The German climate movement is falling apart over Palestine

31 May, 2024

In most of the world, climate justice groups and activists who identify as left and progressive are pro-Palestine, viewing climate justice as intrinsically linked to justice for Palestinians.

In Germany, however, this idea has caused significant rifts, tearing organisations and groups apart and deeply fragmenting the climate justice movement.

While slogans like Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s “No justice on occupied land” and “Climate Justice means Free Palestine” have emerged from international climate groups, mainstream German climate activists are doubling down on their support for Israel.

Palestine solidarity has always been a simmering and uncomfortable topic in the German climate movement, but it has exploded since Israel’s actions against Palestinians intensified in October last year.

As a result, majority-white groups like Fridays for Future (FFF) Germany, Ende Gelaende, and Extinction Rebellion (XR) Germany have weakened, while groups consisting of or led by people of colour with a focus on decolonialism in climate justice are becoming more prominent.

These include BIPoC for Future, Black Earth Kollektiv and Klima4Palästina

Renee Müller, an activist with XR Germany, says that the group has failed to recognise the connection between climate justice and social justice.

The ongoing genocide in Palestine has made the group’s insular approach to activism unsustainable, with those who call it out becoming isolated.

"How can we continue to simply focus on fossil fuel subsidies or Tesla while Palestinians are being exterminated and our Western governments support this massacre?" 

“Many of XR's most active members, sensitive to intersectional issues, have left the group after unsuccessfully trying to create real engagement and spaces for discussion on the Palestinian issue,” Müller says.

“How can we continue to simply focus on fossil fuel subsidies or Tesla while Palestinians are being exterminated and our Western governments support this massacre?” Müller adds.

Mainstream German climate groups and support for Israel

Germany has always shown unconditional support for Israel as part of what has become known as intergenerational “German guilt” for the Jewish Holocaust.

This support has increasingly conflated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, leading to major repression of and police violence against the Palestine solidarity movement.

After October 7, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, “At the moment there is only one place for Germany: side by side with Israel. This is what we mean when we say the security of Israel is Germany's raison d'etre.”

Müller adds, “This characteristic of German society is also reflected in the climate movement, creating conformity to the dominant, official narrative and making it difficult to manage and deal with the conflict.”

Another group that has all but dissolved is FFF Germany, which publicly distanced itself from the international FFF’s and Thunberg’s statements in support of the people of Gaza and their calls for a ceasefire.

"The issue of Palestine is part of a greater problem of avoiding dialogue on colonization in the German climate movement"

In December last year, an FFF Germany spokesperson said, “There is no room for compromise when it comes to the protection of Jewish lives and Israel’s right to exist.”

Topaz Vega, a Mexican activist with Fridays for Future MAPA (Most Affected Peoples and Areas) studying in Germany, says that the issue of Palestine is part of a greater problem of avoiding dialogue on colonization in the German climate movement.

“FFF Germany has been very reluctant to talk to us about anything to do with colonisation or solidarity with Indigenous people anywhere, and they chose very arbitrarily to break up relationships with the rest of FFF because we were calling them out on the Palestine issue,” says Vega.

FFF is now a weak and powerless movement, she says, and FFF Germany played a big part in its destruction.

One way they did this was by taking money from the German government and aligning themselves with political parties, resulting in what Vega calls “a country profile that is colonial and greenwashed and celebrates activists in a capitalist way.”

Rise of decolonial climate justice groups

Klima4Palästina, founded in November 2023, highlights the connection between climate justice and Palestine.

“Klima4Palästina is essential because we are here to combat the increasing ignorance, blindness, racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab sentiment within the German climate justice movement. People need to recognize the genocide occurring in Gaza right now,” explains Isabel Paulssen, a founding member of the group.

“We strive to involve white climate justice activists and help them understand that ‘never again’ is incredibly relevant today,” adds Paulssen. 

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Paulssen, who left the climate group Ende Gelaende due to its pro-Israel stance, emphasises the importance of some groups distancing themselves from larger climate justice organizations because of their complicity and silence regarding the genocide.

“These white activists need to tap into their white and other privileges to use their knowledge and action strategies for decolonial climate justice which means right now to stand with Palestine,” she asserts.

Ilham Rawoot is a freelance writer based in Cape Town and Berlin. She has previously written for the New Internationalist, Al Jazeera and Africa is a Country, and focuses on climate justice and the extractive industry, Palestine and decolonial struggles

Follow her on X: @ilhamsta