'State repression': Inside Germany's far-reaching anti-Palestinian crackdown
On 11 October, an internal memo from the national German news outlet, ARD, was sent to all staff and journalists informing them on how to report on Israel's war on Gaza.
Sent by an anonymous staffer to German journalist, Tarek Baé, the memo is riddled with anti-Palestinian and pro-Israel sentiments that include trivialising Palestinian civilian deaths and advising staff not to use phrases such as “escalation” or “spiral of violence” that would contextualise Hamas’ attack on Israel.
“The antisemitic and anti-Zionist Hamas is widely classified internationally as a terrorist organization,” the email states. “In contrast to the Israeli army, Hamas does not differentiate between military targets and civilians in its actions.”
Israel has killed more than 11,000 Palestinians, over 4,000 of them children, since 7 October.
The email goes on to rightly infer that many Palestinian civilians will “die as a result,” but then states that “Hamas often uses them as human shields”.
The email continues: “We should not ignore the fact that Hamas started the current conflict. We should always make it clear that these are usually attacks on military targets”.
"Germany is among the countries in Europe that have taken highly restrictive measures against actions, symbols, and expressions of solidarity with Palestine, jeopardising the fundamental rights of freedom of expression"
Journalist Tarek Bae wrote on social media that “framing is everything”.
“The ARD language regulations of October 11th make Israel the sole victim and ignore the other victim, namely Gaza and the civilian population there, in the title. This creates the impression of a one-sided threat. There are reasons why Tagesschau (ARD’s popular program) report is so one-dimensional, one-sided and qualitatively unsatisfactory: it was given trivializing, relativizing and justifying language.”
A deeper look into ARD’s official glossary, titled ‘Reporting Middle East Conflict for internal use as of October 18th, 2023’ shows an even more entrenched pro-Israel bias where the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement is categorised as "anti-Israel" and the network puts a note that when reporting the classification “anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic may also be accurate”.
When referring to protest chants and their definitions, ARD states that the slogan ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free’ is classified as a criminal offence, as the phrase, according to them, means that a free Palestine in an area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean means the annihilation of Israel.
They quote the German Press Agency which states that during demonstrations “corresponding maps show the area completely green, the color of Islam”.
Finally, for a list of experts on Hamas and the attack of 7 October, there are no Palestinians listed, but a comprehensive list consisting of only Germans.
“Another alarming aspect of these language regulations is that it does not advise research, but rather uncritical adoption of Israeli propaganda. Journalism and the search for facts are skipped by the ready-made framework: Israel is right,” Tarek Bae said.
“Language creates politics. Journalism should actually be a powerful tool of free speech that critically questions politics. What we are currently experiencing is a failure. Where is courage, expertise, decency?” Bae continued.
ARD has not responded to The New Arab’s request for comment.
This is not the first German news agency to proactively create guidelines for their journalists. The German media giant, Axel Springer SE, which has famously enshrined support for Israel in its mission statement, fired an employee who questioned the company’s firm stance.
Initially reported by The Intercept, 20-year-old apprentice Kasem Raad questioned the company’s Israel policy through internal channels and posted a video online disputing parts of the Israeli military’s narrative of Hamas’ attack on 7 October.
In 2021, seven Palestinian and Arab journalists were suspended by the international German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) for a series of social media posts that professed support for Palestinian human rights that DW described as antisemitic. Since then, it has been proven in court that a number of the journalists were wrongfully terminated.
Media coverage of Hamas’ attack on 7 October and the brutal Israeli assault on Gaza is not the only cause of concern in Germany. Many activists and legal experts believe that there is also an atmosphere of suppression that is curtailing Palestinian civil rights.
"State repression is not new, it is the result of years of anti-Palestinian discourse being purported in German media and institutions. But now it has reached a new level of dehumanisation and legal violations"
“Germany is among the countries in Europe that have taken highly restrictive measures against actions, symbols and expressions of solidarity with Palestine, jeopardising the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly,” European Legal Support Centre’s Alice Garcia told The New Arab.
Germany has banned the vast majority of pro-Palestine protests and dozens have been detained following marches in Berlin and other German cities.
Restrictions on protests, including those organised by Jewish groups, have been justified in part because of the “immediate threat” of “inflammatory, antisemitic shouts”.
As reports and videos emerged of police brutality and a disproportionate use of force, groups such as the Campaign for Victims of Racist Police Violence (KOP) issued statements of condemnation.
“Over a hundred people were held for up to 3 hours, many were not allowed to go to the toilet or even sit down. We have received numerous videos of violent police officers who prevent video recordings, hit people lying on the ground on the head and sit on their upper bodies in such a way that they can no longer breathe,” the group said.
“Detentions, police violence, surveillance, suspensions in schools, and workplace intimidations or sackings that we have been witnessing are unequivocally comparable to practices of authoritarian regimes,” Garcia from ELSC told The New Arab.
“The police seem to have deployed wide discretionary powers, almost declaring a state of emergency without invoking any pertinent lawful legal basis. The perpetual ambiguity of what is legal is antithetical to the certainty and accountability that a law state should provide.”
Since 7 October, over 850 arrests have been made in Berlin alone. This does not include misdemeanours or people who were detained at the protests.
Even primary and secondary school students have been affected. Earlier this month, the Berlin Senate declared that any behaviour or expression of opinion that can be understood as advocating or approving attacks against Israel represents a “threat to school peace and is prohibited”.
Examples provided by the Berlin Senate included showing stickers of the Palestinian flag, saying Free Palestine, and wearing the keffiyeh, the Palestinian scarf. If violated, the Senate stated that educators have the right to report the action to the police.
In response, a group of pupils, parents, teachers, students, scientists, and lawyers formed the group, KIFAYA, “enough” in Arabic. KIFAYA’s goal is to support students and parents who are discriminated against due to their Palestinian heritage or their statements at school. It should be noted that while the group became public in October, the representatives came together last year.
A representative of KIFAYA spoke to The New Arab under the condition of anonymity due to fears of reprisal and slander from the German media.
“Children up to the age of 14 are not even supposed to be in touch with law enforcement authorities, because they are absolutely protected from engaging with law enforcement according to German law,” the representative said. “Yet, we are already seeing the repressive tendencies in individual cases we’ve analysed.”
"The police seem to have deployed wide discretionary powers, almost declaring a state of emergency without invoking any pertinent lawful legal basis"
Earlier in October, a school child at Ernst-Abbe Gymnasium in Berlin’s Neukolln was reportedly hit by a school teacher for wearing a Palestinian flag. A video circulating on social media showed a teacher heading towards the student and striking him. The school, however, suspended the student, not the teacher.
“Berlin school law actually very much stresses how much school exists to not only educate students, but to create future citizens that are informed about the world,” the KIFAYA member said.
“Yet, Palestinian students are not humanised in this crucial space, and situations like what happened at Abbe Gymnasium school is an example of how Germans tend to see them as lacking a moral compass,” they added.
“We are dealing with the most vulnerable in our society, and it is utterly disappointing how people show no reaction to the discrimination taking place in education - we hope to challenge that.”
The repression of Palestinian solidarity has also extended to other sectors of German society, where firing and forced censorship have become commonplace.
In Schleswig-Holstein, the Integration State Secretary Marjam Samadzade was fired from her position after commenting on a post on Instagram that criticised Israel’s war on Gaza. The Social Minister Aminata Touré had to emphasise that the post Marjam commented on did not correspond to her personal stance or that of the state government.
“We stand with Israel which has the right to defend itself,” she said.
Berlin’s Jewish Museum, meanwhile, fired a tour guide, Udi Raz, for using the term apartheid while describing the occupied West Bank.
“In this case, since apartheid is acknowledged by Amnesty International, Israeli organisations, and even by Zionist Israelis to describe the situation in the West Bank, we can say clearly that there is no doubt that the decision to fire somebody for using the term apartheid is really a manifestation of gaslighting,” Raz told TNA.
“The museum wishes to sell itself as a pluralistic place, especially in the sense of hosting a diversity of Jewish voices. But it fails to do this again and again and again,” he added.
“This is extremely fear-inducing and fearsome, akin to the days of fascism. State repression is not new, it is the result of years of anti-Palestinian discourse being purported in German media and institutions. But now it has reached a new level of dehumanisation and legal violations,” Alice Garcia says.
However, Garcia believes this will change. Over the course of the last few weeks, despite the protest bans and intimidation tactics by the German government, Berlin was able to hold a historic demonstration where it is estimated that 10,000 were in attendance.
“We are convinced that collective mobilisation and public exposure, coupled with legal action, will curb this trend. The movement is pushing back, including on the legal front, thanks to a brilliant network of lawyers in Germany that is dedicating huge efforts to provide advice and deal with arrests, deportation threats and other cases of repression,” Garcia said.
Hebh Jamal is a Palestinian-American journalist based in Germany.
Follow her on Twitter: @hebh_jamal