Bans on Pro-Palestinian Demonstrations
It was approximately 2 p.m. when Alexanderplatz, nestled in the heart of Berlin, revealed a transformation. The morning’s dense clouds gradually dispersed, yielding to the gentle rays of the sun. Its golden tendrils bathed the Neptune fountain at the square’s center, illuminating the bronze sculptures and the individuals hoisting Palestinian flags. Typically serene on weekends, this particular November 4, 2023, saw an unusual surge in footfall, as crowds amassed to partake in a demonstration championing Palestine.
The square’s perimeter bordering the main street boasted a convoy of trucks, spearheading the procession. Organizers stood poised, clutching their horns, ready to lead the march. Amidst a display of various banners and flags overhead, Berlin’s notable landmark, the red city hall, stood visible in the distance. Emblazoned against the Renaissance-style red-brick building were five distinct flags: the European, German, and Berlin city flags alongside the Ukrainian and the blue-and-white Israeli flags.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had made a statement in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack and mentioned on various occasions in the following month that Israel has the right to defend itself and that Germany would stand by Israel. Germany has a special responsibility towards Israel and the Jewish people, and it is Germany’s “Staatsräson” to protect Israel’s security.
Israeli flags have been raised in front of numerous institutions in Germany, and the slogan “Stand with Israel” flashes on electronic billboards in the streets of Berlin and even on the screens of ATMs in front of banks.
The November 4 march marked the second authorized large-scale pro-Palestinian demonstration in Berlin since October 7.
Initially, within the first ten days following the attack, almost all applications for pro-Palestinian marches in Berlin were rejected by local authorities. Furthermore, unauthorized marches faced police intervention.
Most of these demonstrations took place in Neukölln, situated in southeastern Berlin. This district is home to a significant population with Arab and Muslim heritage, constituting the largest concentration of Palestinians in Europe. Following the world-shaking Hamas atrocities, dozens of people in Neukölln notably celebrated the attack on Israel. An organization known as Samidoun, subsequently banned by the German government, raised Palestinian flags along Neukölln’s main street and distributed baklava – a sweet treat from the Middle East.
In the subsequent days, the Palestinian-Israeli situation took a distressing turn as Israel initiated shelling in Gaza. This led to a higher count of civilian casualties and injuries in Gaza compared to those in Israel. Meanwhile, the Neukölln district appeared to evolve into a focal point for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict within Germany. As night descended, the area witnessed a surge in police activities, with numerous arrests and flashing blue lights from police cars dispersing crowds and detaining individuals who defied orders.
A Jewish Israeli woman, standing alone in Hermannplatz in Neukölln, holding a sign condemning the war initiated by her home country, also found herself in police custody. Furthermore, scenes of police forcefully detaining and searching protesters, using pepper spray on passers-by, and extinguishing Palestinian candles erected in memory of the victims circulated widely on social media.
The government of Berlin and several other cities imposing a ban on pro-Palestinian marches has generated widespread shock and concern among the public.
Over a hundred Jewish artists, writers, and scholars residing in Germany collectively penned an open letter titled “Freedom for the One Who Thinks Differently,” condemning the German government’s actions that curtail freedom of expression and the right to assemble, which they deem as a violation of Germany’s Basic Law.
The open letter articulates, “As Jews, we reject this pretext for racist violence and express full solidarity with our Arab, Muslim, and particularly our Palestinian neighbors. We refuse to live in prejudicial fear. What frightens us is the prevailing atmosphere of racism and xenophobia in Germany, hand in hand with a constraining and paternalistic philo-Semitism. We reject in particular the conflation of antisemitism and any criticism of the state of Israel.”
Government and Parliament Unity, Divided Citizenry
On November 12, Chancellor Scholz stated that he did not support a long-term ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians, expressing the view that Hamas should not be given an opportunity to breathe. Germany, known for its historical role as a mediator in the Middle East and for being at the forefront of anti-war efforts, abstained from voting on the United Nations General Assembly resolution on October 27, which called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the name of humanity.
Several politicians from Germany’s three ruling parties—namely, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), the Green Party (BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN), and the Social Democratic Party (SPD)—have prominently expressed their support for Israel. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock of the Green Party visited Israel on October 12, stating in her speech, “These days we are all Israelis”. Friedrich Merz, leader of Germany’s largest opposition party, the Union, participated in a pro-Israel rally at the Brandenburg Gate on October 8, condemning Hamas’s attack on Israel as “a cowardly, Islamic attack” on X. Additionally, Alice Weidel, leader of the far-right AfD party, known for its anti-immigrant and antisemitic tendencies, posted on X: “We are deeply shocked by Hamas’s terrorist attacks against Israel, and therefore have the need and reason to react decisively. Germany must also dismantle the radical Islamist network rather than fostering its growth.” The Left Party remains one of the few voices calling for an immediate Israeli-Hamas ceasefire, representing the only slightly dissenting opinion.
Michael Roth, chairman of the German Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, stated at a press conference attended by international media that the parties in the Bundestag displayed a high degree of unity in supporting Israel.
However, according to a poll conducted by Infratest Dimap, a German opinion research organization, 41% of the surveyed individuals believe that Israel’s military actions are excessive and advocate for the protection of civilians as much as possible. Additionally, 35% of respondents consider Israel’s military counterattacks against Hamas justified, even if they affect Palestinian civilians. Only 8% of those surveyed feel that Israeli military action was not strong enough.
On the Palestinian-Israeli issue, it appears that the popularly elected Bundestag of Germany doesn’t accurately reflect the diverse range of opinions held by the German public.
Meron Mendel, an Israeli historian and author of the book “Talking About Israel” , highlights how the German government’s stance, differing from public sentiment, is often driven not by moral motives but by a tendency to formulate policies based on pragmatic considerations.
We shall have a look at the concept of “Staatsräson” once more. This term was initially introduced by former German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her address to the Knesset commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the State of Israel’s establishment. Since then, it has been referenced by several German leaders on different occasions and has evolved into a fundamental component of Germany’s official narrative.
“Vergangenheitsbewältigung” (work of coping with the past) stands as one of modern Germany’s most successful narratives, providing the German state and society with a new moral compass. This narrative emphasizes that for Germany, which bore responsibility for the Holocaust, the newly established Federal Republic of Germany could only secure its place on the global stage by wholly disassociating itself from its Nazi past. Complete repentance and the unwavering protection of Jewish communities were essential for Germans, who still carry the weight of their forefathers’ sins, to reconcile with themselves.
Through extensive educational programs in schools and society, a deep-rooted sense of special responsibility towards Israel and profound empathy for its struggles were instilled in the German psyche. This became a fundamental element of both the national identity of the German people and the German state, significantly influencing the nation’s values and molding both its domestic and foreign policies.
German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck released a nearly ten-minute video on November 1, which garnered 6.5 million views within a day of its release and received widespread acclaim across Germany. The speech, directed at the German populace, embodies the qualities expected of a national leader. Some viewers praised Habeck for exhibiting a ‘chancellor-like’ demeanor.
Deborah Feldman, the Jewish-American author, whose book “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots” was made into Netflix’s acclaimed series, appeared as a guest on Germany’s prominent talk show ‘Markus Lanz,’ alongside Vice Chancellor Habeck. She observed that Habeck’s speech aimed at bolstering his leadership image and attempting to fill the rhetorical vacuum created by the absence of German Chancellor Scholz and Foreign Minister Baerbock.
During his address, Habeck emphasized Germany’s special relationship with Israel, stemming from the historical responsibility owed by Germany for the generation that sought to annihilate Jewish life in Germany and Europe.
But in the eyes of scholars who question this claim, Germany’s fusion of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, motivated by a commitment to the Jewish community, presents several problematic implications. Elad Lapidot, an Israeli-Jewish professor and one of the signatories of the open letter “Freedom for the One Who Thinks Differently”, highlighted in an interview that within the current landscape of public opinion in Germany, any critique directed at the State of Israel might be perceived as an assault and animosity towards Jews, consequently labeled as antisemitic, and possibly prohibited. This situation severely curtails the rights of the German populace to freely express themselves, voice their opinions, and engage in political critique.
Silencing Dissent: The Suppressed Critique
Reem Sahwil, 23, born in Lebanon and a Palestinian refugee, met with the then German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the age of 14. During their encounter, Sahwil expressed her desire to remain in Germany. Chancellor Merkel responded by stating that due to the high number of asylum applications, some individuals would have to be repatriated. This response brought Sahwil to tears. The incident was captured by the media, marking one of Merkel’s most memorable moments, and Sahwil became known as “Merkel’s refugee girl.”
Sahwil was eventually granted German citizenship in February of this year. Nine months later, she is now facing accusations of antisemitism due to a photo posted on social media. Some German politicians have called for the revocation of Sahwil’s German citizenship.
The controversy stemmed from Sahwil’s social media post containing the phrase “from the river to the sea.” This slogan, commonly heard in pro-Palestinian marches—“from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”—had been allowed in Germany for a considerable time but was later banned after the outbreak of the war. The German government’s rationale behind the ban was that the slogan was typically used by Hamas supporters, signifying that if the region from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River became Palestine, Israel would cease to exist.
Opponents of banning the slogan argue that it holds potential for varied interpretations. Michael Sappir, an Israeli Jewish scholar, contends that within the context of leftist protests, the primary intent is to advocate for freedom and equality among all individuals residing in the region, irrespective of their nationality or religion. He suggests that it could also symbolize a push for a “one-state solution,” envisioning an Israeli-Palestinian state encompassing the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. “However,” Sappir added, “this intent does not equate to harming Israeli Jews.”
Germany maintains the belief that a two-state solution stands as the sole resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even the Left Party, advocating for an immediate ceasefire of Gaza, strongly supports the idea of a two-state solution. Conversely, the concept of a potential one-state solution for Palestine and Israel is viewed as having an antisemitic bias in Germany. Similar to numerous topics with ambiguous boundaries, which are open to discussion in the international public opinion and academic discourse, even in the United States, where the government unconditionally supports Israel, there is limited space in Germany on these matters. For instance, debates regarding anti-Zionism, comparisons of Hamas to ISIS, among others.
Another example is the Palestinian-led BDS movement, which has also encountered substantial opposition in Germany. Since its inception, the movement has sparked a significant wave of resistance, with the German parliament’s resolution in mid-2019 allowing no room for the BDS movement to operate within Germany.
On May 17, 2019, the German Parliament adopted a resolution characterizing the BDS movement as antisemitic based on its foundational principles and methodology. However, the BDS resolution passed by the German Parliament is not legally binding. A legal assessment issued by the Parliament’s research department concluded that the resolution restricts the right to freedom of expression, particularly in criticizing Israel. In essence, the declaration within the BDS resolution, namely that the BDS movement is antisemitic, lacks legal enforcement and cannot be transformed into actionable policy due to constitutional constraints.
Nevertheless, despite not being codified into law, the BDS resolution had a significant impact on German society, serving as a cornerstone for antisemitism commissioners across various political levels in Germany.
The burning of an Israeli flag in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in early 2018, as a protest against Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, marked a significant turning point in Germany’s approach to combating antisemitism. Subsequent discussions led the ruling party to establish a federal government commissioner dedicated to combating antisemitism within the Federal Ministry of the Interior. Furthermore, they created an additional 13 relevant positions to support the commissioner, allocating a budget of one million euros annually.
While the Jewish community in Germany is relatively small, consisting of fewer than 250,000 individuals, its presence holds immense symbolic importance for a country committed to addressing antisemitism as as a way to repay its moral debt to the Holocaust.
To ensure comprehensive coverage across Germany, it has become customary to appoint commissioners for combating antisemitism not only at the federal level but also within individual state, various religious groups, and communities, including schools and churches. For instance, in one of the western German federal states bordering the Netherlands, the regional government has appointed a total of 22 antisemitism commissioners within the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Shortly after the parliamentary BDS resolution was enacted, it instigated a series of reactions within Germany’s arts and cultural spheres. Kamila Shamsie, a British novelist of Pakistani origin, had an award that was initially slated to be conferred upon her retracted by the western German city of Dortmund due to her advocacy for BDS. Similarly, Peter Schäfer, a globally acclaimed scholar of Judaism, was forced to resign as director of the Jewish Museum in Berlin after the museum retweeted an article criticizing the anti-BDS resolution.
In 2020, over 1,500 scholars, artists, and journalists worldwide collectively signed an open letter opposing the 2019 resolution passed by the German Parliament. The letter voiced concern about a prevalent trend where “the resolution has created a repressive climate in which cultural workers are routinely asked to formally renounce BDS, as a prerequisite for working in Germany. “
Additionally, it condemned the German agency’s extensive scrutiny of the political stances held by cultural workers in the Middle East and the Global South, labeling it as a form of “back-door racial profiling” It urged Germany to cease “baseless charges of antisemitism” that malign individuals.
Since October 7, politicians in Berlin have exhibited greater reluctance to address Israel’s responsibility in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the actions of its president, Benjamin Netanyahu. These include allegations of corruption against him, observed populism, measures that have undermined Israel’s democracy, and notably significant lapses in intelligence gathering and security in recent months.
During an interview with Michael Roth, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag, explained his restrained criticism of Israel. He expressed that his approach stems from the belief that when a friend undergoes a tragedy, the appropriate response is to offer support, listen, and empathize with their sorrow rather than dictate instructions. In his view, Germany should refrain from assuming a role of instructing or advising the friend in distress.
When asked about the space for criticism of Israel within German politics, Roth highlighted a deeper rationale behind Germany and Europe refraining from critiquing or offering advice to Israel. He pointed out that Palestine does not operate as a democracy, where sexual and religious minorities often face oppression and marginalization. In contrast, Israel stands out as the sole democracy in the Middle East, known for upholding the rights of vulnerable groups.
However, this dichotomous narrative that delineates the global state into two factions—liberal democracies versus dictators and terrorists—is problematic in the eyes of Germany’s critics of Israel’s foreign policy.
Within this cognitive framework, sympathy for Palestine is often misconstrued as support for Hamas, and criticism of Israel is frequently labeled as antisemitism. In Germany, many individuals engage in self-censorship, fearing the repercussions of crossing the perceived red line of antisemitism. Consequently, instances of ‘cancellations’ for supporting Palestine or critiquing Israel have become increasingly frequent since October 7.
Since October 7th, according to the European Legal Support Center, 156 incidents of repression have been documented. These include, but are not limited to, venue refusal or withdrawal, event cancellations, job loss or suspension, defunding, threats to citizenship or residency status, infringements on academic freedom, and more.
Witch hunt: “canceled” writers, artists, journalists
The annual Frankfurt Book Fair, held in Germany every mid-October, is a global publishing event attended by thousands of publishers and companies. Palestinian author Adania Shibli, recipient of Germany’s Freedom Prize for Literature, was scheduled to receive her award during this year’s book fair. However, Shibli’s ceremony was canceled by the organizer. Shibli’s acclaimed book, ‘Minor Detail,’ delves into the real-life incidents of Palestinians being raped and murdered by Israeli soldiers in 1949. The organizers’ decision triggered over 1,000 individuals, including renowned authors and Nobel Prize winners, to sign an open letter of protest. Additionally, several Arab publishing groups announced their withdrawal from the book fair in response to this action. Slovenian philosopher Žižek, invited to speak at the fair’s opening, criticized the decision as ‘shameful.’ He viewed it as a form of collective punishment for millions in Gaza and the the “cancellation” of Shibli’s award ceremony as a violation of the fair’s proclaimed values of inclusion and diversity.
Žižek also raised a question to German society: ‘Whenever someone mentions the necessity to analyze the complex background of a situation, they are often accused of ‘supporting Hamas’ or ‘justifying Hamas terrorism.’ Do we realize how peculiar it is to ban the analysis and understanding of the complexity of a situation? And what kind of society upholds such a ban?’
On November 13, the Folkwang Museum in Essen, Germany, announced it was terminating its collaboration with U.S.-based Haitian curator Anaïs Duplan. This decision came after Duplan described Israel’s actions in Gaza as “genocide” in a social media post just days before the opening of an exhibition that Duplan had been preparing.
Even Jews and Israelis haven’t been exempt from being “canceled.” In late October, Udi Raz, an Israeli residing in Germany and free lanced as a tour guide at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, was informed that his employment would be discontinued due to what was deemed “inappropriate remarks.” Specifically, his use of the term “apartheid” in his tours referencing the situation in the West Bank, quoted from Amnesty International’s 2021 report, led to this decision. Notably, in a prior conversation, Raz’s supervisor had expressed significant appreciation for his expertise.
“This is a ‘witch hunt,” commented Israeli Jewish academic Michael Sappir. For individuals who hold differing viewpoints from the German government on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this trend gained traction around 2018 and has continued over recent years.
The quinquennial Documenta in Kassel ranks among the top three art fairs globally and holds a significant position in the German art scene. The fifteenth edition of the fair in 2022 was marred by controversy surrounding the artwork “People’s Justice”by Indonesian art group Taring Padi, which was deemed “antisemitic” by both Israeli and German governments. This ignited a heated debate within the art community concerning the extent of artistic freedom.
The cloud of allegations of antisemitism lingered beyond the exhibition’s conclusion, permeating discussions about the upcoming sixteenth edition, currently in preparation for 2023. On November 10, Indian poet Ranjit Hoskoté, a member of the Documenta selection committee, faced accusations from German media of endorsing BDS in 2019. Subsequently, Hoskoté resigned on November 13, 2023.
Israeli artist Bracha Ettinger, also a member of the selection committee, also announced his resignation after her request that Documenta should be postponed due to the war in Gaza was rejected. Following these events, the remaining four committee members from China, France, Austria, and Colombia collectively resigned on November 16. Their resignation letter expressed their reasons for stepping down:
“It is this emotional and intellectual climate of over-simplification of complex realities and its resulting restrictive limitations, which has been prevalent since documenta15 and especially against the background of the current crises our world is facing, that makes it impossible for us to conceive of a strong and signal exhibition project, and consequently to allow for a responsible continuation of the selection process to determine a curatorial concept for documenta16.
In the current circumstances we do not believe that there is a space in Germany for an open exchange of ideas and the development of complex and nuanced artistic approaches that documenta artists and curators deserve. We do not believe that any acceptable conditions can be created in short term and consider it to be disrespectful of documenta’s legacy to simply remain content with the current situation.”
Europe’s largest publishing house, Axel Springer SE, founded in Germany, owns daily tabloid newspaper Bild, known for their sensationalist headlines, along with other media outlets on the more conservative side of the political spectrum like Die Welt. Media reports indicated that on October 9, the Springer Group posted a statement on its official website titled “Standing with Israel” and raised the Israeli flag in front of its headquarters building in Berlin on October 7. However, on October 19, according to investigative outlet, that employees of Upday, Springer Group’s news aggregator app, were instructed by their superiors to include more Israeli voices in their reporting while downplaying information concerning Palestinian casualties. An internal revelation stated, “We can’t push any information involving Palestinian deaths or casualties without first mentioning Israel in the story.”
Shortly thereafter, Kasem Raad, a 20-year-old apprentice from Lebanon working at Axel Springer, was terminated after questioning the company’s pro-Israel policy through internal channels. Raad clarified that among other reasons, the company dismissed him due to a video he posted on social media debunking a fake news story about Hamas allegedly beheading babies in the October 7 attack.
This isn’t the first instance of Arab journalists being affected in Germany. Towards the end of November 2021, Süddeutsche Zeitung published an article alleging antisemitic remarks made by employees of Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public law media outlet, in its Arabic department.
In response, Deutsche Welle promptly initiated an investigation, establishing a panel of external members within two days. Two months later, the panel concluded that there was no systemic antisemitism within Deutsche Welle. However, seven Arabic-language employees, including Farah Maraqa and Maram Salem, were dismissed. This decision was based on the investigators’ claim that these individuals had posted or shared content on social media or in articles before joining Deutsche Welle that was considered to contain antisemitic material.
And in the two years following, four out of the seven dismissed employees lodged a lawsuit against Deutsche Welle, securing a favorable verdict. The court determined that there was insufficient evidence to justify the termination, ordering the rehiring of the employees and the payment of owed wages by Deutsche Welle. However, in an interview with us, Maraqa stated that up to the present time, Deutsche Welle has not fulfilled the payment of Maraqa’s entitled salary.
The reason behind Salem’s accusation by Deutsche Welle, as per Maraqa’s view, is even more ironic. Evidence labeling Salem as an antisemite included a statement she once wrote: “Freedom of expression in the West is an illusion when it comes to the Palestinian question.”
“People say that the trade unions in Germany are strong and will assist you whenever needed, but we have tried to contact these organizations, and they never showed up,” said Maraqa. “The system itself is sound, but it is paralysed when it comes to Israel, when it comes to antisemitism.”
“Just on this topic everything that we think as democracy is dysfunctional”, Maraqa commented.
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor criticized Deutsche Welle’s decision to dismiss Arab employees without just cause, alleging that it intensifies the German media’s anti-Arab tendencies.
The Arab media outlet The New Arab also published an investigative report on the matter, questioning the credentials of the external investigative team employed by Deutsche Welle. Specifically, they highlighted Ahmad Mansour, a German psychologist and author of Israeli origin, featured as a guest on German talk shows. Mansour is believed to possess pronounced Islamophobic views, as detailed by a 2020 report from Georgetown University documenting multiple instances of his Islamophobic statements in media interviews and articles, potentially influencing anti-Muslim sentiment in Germany.
In a new report published by the CIVICUS Monitor on December 6, 2023, assessing civic space conditions in 198 countries and territories, Germany has slid from ‘open’ to ‘narrowed’ this year. The downgrade to the ‘narrowed’ rating reflects findings that the government does not fully protect its citizens’ freedoms of expression, assembly, and association. According to the CIVICUS Monitor’s press release, authorities occasionally violate these freedoms.
“Germany’s case demonstrates that citizens in democracies are not immune to an erosion of their rights,” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, lead researcher at CIVICUS Monitor.
Islamophobia and Germany’s Immigration Dilemma
Observers of German politics fear that prevailing anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiments in German society will intensify. The unconditional support for Israel and the excessive fight of antisemitism provide political justification for these sentiments.
According to data released by the German Federal Ministry of the Interior in May 2023, approximately 84% of antisemitic crimes in Germany in 2022 stemmed from right-wing political motives, while only about 4% were attributed to foreign nationals or religious ideologies.
However, strong pro-Israeli voices in Germany seek to portray “antisemitism” as an “imported” problem linked to the influx of Middle Eastern refugees or attribute it to the significant Muslim population in Germany.
When questioned by the media about the government’s focus on establishing systems and institutions to combat antisemitism in recent years, Felix Klein, Germany’s Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life, emphasized the refugee crisis of 2015-2016 and the large number of migrants from the Middle East arriving in Germany, “had specific triggers “, he said.
On October 20, as the effects of the Hamas-Israeli war continued to ripple across Germany for over a week, in an interview with Der Spiegel, Chancellor Scholz and the journalist discussed the pro-Palestinian marches in Berlin. The journalist highlighted that many anti-Israel residents in Germany had Arab backgrounds and questioned whether the German government was overlooking the issue by not carefully screening who was allowed into the country. Scholz stated that the influx of refugees into Germany was already excessive and that the government would expedite the repatriation of illegal refugees and immigrants.
Mertz, the leader CDU, called the October 7 Hamas attack as an “Islamic attack” and criticized Germany’s fast-track naturalization process. He called for recognition of Israel’s right to exist to be included in the naturalization process and stated that individuals not acknowledging this agreement “should have no place in Germany.”
On December 6, 2023, the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt announced that from now on applicants of German citizenship need to pledge allegiance to Israel. The applicants must sign a declaration affirming their recognition of Israel’s right to exist and their condemnation of any actions targeting the state of Israel’s existence.
The far-right party in Germany, AfD, faces direct accusations of exploiting its pro-Israel stance to stoke anti-Muslim sentiment. A 2021 study by the American Jewish Committee underscored a substantial part of AfD’s propaganda as antisemitic, pinpointing AfD adherents as the leading antisemitic force in Germany. Their outward support for Israel is seen as a mere façade. Georg Pazderski, a former AfD vice president, advocated that Germany should emulate Israel by fortifying its borders through consistent expulsions.
“It is an absolute irony of history that 75 years after the Holocaust, the Israeli right and the German right have united against Muslims and other refugees,” writes Mendel in his analysis of AfD in the book Talking About Israel.
Scharjil Ahmad Khalid, the Imam of the Hadijah Mosque in Berlin, brought attention to the presence of approximately 5.5 million Muslims in Germany, expressing a prevailing sense of disillusionment within the Muslim community towards the German government.
As a German-born Muslim, Khalid, underscored, despite past instances of questioning and criticizing government policies, he has never felt as disillusioned with the government as he does presently, sensing a significant breach of trust with the people.
“In Western democracies, the treatment of minorities is an essential indicator of the effectiveness of the democratic system. When the largest minority in Germany feels stigmatized and disenchanted with the German media and political stance, one must question the experiences of smaller minorities. This raises concerns about the functionality of German democracy.”
The Muslim community in Germany feels that amidst this debate, the German mainstream primarily expects them to condemn Hamas. Feldman’s TV debate with Habeck resonated strongly, particularly her questioning of the German government, striking a chord within the Muslim community. However, she too faced her own “cancellation.”
In her Guardian piece, she writes: “The same people who had been demanding that every Muslim in Germany condemn the Hamas attacks in order to receive permission to say anything else at all were fine with civilian deaths as long as the victims were people with opposing views. The German government’s unconditional support for Israel doesn’t only prevent it from condemning the deaths of civilians in Gaza – it also allows it to ignore the way dissenting Jews in Germany are being thrown under the same bus as they are in Israel.”
For Israeli scholars keenly observing German political dynamics, Germany’s sensitivity to antisemitism and its guilt over its history often take a self-centered, narcissistic stance, sidelining the Jews as the central subject. The spotlight shifts toward Germans’ self-redemption as perpetrators and their self-perception.
Emily Dische-Becker, a left-wing Jewish curator “cancelled” post the antisemitic controversy of Documenta 15 in Kassel in 2022, suggests that at the core of the issue lies German identity politics. In a podcast, she analyzed that Germany hasn’t fully contemplated its history: the discourse on post-colonialism is scant, and white supremacy remains entrenched in German social identity.
Residents of immigrant backgrounds, especially of Arab and Muslim backgrounds, have very different memories of World War II than white Germans, and do not carry the guilt of their fathers and grandfathers. According to Joseph Cronin, a scholar of German and Jewish history, Germany has made great efforts to “get rid of” its Nazi past, but has not reflected enough on the historical crimes of the colonial period, and Germany’s history of European colonialism, white supremacy, and the consequent so-called subjugation of other inferior peoples should be part of the culture of German memory.
These should be part of the German memory culture, which needs to be more pluralistic in order to reflect the current composition of German society.
Germany, today, grappling with an aging population, urgently requires a substantial influx of immigrants to invigorate its society. The government aspires for Germany to evolve into a high-quality immigrant society to attract skilled personnel, pivotal for Germany’s future development and survival. Currently, residents with immigrant backgrounds constitute a quarter of Germany’s population, a trend expected to continue.
Immigrants, particularly those of Arab and Muslim backgrounds, harbor disparate memories of World War II compared to white Germans, absolved from their forefathers’ guilt. According to Joseph Cronin, a scholar specializing in German and Jewish history, Germany has strived to erase its Nazi past but hasn’t adequately reflected on the historical atrocities of the colonial era.
The culture of German memory should encompass reflections on its European colonial history, white supremacy, and the historical subjugation of other ethnicities, fostering a more pluralistic understanding that mirrors the diverse makeup of contemporary German society.
The intense debate within German public discourse since October 7, coupled with the significant rightward shift in Germany’s political spectrum regarding immigration, is pushing Germany to make a defining choice: can it expand the identity formed by the mainstream – dominated by white Germans – to accommodate immigrants with distinctly different life experiences, enabling them to find political identity and subjectivity in Germany?
Professor Lapidot perceives it ironic amid this fervent struggle to safeguard Jewish existence that the German government’s conflation of Jews with the State of Israel won’t protect them. This association enables people to channel their frustration, protests, and anger toward Jews when they are upset by the Israeli government’s actions, amplifying hostility, and eventually leading to criminal antisemitism, a resurgence observed recently in Germany.
“Never again” stands as Germany’s promise when reflecting on the Holocaust, an unquestionable underlying German value. The plea from the millions now protesting across German cities is for these values to apply universally. Feldman’s televised debate with Vice Chancellor Habeck was an earnest plea for understanding: “I firmly believe that there is only one legitimate lesson from the Holocaust. And that is, the absolute unconditional defense of human rights for all. These values lose their legitimacy when we apply them conditionally.”
This article first appeared in the Chinese-language website the initium. Reproduced with permission