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The German Government is Attacking Jewish Life in Germany

Olaf Scholz says he wants to protect Jewish life in Germany. Then why are so many Jews getting censored for criticizing Israel?

Nathaniel Flakin

December 20, 2023
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Originally published in neues deutschland

The German government has declared its unconditional support for Israel, even opposing calls for a ceasefire. They claim this is about »stopping antisemitism« and »protecting Jewish life in Germany«.

Yet they only offer protection to Jews who stand with Israel’s far-right government. Jewish people who criticize the war and contradict Germany’s Staatsräson have been subject to censorship and arrest. The Jewish Museum Berlin has fired a tour guide for statements about the West Bank. The Berlin government was so desperate to axe an event by the group »Jüdische Stimme« that they are now cutting off subsidies to the cultural center Oyoun as punishment. The South African Jewish artist Candice Breitz had a show canceled. The Jewish writer Masha Gessen was awarded a prize after criticism later and in a smaller setting than usual.

Gessen got the Hannah Arendt Prize – and ironically, Arendt was far more critical of Israel than Gessen is. In her book »Eichmann in Jerusalem«, Arendt wrote that Israel’s ban on intermarriage was reminiscent of the Nazis’ Nuremberg Laws. Today, Arendt would not be allowed to speak at a German university or any other public space. Naomi Klein worries that »Germany is going to run out of Jewish intellectuals to ban«.

Germany has Antisemitism Czars – have they spoken up about this wave of government attacks against Jews? The opposite: These non-Jewish bureaucrats regularly accuse Jewish dissidents of antisemitism. They don’t say a word about the billionaire heirs of Nazi war criminals, nor about modern billionaires spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories – instead, they claim that antisemitism has been »imported« by foreigners.

The far-right party AfD has taken the logical step and named their own Antisemitism Czar. Who did they pick? Beatrix von Storch, the aristocratic granddaughter of Hitler’s finance minister. She agrees that antisemitism has been »imported« to Germany – and if anyone would know…

On the fourth night of Chanukah, I went to a celebration by Jewish Bund in Kreuzberg. They are one of the two Jewish groups organizing pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Berlin – which, if you read the right-wing press, are made up of »Jew haters«. It was a great party, but I was depressed to realize that most Germans know nothing about Chanukah and have never spun a dreidel. A comrade working the door confirmed that »most Germans don’t know any Jews personally«. Everyone in the US is familiar with Chanukah, but Germany is still profoundly affected by a genocide that wasn’t that long ago.

That same day, December 10, the German government organized a pro-Israel demonstration at the Brandenburg Gate – and a grand total of 3.200 people showed up. At the exact same time, just down the road, 5.000 people were demonstrating in solidarity with Palestine. Of course there was no census, but I would bet that there were more Jewish Berliners demonstrating for Palestine than were demonstrating for Israel.

So where are all the German politicians proclaiming their solidarity with Jews who are speaking up for Gaza? Berlin’s Antisemitism Czar once declared that non-Zionist Jews basically don’t exist (»here and there« there might be a few, he condeded). He could look at history – but he could also check social media to see Jewish activists around the world leading protests, including in Berlin. What do you call it when a German state official is denying the existence of a broad swath of Jewish people? That sounds a lot like antisemitism.

Jews are not a monolith lined up behind Netanyahu. Real Jewish life is loud, complicated and full of argument – just look at how the latest war is dividing Jewish families in the US. Deborah Feldman has written that German government policy »obscures the views of an unseen majority of Jewish people« who don’t have »unconditional loyalty to the state of Israel«. By suppressing any criticism of Israel, the German government is attacking Jews.

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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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