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Why German Media are Lying About the Palestine Solidarity Movement at the Free University of Berlin

A rally in front of the Free University of Berlin had as many journalists as demonstrators. This is yet another example of the international campaign to defame all protests against Israel’s genocidal military campaign.

Nathaniel Flakin

February 16, 2024
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Nathaniel Flakin

First published at The Left Berlin (subsequently adapted)

When 85 demonstrators gathered in front of the Free University of Berlin on February 8, they were surrounded by an equal number of journalists. Reporters came from public and private broadcasters, with everyone from Al Jazeera to the far-right Epoch Times. Berlin’s FU has been at the center of a media circus, based on dubious claims that Jewish students are being intimidated by pro-Palestinian activists. Journalists flocked to the FU Palestine Committee’s rally in search of evidence, yet most were clearly disappointed that it was peaceful.

This same defamation campaign is taking place at univeristies in the United States as well, where Palestine solidarity activists are accused of intimidating Jewish students. In reality, there are many Jewish students opposing Israel’s genocial cmapaign.

After several months of reporting, we have yet to see any concrete evidence of intimidation at FU. What we have seen, instead, is very explicit documentation of threats, insults, and physical assaults by pro-Zionist students against the Palestine solidarity movement. At yesterday’s rally, a dozen or so counter-protestors — mostly German, non-Jewish young men — held up Israeli flags and heckled. The queer, Jewish moderator of the Gaza protest referred to them as a “Klan rally.”

Not a single newspaper report mentioned the Jewish activists who were speaking in solidarity with Palestine. As one student said in an earlier interview, “this cynical silencing of Bundist Jews is textbook antisemitism.”

At the end of the rally, Udi Raz of Jewish Voice for Peace was detained by police for “insulting” FU president Günther Ziegler. Raz speaks with a charming Hebrew accent in German and English, yet the Berliner Zeitung forgot to mention her Israeli background. On social media, we can see video of a Jewish FU student being dragged away by armed men acting on the orders of the university president. This would be the long-sought example of “intimidation” — yet the media has completely ignored it.

No Jewish Voices

If these journalists were actually interested, they could find numerous Jewish students at FU to tell them they are worried about being deported for their criticism of Israel. They are deeply concerned that state racism and support for genocide are being carried out in their names. But no — most newspapers chose to block out Jewish voices entirely. 

Instead, the Tagesspiegel published a headline: “I’m not even Jewish and even I’m scared.” We hear from an anonymous, non-Jewish student, “I’m afraid what would happen if I were to confront these people.” She finds pro-Palestinian students “aggressive” and “intimidating,” adding that “I sit in seminars with these people.”

It’s easy to imagine the details. This young student agrees with the German government’s support for ethnic cleansing. In a seminar, another student (likely non-German) points to the International Court of Justice, which ruled that it is plausible that Israel is committing genocide and Germany is complicit. She is deeply upset to hear the implications of her support for Israel — so she demands that university authorities censor such opinions. And she wants repression, intended to protect her reactionary opinions, to be in the name of the Jews.

International Rally

The Palestine rally at FU on February 8 was queer and international, with speeches in German and English. Conversations were held in at least half a dozen more languages. In speeches, Israelis and Palestinians expressed solidarity for each other.

Caro Vargas, one of the organizers of the rally and an activist of the Marxist students group Waffen der Kritik, drew a parallel between the genocide in Gaza and the rightward shift in Germany society: “The German government is making deportations easier, passing austerity budgets, spending more money on the military, giving the police more surveillance powers, and giving weapons to the Israeli army.” She continued: “The fight against the genocide in Gaza and the fight against the Right are inextricably linked. We want to build a clearly visible, anit-capitalist pole in the movement against the Far Right, which fights against the AfD but not only against them.” 

Waffen der Kritik is the student group of Klasse Gegen Klasse, the sister site of Left Voice in Germany. These Trotskyist students organized the rally as part of the Palestne Committe. Waffen der Kritik also ran in the student elections with a pro-Palestinian profile, and won the second most votes.

When a speaker mentioned the 27,000 Gazans killed so far, a pro-Israeli heckler try to interject: “A hundred thousand! A million!” The pro-Zionist counter-protestors wanted to cast doubt on the facts. Yet the number of Palestinians killed is actually far higher, as many bodies remain trapped under rubble. How can that possibly be defended? What could justify killing over ten thousand children? In the face of such horrors, their only recourse is cynical denialism

This attitude is representative of the German media at large. They cannot find positive arguments to justify their unflinching support for mass murder. They know that at least 61 percent of people in Germany believe Israel’s war is not justified. Numerous claims have been debunked as absurd fabrications (remember the supposed Hamas command center under a hospital?). So rather than explaining why Israel deserves support, their only recourse is to smear anyone who opposes the war.

This has been effective, in a sense. While 61 percent of people in Germany tell pollsters they oppose the war, only tens of thousands have been taking the streets. Many Germans are too scared of accusations of antisemitism to voice their opinion.

Cynical Campaign

Yet such a cynical campaign has a price. The media are erasing critical Jewish students at Free University, and elevating the voices of right-wing Germans who claim to speak for the Jews. This is a disturbing echo of Nazi leader Hermann Göring’s belief: “I decide who is a Jew!”

This allows all kinds of actual antisemitic violence to be swept under the rug. Last weekend, at a massive demonstration against the far-right AfD, Jewish activist Rachael Shapiro was spat at (!) for carrying an anti-Zionist sign. Her story has been viewed thousands of times on Instagram, but no German newspaper has reported on the attack, and no “Antisemitism Czar” has reached out to her. 

The German government doesn’t care about Jews — it only seeks to instrumentalize them as it pursues its imperialist interests in the Middle East. That is why so many Jewish and non-Jewish students at FU are standing up against the genocide, despite the enormous defamation campaign.

Capitalist media can spread lies around the clock. But they’re not winning hearts and minds — and while they are spreading fear, it’s not enough to stop solidarity.

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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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