This is going to be a positive contribution, so I won’t say much about the problems we have here, which we all know well. But I do want to start with one remark. I have lived in Germany for 27 years. I know the discussions with people who have said to me “you can’t say that in Germany”, or sometimes “you can say that, but as a German, I can’t”.
The most reent of these discussions was just last week with a comrade from my LINKE branch in Berlin Wedding. She’s been to Hebron. She’s seen the streets where only settlers and tourists are allowed to walk. She knows from personal experience that there is racial segregation – that is Apartheid, in Israel.
But at the same time she says, we can’t call Israel an Apartheid state. At the very least, not in German. You know the reasoning – because of German history, Germans must be careful when they speak of Israel.
The Silence of the Left
In Israel, there is an organisation named “Breaking the Silence”, made of former soldiers who say that they can no longer be silent about the crimes of the Israeli state. We need something like this in Germany. The biggest problem here is not the mainly irrelevant Antideutsche (pro-Israel “anti-Germans”). The main problem is that the silence of Germans, and in particular the German Left, means that the Antideutsche seem much louder and more powerful than they really are.
After the bombing of Gaza in 2014, there was growing discontent in Germany with Israel and particularly with the Israeli government. A study by the Heinrich Böll Stiftung found “rising criticism of Israel from the German side, particularly against ‘Israeli politics’.”
In 2014, the Berlin demo for Gaza was 1% the size of the equivalent demo in London. In 2021 it was about one tenth as big as the London demo.
But discontent does not mean active opposition. What we are experiencing at the moment is that support for the Israeli government is becoming internationally untenable, while silence and general passivity prevails within Germany.
And Yet it Moves
But it is not true that nothing is changing on the streets. Let’s go back to the Gaza bombing of 2014. I was one of the main organisers of the Berlin demonstration where Palestinians, Israelis and Germans came together to demonstrate against the slaughter. We had great help from a demonstration through Kreuzberg organised by Israelis with the slogan “Deutsche Linke Wach Auf!” (German Left wake up!) with the demand that the broad German Left finally take a position.
It was hard work, and we were proud that we managed to mobilise 1,500 people – one of the largest demonstrations for Palestine in Berlin for years, and a demo which was organised by left-wing forces (Palestinian and non-Palestinian). Fast forward to last year, despite Corona regulations, 15,000 people marched through Kreuzberg and Neukölln. This was not the biggest demonstrations that I have experienced, but it was one of the liveliest and definitely one of the most important.
In 2014, the Berlin demo for Gaza was 1% the size of the equivalent demo in London. In 2021 it was about one tenth as big as the London demo. We still have a long way to travel, but at least we are clearly going in the right direction.
What has changed?
I want to talk about 3 factors.
First, and almost certainly the most important, a newer and younger leadership of Palestinians in Germany has emerged. This leadership represents a generation shift. It is less bound to the old Palestinian parties and is more active in the anti-capitalist movement. The size of the mobilisation last year was not possible without the existence of organisations like Palästina Spricht, and their ability to mobilise and inspire wider forces.
Ten years ago, every tenth Berliner was a foreigner. Now, 1 in 4 residents of Berlin do not have a German passport… If you walked through the Gaza demo last year, you could hear many languages… The missing language was German.
The second factor was Black Lives Matter. The Gaza demo on Berlin took place on 15th May 2021. Tomorrow, it’s the second anniversary of 6th June 2020, when 15,000 gathered on Alexanderplatz for BLM. This was the first major mobilisation since Corona. Coming down on the U-Bahn from Wedding it was clear that many of the demonstrators were BiPoc and working class people who you don’t normally see on demos.
It wasn’t a big surprise to me to see many black faces on the Gaza demo. While many white Germans have fully accepted the narrative of the Israeli and German governments, victims of racism are seeing the links between the fight of the Palestinians against colonialism and repression and their own fight against racism. This tendency is currently on the rise.
The third element was nothing new in the fight for the liberation for Palestine. In the LINKE Berlin Internationals, we regularly experience that most non-German Leftists see Palestine solidarity as being self-evident, and are completely confused by the discussion in Germany. Our support for the Palestinians is not new, but our social weight is rising.
Ten years ago, every tenth Berliner was a foreigner. Now, 1 in 4 residents of Berlin do not have a German passport. It’s not just Arabs. People from Spain and Greece, who came to Germany for “just one year” because of the economic crisis in their own country are still here, because youth unemployment in Southern Europe is still prohibitively high.
This means that there are more of us, but we are also more integrated and active in German politics. If you walked through the Gaza demo last year, you could hear many languages – Arabic of course, and Hebrew, but also English, Russian and a range of others. The missing language was German.
So what about the Germans?
I have often heard the argument that goes: if white German Leftists are not able to support the clearly anti-racist and anti-colonial fight of the Palestinians, then that’s their problem. The fight can go on without them. I find this argument sympathetic, especially now that we really do have a significant movement which is led by Palestinians. Nonetheless I think it’s politically wrong.
We live – unfortunately – in a racist society, where the opinion of migrants and foreigners can be ignored. The Black Lives Matter movement was important above all because It was led by oppressed people themselves. But it was also able to mobilise many white people behind it. Such people can demonstrate on Saturday then on Monday go to work, or the nursery, or school, and report how the cops maltreated them. These so-called “privileged” voices make it much more difficult to marginalise the movement.
The Bundestag resolution on BDS and the demonstration bans have outraged liberals and Antifa activists – people who would not automatically stand on the side of Palestinians, in Germany at least. White Germans are slowly recognising what Black Germans and migrants have always known – state censorship which is used against Palestinians will ultimately be used against us all.
Break the Silence
The silence that I spoke about at the beginning of this article is only possible because a majority of German Leftists have decided that Israel/Palestine is “too complicated” or that “Germans are not allowed to talk about it”. But even here something is changing. It’s changing too slowly, but the change is coming. In the SDS and solid – youth organisations of die LINKE – there has been some progress this year.
Here in Berlin, for example, a joint group of the LINKE Neukölln, the SDS, solid, the LINKE Internationals, but also Palästina Spricht and other Palestinian groups organised a well attended public meeting about the Nakba this May. Further strategy meetings are planned, as well as another public meeting in Autumn.
We have potential – and until now it is only a potential – to build a joint anti-racist, anti-colonial pro-Palestine movement. But this movement must still be built. By whom, if not the people in this room (and reading this article)? Today must just be the start.
This is a rough translation of a speech that I made at a panel at the Marxismuss conference in Berlin on 5th June 2022. A video of the speeches should be available soon.