Germany silences pro-Palestinian voices while profiting from arms sales to Israel

May 21, 2024
protester holding a sign saying 'Germany stop supporting Israel's war crimes'
Despite the state crackdown, people turned out for the Nakba Day protest in Berlin on May 18. Photo: Cherry Adam/

Jewish, pro-Palestinian activist, Rachael Shapiro — a descendant of Holocaust survivors, and active in Jüdische Stimme (Jewish Voices) — attended a protest in February in Berlin against the neo-Nazi party Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD).

Shapiro, who is originally from the United States but has lived in Berlin for the past five years, held up a sign saying Juedin gegen die AfD und Zionismus, fuer ein freies Palaestina” (“Jew against the AfD and Zionism, for a free Palestine”).

She was verbally abused and spat at three times by an older German man, who said: “What do you know? The AfD is a fascist party. What does that have to do with Israel?”

The irony of an older German man posing such a question to and then attacking a young Jewish woman highlights the contradictions and incongruity of the German State’s support for Israel’s war on the Palestinian people.

Writing in Al Jazeera, Shapiro said: “While actual incidents of anti-Semitism go largely unpunished, those of us standing in solidarity with Palestine are accustomed to brutal, state-sanctioned violence, repression and surveillance from police and the German government in response to peaceful protests and boycotts. This has intensified massively since the genocide in Gaza began in October, regularly under the guise of accusations of anti-Semitism and Judenhass (hatred of Jews).”

A recent poll commissioned by German public broadcaster ZDF showed that 61% of voters do not believe Israel’s attacks on Gaza are justified. Only 25% believe they are. Despite this, the German government is the second largest weapons supplier to the Israeli military, behind the US.

As well as consistently getting its police and security forces to aggressively crack down on pro-Palestinian peaceful demonstrators, the government has also taken unprecedented action to suppress freedom of speech on the issue.

In Germany and Austria you cannot talk about the atrocities in Gaza or the West Bank, you cannot write about them, create cartoons or art about them or even protest against the genocide. Demonstrations are regularly outlawed or disrupted by the police, posters are seized, and activists and those at rallies charged with “suspected incitement of the people”.

Austrian socialist and pro-Palestine activist Michael Pröbsting was charged in May with “incitement to commit terrorist offences and approval of terrorist offences” by the Prosecuting Attorney's Office of Vienna, for failing to delete a video of statements supporting the Palestinian resistance on October 7. He was given a six-month suspended sentence.

At another protest in early April, the German police informed demonstrators that flags, banners, speeches, chants and songs in Irish were all outlawed. The police only allow German and English to be spoken at the protest camp in front of the Reichstag (Germany’s federal parliament). Arabic is allowed for a brief time at 6pm. As police confirmed to the Irish Independent, they prohibit languages that they don’t understand, so they are able to check if anything illegal is being said. Ironically, even Hebrew is prohibited.

Celebrated Jewish philosopher Nancy Fraser’s visiting Albertus Magnus professorship at the University of Cologne was abruptly cancelled in April because she had signed a pro-Palestinian solidarity letter.

Fraser responded, saying: “It is a clear violation of the university’s own stated policy as well as of the very values they invoke with the name Albertus Magnus ... of academic freedom, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, and open discussion. Whatever complicated rationalisations are being given as to why this proceeding allegedly doesn’t violate those values ring hollow to me. This also sends a very strong signal to all people in the university and scholars around the world: if you dare, say, express certain views on certain political subjects, you will not be welcome here [in Germany]. It has a chilling effect on people’s freedom of political speech.”

Berlin was to host a conference on Palestine in mid April, in solidarity with the people of Gaza and against the pro-Israel narrative that dominates the media and is espoused by mainstream politicians, including the German Greens.

Only two hours into the event, police raided the conference, cutting off the power and forcing hundreds of attendees to leave. They closed down the conference on the pretext of unsubstantiated threats of “antisemitic remarks and remarks glorifying violence”.

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis was one of the scheduled speakers at the conference. His speech was cancelled and he was banned from speaking in Germany, even via video link.

Palestinian-British doctor Ghassan Abu Sitta, another keynote speaker, was denied entry into German territory and deported. Abu Sitta is a reconstructive specialist surgeon who helps those suffering from trauma-related injuries. He provides medical assistance in conflict zones, particularly Gaza.

Abu Sitta was scheduled to speak about the war in Gaza to the French Upper House in early May. However, on his arrival at the Charles de Gaulle airport, he was told by French authorities that Germany had imposed a Schengen-wide ban on his entry to Europe.

Prominent Russian-American and Jewish journalist and author Masha Gessen was to receive the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought, a prestigious award presented by an international jury recognizing an individual who has done outstanding work on totalitarianism. However, the award ceremony was cancelled.

Gessen responded, saying: “One of the things that happens as a result [of the work of German bureaucrats meant to root out antisemitism in the population] is that people who criticize Israel are denounced as antisemites. And they lose prizes, they have shows cancelled, they get attacked in the media. And a lot of times they’re Jews, and in particular even Israelis, because those are the people that are likely to be criticising Israel very harshly.”

According to Politico, in Gessen’s view, Germany’s rigid definition of antisemitism has had the effect of stifling valid debate, particularly about Israel.

While the dominant narrative in Germany asserts that all these actions, including the German government's unconditional support for Israel, are taken to protect Jews and fight antisemitism, the true motive has a lot to do with the profits its military industrial complex is making from the sales of weapons to Israel.

According to the New York Times, German news program, die Tagesschau and the German Economics Ministry, Germany sent military equipment to Israel in 2023 valued at about $353 million. This is roughly 10 times more than what was approved in 2022. From 2019‒23, German exports made up 30% of the arms bought by Israel, according to the Stockholm Institute.

German companies like ThyssenKrupp, Mercedes-Benz Group AG, Renk Group, Rheinmetall AG, Rolls-Royce Holdings plc (no longer a British company) all supply Israel with weapons or equipment or parts used by the Israel Defense Forces.

Germany is also committed to helping the US in maintaining Western supremacy throughout the Middle East and the West’s access to resources such as oil.

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