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Thousands of Police Deployed to Shut Down Congress on Palestine in Berlin

This weekend, a Palestine Congress was supposed to take place in the German capital. But 2,500 police were mobilized and shut down the event before the first speech could be held. Multiple Jewish comrades were arrested.

Nathaniel Flakin

April 12, 2024
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Photo: Halil Sağırkaya

In early 1968, West Berlin’s student movement organized an International Vietnam Congress. Up to 6,000 people gathered at the Technical University to discuss solidarity with anti-imperialist struggles — not just in Vietnam, but also in Latin America and Africa. Many of the featured speakers were Jewish radicals, such as Ernest Mandel from Brussels or Alain Krivine from Paris. The right-wing press in West Berlin, controlled by Axel Springer, demanded repression — but it would have been far too embarrassing for this outpost of the so-called “free world” to ban a political discussion.

This weekend, some 56 years later, Berlin was supposed to host a Palestine Congress. The same right-wing Springer press called for bans — and this time, they were successful. The level of repression in Berlin today was far worse than in the 1960s.

It was almost impossible to find a venue, as German universities have all but prohibited discussion about the ongoing genocide in Palestine. The location of the Palestine Congress was kept secret until a few hours before the event. Upwards of 900 police immediately blocked the venue, a private wedding hall, and declared that only 250 people would be let inside. They implausibly justified this by claiming it was about “fire safety,” even though the hall can hold far more people. Thus, less than a third of the people who had bought a ticket were allowed through a police checkpoint.

As soon as the congress began, police in riot gear not only stormed the stage — they cut off power to the entire building (!) to stop a livestream of the event. Not long after, they declared they were banning the entire event. It remains unclear what the legal basis for this is. 

The British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu Sitteh, who has just been elected rector of the University of Glasgow, was denied entry to Germany. He was detained at the airport for over three hours and subsequently deported back to the UK. Abu Sitteh, who has been featured in the New York Times, worked in Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital for 43 days and wanted to report about his first-hand experiences. He is also a witness at the hearings at the International Court of Justice, where Germany is facing charges for complicity in genocide. This is a reminder of how far the German government has drifted from basic democratic norms: the elected head of a major European university cannot even enter the country.

At least two Jewish comrades were arrested for numerous “crimes” such as holding up a sign that read “Jews Against Genocide.” The German government is carrying out this repression in the name of “fighting antisemitism” and “protecting Jews.” But at least a quarter of the announced speakers were Jewish, and it seems like a plurality of the people arrested were wearing a kippah or a Star of David.

The Berlin government regularly allows far-right and openly fascist gatherings to take place, and even gives them police protection from counter-protestors in the name of “free speech.” Last November, when leading politicians of the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Nazis met at a hotel in Potsdam to discuss plans to deport millions of people from Germany, no police stormed the venue. 

Yet all parties of the German regime are united in their solidarity with Israel’s far-right government. An alliance of all parties, including the Greens and even leading figures from the reformist left party Die Linke, called for a ban of the Palestine Congress. The far-right AfD has the same anti-Palestinian position. The government and police could find no legal basis to restrict the right to free speech — so they used brute force.

CDU, Berlin’s conservative party, cynically declared on a truck billboard that “Berlin Is No Place for Antisemitism.” This is more than a little ironic, after Berlin’s mayor proudly embraced Elon Musk, one of the world’s most prominent spreaders of antisemitic conspiracy theories. The German government is only interested in “fighting antisemitism” when this can be used to repress immigrants and leftists.

The night before, a Springer-owned TV channel had invited Germany’s most prominent far-right politician, Björn Höcke, to a debate during prime time. Höcke, who has long demanded the dismantling of the Holocaust memorial, was able to declare that there is no real antisemitism in Germany — except that which is imported by immigrants. No one contradicted this bizarre statement — it’s essentially what all the other parties have been saying too. Blaming non-Germans, and Jews especially, for antisemitism is a cynical move to whitewash the responsibility of the German bourgeoisie.

This repression does not mean this all-party alliance has a mandate from the population. Quite the opposite: support for Israel’s genocide is extremely unpopular in Germany, with over 61 percent of the population saying that the military actions are not justified. The ruling class needs to use such shocking repression because there is no other way to stick to the Staatsräson of unconditional support for Israel.

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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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