Germany's anti-BDS ruling demonises Palestinians for resisting peacefully

Germany's anti-BDS ruling demonises Palestinians for resisting peacefully
Comment: The German parliament's motion to brand BDS anti-Semitic is wrong, and a blow to free speech, writes Denijal Jegic.
6 min read
23 May, 2019
Protesters show their solidarity for Gaza outside Germany's Bundestag [Anadolu]
The latest anti-BDS resolution

On 17 May, the German Bundestag passed  a resolution that officially defines the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which was initiated by Palestinian civil society, as "anti-Semitic".

The motion gained an absolute majority and the endorsement of the governing parties (Christian Democrats and Social Democrats) and most of the opposition (Green Party and Liberal Party).

While the resolution is non-binding and rather symbolic, it does represent a culmination of a rapidly ensuing marginalisation of criticism of Israel in Germany. Previously, German political parties had individually explicitly 
condemned the BDS movement at different moments. Angela Merkel's CDU, for example, demonised BDS as "coarse anti-Semitism" in another resolution.

The new motion is confirmation of a structurally embedded oppression of Palestinians in the German public sphere.

It states that "the patterns of argumentation and the methods of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic" and "reminiscent of the most horrible phase of German history".

It claims that calls for economic boycott of Israeli products would "inevitably arouse associations with the Nazi slogan 'Do not buy from Jews!'"

Germany is guarding its spot on the wrong side of history

The bill's vague language uses "anti-Semitism," "BDS," and "criticism of Israel" synonymously. It warns that whoever defames people because of their "Jewish identity" or questions the "right to exist" of the "Jewish and democratic state" and its right to defend itself, would encounter the German government's decided resistance.

A German history of anti-Palestinian rhetoric

The circumstances around this declaration are emblematic of Germany's deplorable approach of simultaneously enabling and obscuring Palestinian suffering.

The text was introduced on 15 May; Nakba Day, when Palestinians commemorate their violent dispossession and expulsion at the hand of Zionist forces in 1948.

But neither the ethnic cleansing campaign of 1948, nor the continued suffering of Palestinians over seven decades later, has been articulated in the German parliament. Israel's breach of UN resolutions, and its subjugation of Palestinians under a brutal apartheid regime remain conspicuously absent from any debate.

Instead, the method of BDS, which seeks to peacefully pressure Israel into complying with international law and implementing human rights, is categorically dismissed as an irrational attempt to destroy Israel, or even as anti-Jewish hatred.

With its latest bill, the German parliament is blaming Palestinians for resisting peacefully. Accordingly, Palestinians - and those who support Palestinian human rights - have the choice between silently capitulating to Israeli bombs, or being smeared as anti-Semites.

Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is still alive and kicking around the world, including in Germany, where 94 percent of registered anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2017 were committed by the far-right.

If there are individuals among BDS supporters who harbour anti-Semitic views, they are certainly not representative of the BDS movement, or of the Palestinian struggle for human rights.

The new motion is confirmation of a structurally embedded oppression of Palestinians in the German public sphere

Anti-Semitism can occur anywhere at any time, and is not always visible. Unlike the BDS movement, which does not harm people because of their Jewish identity, the Israeli government itself has forged close alliances with the far-right worldwide, including anti-Semites. Netanyahu himself, has previously relativised the Holocaust.

A response to anti-Semitism cannot be a persecution of Palestinians, and the insistence on anti-Semitism as a trait of Palestinian culture is racist and false assumption.

None of this seems to matter, though, as long as Palestinians can be blamed.

Third Reich boycotts, Nazis and the Holocaust

The new resolution's particular wording is in itself a shameless instance of historical revisionism.

The comparison of Palestinian boycotts of Israel with Nazi policies against Jews is both a dehumanisation of Palestinians and a belittlement of the Holocaust and the Nazi regime.

The Nazi boycott of Jews was rooted in a genocidal hatred against Jewish people. These policies were implemented by a fascist system and were directed at a persecuted minority which eventually suffered extermination.

Germany is now manipulating it historic persecution of Jews to smear, silence and dismiss Palestinian calls for human rights as anti-Semitic.

Palestinians are calling for boycott because the international community has failed to protect them, and in order to pressure the occupying power - Israel - into implementing human rights and international law, and abolish apartheid.

The far-right admires Israel as a model for the production of racist strategies in Europe and as favourable for German nationalism

Claiming that Palestinian human rights are anti-Semitic – which is what this resolution effectively does – is simply racist.

A week prior to the newest resolution, the right-wing extremist political party AfD had presented its own anti-Palestinian resolution that demanded a complete ban on BDS.

The motion erroneously equated Palestinian boycotts efforts with Nazi policies, and wrongfully presented party support for Israel as a fight against anti-Semitism. The AfD bill asks the federal government to, 

"Take note that the BDS movement has its origin in anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist initiatives of Arab groups, which were active long before the founding of the state of Israel and which, between 1933 and 1945 had close and friendly contact with the national socialist government of Germany."

The bill also urged the German government to recognise the injustice done to Jewish settlers in Palestine "through Arab calls for boycott in cooperation with the Nazi regime".

The AfD's fascination with Israel has nothing to do with fighting anti-Semitism, as the party's own anti-Semitic and otherwise racist character shows.

Rather, the far-right admires Israel as 
a model for the production of racist strategies in Europe and, thus, as favourable for German nationalism.

Read more: Arab League urges German parliament to reverse anti-BDS motion

The resolution passed by the other parties may not be worded as explicitly, but the underlying structure is the same. Anti-Semitism that was for centuries deeply embedded in German culture, is oftentimes portrayed as restricted to the Holocaust, and the Holocaust is seen as a singular exception to an allegedly positive German history.

In order to compensate for the lack of moral reasoning behind these anti-Palestinian policies, the German state necessitates the absurd equation of Jews, Zionism, and Israel. But in reality, equating the Jewish people with Israeli policies is in itself anti-Semitic. After all, in qualifying resistance to apartheid as anti-Semitic, the German government is literally categorizing apartheid as Jewish.

In today's Bundestag, German politicians justify Germany's oppression of Palestinians via Berlin's staunch support for Israel's brutal occupation and practices of apartheid.

These developments are particularly threatening to freedom of speech in Germany, as there is not much resistance from Germany's passive civil society, nor its largely anti-Palestinian media landscape.

Unlike in other western European countries, Germany has no elected opposition to anti-Palestinian policies. Indeed, as these latest developments suggest, anti-Palestinianism is the factor that unites the political spectrum from the left to the far-right, while German civil society has largely failed to adequately engage with the issue.

If Germany was a country in the Middle East, western powers would probably long have established NGOs trying to promote human rights and equality, secure the protection of minorities, and initiate a strengthening of the civil society. But Germany is powerful and enjoys a largely positive image around the world, including in Palestine.

In enabling ethnocratic practices, apartheid, and colonialism in Palestine, while simultaneously silencing the victims, Germany is guarding its spot on the wrong side of history which it secured long ago.

Denijal Jegic is a Beirut-based German researcher and writer, working on questions pertaining to Palestine and Zionism.

Follow him on Twitter: @denijeg

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.