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Freedom of expression only for friends of Israel, otherwise censorship?

It is time to confront the slanderers and their defamations. With the establishment of the British League of Nations Mandate for Palestine in 1922 with the aim of establishing a “national home for the Jewish people”, the indigenous people of Palestine lost the prospect of political self-determination. This loss was sealed when Israel was founded as a result of the mandate in 1948. Over 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled; they were expropriated by Israel and violently prevented from returning to their homes and possessions.

From this emergency birth in injustice on robbed land and the necessary feeling of not being able to live in peace, the ruling majority of today’s Israel derives the right to govern in the Jordan West Bank with military law since the occupation in 1967 and to continue to confiscate land piece by piece and to simply imprison the population in Gaza and plunge it into misery.

Palestinians have long resisted this foreign rule with violence: air hijackings, assassinations, bomb attacks. But after the end of the violent Second Intifada in 2005, the idea of civil resistance increasingly gained influence through the peaceful means of boycotts. The movement demands “BDS”, i.e. boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel.

This civil resistance is naturally rejected by the nationalists ruling in Israel and the nationalist international (Strache, Wilders, Orban, Trump), for whom Israel serves as a model. The democratic majority of the German population on the one hand does not want to make itself common with this nationalistic wave, rightly so. On the other hand, the European states and especially Germany, which 80 years ago expelled and murdered European Jews and left them no other way out than to look for a new homeland, can do it badly like the Palestinians and now wish this new homeland away again. Therefore the question of the right way of dealing with Israel hits us Germans in our self-understanding: To what extent must the descendants of the victims of German racism not adhere to human and international law?

The form in which such controversial questions are to be discussed is democratic discourse. At the end of this discourse it should be stated that human rights apply universally and that a political compromise must be found on this basis.

Not only has the Netanyahu government declared the Palestinian boycott movement to be Israel’s main enemy, but it is also devoting considerable resources and efforts to influencing politics and the media abroad accordingly. See, for example, Al Jazeera’s report “The Lobby” on the activities of the Israeli Embassy in London.

In public, the Israeli nationalists propagate that the BDS movement (and in general any fundamental criticism of Israel’s actions) is “anti-Semitic”. Some politicians in Germany (and other Western countries) have adopted this view. Among other things, the city of Munich (represented by its Lord Mayor Reiter) and the city of Frankfurt (represented by Mayor Becker) currently want to enforce a ban on the surrender of urban spaces to Israel’s critics if any point of contact with the “anti-Semitic BDS movement” can be suspected – spaces that the general public is entitled to engage in political activity due to the freedom of expression enshrined in the Basic Law.

Against the core of the BDS movement from Palestine is the accusation that it is obviously “anti-Semitic” out of place: it defends itself against massive injustice; human rights and international law stand on its side. In addition it does this with the gentlest possible means. (On the other hand, compare the individual knife attacks of young Palestinians last year.) This shift away from violence towards the methods of Gandhi, King and Mandela is to be welcomed without reservation.

Now it is conceivable that not the Palestinian BDS activists are anti-Semitically motivated, but their German supporters are. Abraham Melzer has written his book “Die Antisemitenmacher” against this claim. In it he manages, in simple words, to differentiate between what anti-Semitism is, what criticism of Israel is and what one has to do with the other, namely rather little.

The book has also become a very personal book; in warm, moving passages Melzer tells of his father’s refugee story and of his own childhood and youth in Israel. Nor would I have thought that Melzer’s obsessive doggedness in recent years in condemning his friend Henryk M. Broder’s life as a witty thinker of the New Right would allow me to recommend passages Melzer writes about Broder again; but in fact his memories of his joint youth with Broder in Cologne/Düsseldorf and of his help for Broder during his time in Israel are touching.

In the end, the book is somewhat put into a repetitive loop, more consistent editing would have done more good, but this does not detract from the positive overall impression: this is a book that cleverly and effectively takes apart the accusation of anti-Semitism as a political concept of struggle.

Melzer himself is one of those affected by the new German censorship: in September 2016, the city of Munich denied him the idea behind his new book by threatening to take municipal funds away from possible venues. In October 2017, the city of Frankfurt also wanted to do the same, but was instructed otherwise by a temporary injunction issued by the Frankfurt Local Court.

In Great Britain, the Free Speech on Israel initiative was founded by left-wing Jewish circles because of many similar incidents, and successful work has been done against the inflationary use of the accusation of anti-Semitism against left-wing critics of Israel. A similar initiative has now formed in Germany and will hold a conference in Berlin on February 10, 2018. After the title of a poem by Erich Fried (1921-1988) on exactly this topic, this conference has the motto “At the time of the slanderers”. It is aimed above all at people for whom the tradition of Marxism means something. Announced so far are lectures by the Israeli-German sociologist Moshe Zuckermann, the German actor Rolf Becker, the Israeli co-founder of the extra-parliamentary opposition “Mazpen” Moshe Machover, the Frankfurt (M) group “Free Palestine FFM” and the British activist Jackie Walker, who lost political offices due to accusations of anti-Semitism. Among the patrons is the German-Jewish musician Esther Bejarano.

Probably the “anti-Semite makers” in German politics and the media will not be misled by the arguments of this conference either and in a manner that has unfortunately been tried and tested in the meantime they will also beat this conference, which is supported by Jews, off as “anti-Semitic”, see themselves in a great way on the side of human rights and continue to ignore the human rights of the population of Palestine.

Some, however, may see this conference as a food for thought. Their problem, whether party members of the Greens, the CDU/CSU, SPD, FDP or the Left, is that they find themselves politically on the side of the new European Right and its German offshoot AfD with the support of Israel, which violates human rights, in spite of their human rights argumentation figure – and in spite of perhaps honest motivation in some cases.