Is Germany a Democracy?

Suppression of Palestinian advocacy in Germany is a portent of the country’s illiberal future.


On October 14th, at 2:45, I was walking toward Frankfurt’s Alter Oper for a demonstration against the war on Gaza that has now claimed the lives of 5,000 Palestinians, 2,000 of them children.

Then at 2:50 I received a message from the organizers: “demonstration banned by Frankfurt, they are blocking off Alter Oper.”

I was already there, so I decided to walk towards a crowd gathering a few minutes away at Hauptwache. Different groups of of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered on opposite sides of the street, holding signs that say “end the war,” and “free Palestine.” There were hundreds there, except the groups couldn’t unite because of a wall of police officers separating them.

A water cannon was pointed directly at me and a helicopter flew overhead. Soon enough I witnessed and documented the detainment of over 300 that were in attendance. Young men and women filled with grief and anger, not understanding what they did wrong to be forcefully dragged by police in riot gear one by one.

A “Solidarity with Israel” rally, however, was allowed to take place at the same time and day, not too far from Hauptwache.

I personally helped organize a vigil in Heidelberg after the massacre that killed over 300 Palestinians in Al Ahli hospital, aiming to greive and ask for an end to this war. That too was banned.

As my whole extended family is currently in Gaza facing consistent bombardment funded by US and German taxes, I am living here and wondering, why can’t we grieve for our dead? Why is Germany so terrified of us demanding a better life for them?

Protest after protest has been banned and subjected to ample amounts of police violence over the course of these two weeks. Video footage coming out of Berlin shows evidence of racial profiling and consistent harassment on the corners of Neukölln and Kreuzburg – home to thousands of Palestinian refugees who came to Germany after the Lebanese Civil War.

In Germany, Palestinians are completely and utterly dehumanized, despite being home to the largest Palestinian diaspora outside of the Middle East and South America. We are not allowed to demonstrate, the media refuses to do its due diligence and bring the Palestinian perspective, and politicians conflate all of us with antisemitic terrorists unworthy of sympathy.

Today, Germany announced that it is opposing calls in the EU for a humanitarian ceasefire for the Gaza Strip.  It can be seen that massive rocket attacks continue to be carried out on Israel.

“There will only be peace and security for Israel and the Palestinians if terrorism is fought,” said Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

Except what Baerbock refuses to consider for a moment, is that half of the population in Gaza is under the age of 18, and the terrorism that she believes Israel is fighting against, is in fact an act of collective punishment inflicted on civilians – an internationally recognized war crime.

Israel  has targeted ambulances and paramedics, residential buildings that have wiped out over 50 complete families, UN workers, journalists, and places of worship such as the third oldest church in the world that was made as a safe haven for those seeking refuge from the bombings.

Even if Israel was only targeting Hamas bases, (although international experts have already proven this not to be the case) does this justify the murder of 5,000 people? Are German sensibilities that blind to the absolute barbarity that is taking place in Gaza that it is too difficult to demand the absolute bare minimum: a humanitarian ceasefire?

The only justification for valuing innocent Israeli lives more than those of the Palestinians is simple; it is racism.

CDU leader, Freidrich Merz piled onto the complete dehumanization of the people of Gaza:

If there are refugees from Gaza , then these are initially an issue for the neighboring countries. Germany cannot absorb any more refugees . We have enough anti-Semitic young men in the country.

Imagine that? Thousands of innocent men, women and children facing extreme violence and barbaric killings  that have nothing to do with what took place on October 7th,  are not even seen as human enough for Merz to consider their refuge. Maybe it is because they are not white Ukrainians.

Unconditional solidarity with Israel, and categorizing their national security as Germany’s “Reason of State”, has created a failed opportunity for a real and fair debate to take place amongst the German public. Instead, political pundits and the media are talking amongst themselves regurgitating Israeli talking points of “Israel related antisemitism” as the reason for people’s frustration towards this war, failing to see a real and cruel injustice taking place right before their eyes.

What is a democracy if we cannot question our country’s foreign policy positions? Isn’t that the absolute essence of what a democracy is even about?

This dehumanization, however, did not start only in the last two weeks. Unconditional solidarity for Israel has led to an increasingly shrinking space for Palestine advocacy where speech is immediately labeled as antisemitic without conversation, without question, and without exception. Following the passage of the anti-BDS resolution in the German parliament in 2019, federal institutions began deeming all actions that support the BDS  movement as an example of hatred against Jewish people. This has allowed universities, state governments, and public institutions to deny Palestinians the right to free speech and assembly.

Throughout Germany, pro-Palestinian professors are being shunned from academic spaces, journalists are fired for declaring solidarity with Palestinians on social media, and speaking out on Palestine as a student can lead to encounters with the police.

It is not only Palestinians that face the brunt of state repression. There are thousands of Jewish Israelis living in Germany that have expressed criticisms of Israel and want an end to this war, and who feel isolated in the growing presence of what can only be described as an act of authoritarianism.

As the Jewish Israeli artist Yuval Carasso told me recently:

My existence as a Jew becomes a marionette, as if Germany is not interested in Israeli Jews who have an opinion, you are only welcome if you are a good Jew who behaves as expected of you. This is very worrying.

While the rest of the world is having these tough conversations, in Germany, Palestinians are routinely subjected to persecution and are criminalized for wanting to express their opinions. Chancellor Olaf Scholz, while underlining his support for Israel, stated in a recent interview that Germany has to “deport people more often and faster.”

This rhetoric is not only racist, but it is scary. It means that disagreements in foreign policy, and not wanting Israel to commit mass atrocities, can lead to the exile of people who have nowhere else to go. Forcing silence leads to the outcasting of entire communities impacted by this violence, driving a wedge between migrants and Germans even further.

Antisemitism and antisemitic acts are an abhorrent phenomenon that should not be undermined. The few instances of antisemitism on Berlin’s streets should be addressed throughout all Palestinian organizing groups and in fact, they are and are condemned constantly. But when there is no oppurtunity for trained organizers, activists, professors and journalists to even express that the liberation of Palestinian does not in any way mean the destruction of Jewish people – it births a vacuum that only opens the door to ignorance, frustration, and hate.

This article was published in German on the neues deutschland website. The first few paragraphs were edited out of the German version, but are included in this English text which first appeared on Hebh Jamal’s blog. Reproduced with permission.