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Competing Rallies at Berlin’s Free University

On successive Fridays, there was a pro-Palestinian and a pro-Israeli rally at the Free University. One was dominated by international students, including many Jews and Palestinians, calling for solidarity — the other was dominated by German politicians spewing racism. Guess which was which.

Nathaniel Flakin

November 13, 2023
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Stefan Schneider / Klasse Gegen Klasse

On November 2, 250 students gathered outside the main cafeteria of the Free University (FU) in Berlin to express their condemnation of Israel’s genocidal assault against Gaza. The crowd was even more international than the FU’s student body, with speeches and signs in English and German. (At all of Berlin’s Palestine solidarity events, white Germans have been drastically underrepresented.)

One of the main speakers was Udi Raz from the group Jüdische Stimme (Jewish Voice). Numerous other demonstrators identified themselves as Jews in solidarity with Palestine. The event, organized by the Marxist student group Waffen der Kritik (Weapons of Criticism), was condemned by the university administration, who announced they were trying to ban it — they couldn’t, however, because it was on a public street.  

The right-wing press published a volley of brazen lies, calling this a protest by “Jew haters” and “Hamas sympathizers.” Meanwhile, the FU’s main building is named after the antisemite and Hitler sponsor Henry Ford, and the university refuses to change it. The FU also takes money from the foundations of convicted Nazi war criminals like Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach and Fritz Thyssen. The university has no problem with literal Nazis — yet they cynically claim that international students speaking out against the murder of civilians are antisemites.

A particularly disgusting provocation came from a supposed journalist from Axel Springer’s right-wing media empire (owners of Politico). They published a video by a young man who claimed: “I was expelled from the demonstration because I am a Jew.” This is almost too preposterous to merit a response. The accompanying video shows stewards with remarkable calm asking a troll to leave because he was shouting that people were “Nazis.” He subsequently shoved one of the stewards — though the video cuts off just before. 

This ridiculous claim was taken up by the portal T-Online, although any thinking reader would wonder: How could stewards have known anything about his Jewish identity? What about all the Jewish students and Jewish speakers who were making themselves seen? This story was, fortunately, too stupid to be taken up by much of the German press.

Fridays for Israel 

The following Friday, far fewer people gathered at the same spot to express their support for the Israeli government. The crowd was notably older — there were numerous politicians from the conservative party CDU and the Greens. A member of Berlin’s senate was in the crowd, as were numerous members of the Bundestag, the German parliament. One wonders: Were there more than a handful of FU students present?

The CDU has recently decided to keep Hans-Georg Maaßen as a member in good standing. The former head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service claims that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by “globalists” (a code for Jews). Meanwhile, the party just renewed its government coalition in Bavaria with Hubert Aiwanger, who in his youth distributed fliers calling for a new Auschwitz. The CDU clearly has no problem with antisemitism — unless it has been “imported” to Germany by foreigners and can be used to justify deportations. They want domestic German antisemitism and not the imported kind!

The most disturbing speech came from Volker Beck, a Green Party Politician and head of the German-Israeli Friendship Society, who not only called for more deportations, but also defended the mass murder of civilians in Gaza. In Beck’s view, all Palestinians deserve to be bombed because they support Hamas. This kind of explicit advocacy of war crimes is, unfortunately, not unusual for German politicians these days.

The German government is demanding complete solidarity with Israel’s far-right government — and calling for repression against anyone who speaks out against war crimes. The competing rallies at the Free University, however, show that this position is not popular, especially not among the young. Students organizing for Palestinian liberation around the world deserve our full solidarity, as they stand up against the German government’s attempts to ban anti-war protests. 

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Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French, and in Spanish. He has also written an anticapitalist guide book called Revolutionary Berlin. He is on the autism spectrum.

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