Never again is now except in Gaza: How pro-Palestine solidarity triggered a return to German authoritarianism
The spectre of authoritarianism hangs over Germany once again, this time in the name of a crusade against what it labels as anti-Semitism, applied blindly against all forms of criticism of Israel.
Crackdowns on protests, often violent; undemocratic changes to laws tampering with assembly, speech and citizenship rights and freedoms; and a relentless anti-Palestinian cancel procession sweep across the country, sparing no Arab nor even Jewish critics of Israel.
In the most recent case of the attempt to deplatform these voices, Masha Gessen, a Jewish New Yorker staff writer and descendant of victims of the Nazi Holocaust, faced unceremonious German backlash as she was due to receive the Hannah Arendt Prize sponsored by Germany's Green-party-affiliated Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Senate of Bremen, the northern city-state's executive.
After the publication of her essay "In the Shadow of the Holocaust," which analyses Germany's weaponisation of antisemitism and mourns "the thousands of residents of Gaza killed in retaliation for the lives of Jews killed by Hamas", the foundation chose not to participate in the delayed and significantly scaled-down award ceremony, citing Gessen's comparison of the Gaza Strip to Jewish ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe as a reason.
More insidious perhaps is the Bundestag's attack on constitutional rights. In November, the opposition CDU/CSU caucus introduced two draft laws aimed at fighting "antisemitism, terror, hatred and agitation". Apart from proposed changes to the country's Criminal Code, they also include altering its citizenship law to prevent the naturalisation of what the draft calls "antisemitic foreigners" by making an applicant's acknowledgement of Israel's right to exist a prerequisite to legally becoming a German.
While these proposed bills inch through a long-winded legislative process, the Interior Ministry of the East German state of Saxony-Anhalt decided it wouldn't wait that long. It has now issued an executive order requiring citizenship applicants to sign a written affirmation of Israel's right to exist.
These authoritarian measures come against a backdrop of unprecedented state repression of Palestinian rights advocacy in Germany following Israel's barbaric war on Gaza. Germany, among other European nations, is "witnessing a serious increase of anti-Palestinian racism and violations of freedom of expression and assembly", says the European Legal Support Center (ELSC).
The return of Germany's authoritarianism?
Germany's democracy has been downgraded; in December, Johannesburg-based NGO Civicus changed its classification of the state of civil liberties in the country from "open" to "narrowed", citing Berlin's "disproportionate measures" against climate action group Letzte Generation and "excessive force and bans" against pro-Palestinian protests.
Attaching the right to German citizenship to written statements in support of Israel's right to exist could be part of an authoritarian agenda combining posturing in favour of Israel with racially motivated control of immigration.
Most non-European residents seeking naturalisation in Germany, according to Germany's Federal Statistics Office, have recently been from the Muslim-majority nations of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Morocco. They have no love lost for the Zionist regime and the settler colonial society it represents, especially now that Israel is engaging in the wholesale slaughter of Palestinians.
Not to mention the nonsensical absurdity of swearing an oath of loyalty to a third-party entity thousands of miles away on another continent; this is a discriminatory disenfranchisement measure that singles out members of Germany's migrant communities.
Its motivation is clear: giving the German state the right to deny Black, Brown, Arab and Muslim immigrants citizenship on spurious grounds within a legalised framework of safeguarding an ageing white majority society and its white supremacist nature amidst the reality of multiculturalism.
An Islamophobic Zeitgeist
Islamophobia circumscribes the morally flexible boundaries of German liberal democracy, with the Palestinian bogeyman it has set its sights on even surpassing the hijab-wearing Muslim woman as the favoured target practice.
Anti-Palestinian authoritarianism in Germany is not confined to the actions of the state, but it also permeates the entire breadth of German society, with the national media and cultural institutions, in particular, outdoing themselves in persecuting principled people of conscience.
Germany's state broadcaster ARD distributed a 47-page propaganda handbook to its staff, which describes in meticulous detail on how to report on Israel's war on Gaza in a way 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.
Frankfurt Book Fair cancelled an award ceremony for Palestinian author Adania Shibli for her novel "Minor Detail" which revolves around the rape and murder of a Palestinian Bedouin girl by Israeli soldiers in 1949.
In an instance of combined anti-Black and anti-Palestinian racism, the Museum Folkwang in the post-industrial Ruhr region city of Essen cancelled a section of an exhibition curated by Haitian-born artist Anaïs Duplan just a week before the show's opening in November, a retaliatory move against his pro-Palestine social media posts.
The same month, organisers of the Biennale für aktuelle Fotografie cancelled the photo exhibition to be held in 2024 because its Bangladeshi cocurator, the artist and activist Shahidul Alam, had also committed the ultimate transgression of offending liberal white supremacist sensibilities by criticising Israel.
In Berlin, the conservative regional government's token Black Senator for Culture announced in November his intention to close Oyun, a BIPOC-run cultural centre in the city's Neukölln district is known for hosting pro-Palestine solidarity events, giving the collective five weeks notice to vacate their premises. The "immediate withdrawal of the €1 million in annual funding" effectively spells the venue's closure, say the organisers who have launched a crowdfunding campaign to save the community space and are considering legal action.
Also in Berlin, police entered a lecture hall of the Freie Universität on December 14, which student groups had occupied in protest against what they say is "the university's complicity with Israel's
genocide of the Palestinian people": video footage posted by "Students for a Free Palestine" shows dozens of officers making their way through the premises and several students being removed by force.
Never again is not now?
Needless to say, instances of anti-Palestinian cancel-culture, a euphemistic buzzword for old school repression, are becoming increasingly brazen and arbitrary as Israel's war on the Occupied Palestinian territories progress.
Behind this re-emergence of unapologetic German authoritarianism precipitated by Palestine solidarity's resistance to Israel's extermination campaign in Gaza lies arguably deep-seated anti-Arab racism and Germany's misguided and myopic atonement for its Nazi crimes.
One slogan in Germany that has been deployed following Hamas's 7 October attack, which represented one of the biggest loss of Jewish lives in recent history, is Nie Wieder Ist Jetzt -- Never Again is Now, in reference to the Holocaust.
But what this slogan hides is the Germans' belief they can offset the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust in Europe by lending unconditional support to a settler colonial apartheid state in the Middle East.
Blind support even as Israel orchestrates the world's first live-streamed and openly fêted genocide.
One therefore, has to ask the Germans: Never again...except for Gaza?
Timo Al-Farooq is a freelance journalist based in Berlin, Germany.
Follow him on Twitter: @talrooq.
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