah. Palestinian journalist Hebh Jamal, and several members of the Jüdische Stimme who we have been proud to interview for theleftberlin.

The press and right-wing politicians are whipping up a climate of fear, and it is not beyond question that the conference will be banned or raided by the police. The cooperation of left institutions like FMP1 in the exclusion of Palestinian voices only encourages such state censorship. In the face of the genocidal bombing of Gaza, Germany is not a safe space to discuss the safety of Palestinians.

It is shocking that FMP1 is contributing towards the shrinking spaces available for discussing resistance to the oppression of Palestinians and the repression of people in Germany which is used to sustain it. We should demand that left wing spaces remain open for everyone challenging capitalism and imperialism, not censoring these voices on the State’s behalf.