Allegations of antisemitism are weaponised to stifle freedom of speech and serve to uphold Germany’s constructed narrative of alleged guilt and moral dedication to Israel.
German media is stepping up its silencing of Palestinians and pro-Palestinian voices. Adding to the ongoing marginalisation of Palestinians in Germany, state-owned and taxpayer-funded outlet “Deutsche Welle” (DW) has fired numerous Palestinian and Arab journalists.
The latest events constitute further repression of public communication and the lack of freedom of speech when it comes to questions of Palestine, human rights, Israeli crimes, and German identity. They also suggest that now, any public visibility of Palestinians can easily be condemned as antisemitic.
The Euromed Human Rights Monitor recently expressed concern over the “anti-Arab purge in German media.” In October 2021, award-winning Palestinian-German journalist Nemi El-Hassan was fired by public broadcaster WDR. In December 2021, DW suspended several Arab employees from its Arabic-language outlet and later fired five journalists, including Palestinian journalists Farah Maraqa and Maram Salem. In each of these cases, accusations of antisemitism were cited by the employer but dismissed by the journalists.
Journalists of Palestinian origin have been smeared in the media in what can only be described as a witch hunt. A far-right online activist released footage showing El-Hassan attending an anti-Zionist protest in Berlin in 2014, for which she even apologised. She was also attacked because she liked posts from the organisation “Jewish Voice for Peace” on Instagram.
A German journalist accused Maram Salem of antisemitism and anti-Israel bias based on a Facebook post that was apparently taken out of context. Ironically, Salem’s post, which criticised the lack of freedom of expression in Europe, had no reference to Israel.
Censorship and ‘antisemitism’
While these latest developments further increase the alarming policing of Palestinians and pro-Palestinian voices in Germany, they do not come as a surprise.
In Germany, criticism of Israeli policies is more often than not considered “antisemitic” by default. Public expressions about Israeli human rights violations are generally blocked by a policing of language and ad hominem – and oftentimes racist – attacks against people who publicly voice criticism of Israeli and German crimes.
After Palestinian journalist Ali Abunimah criticised the German government’s complicity in the Israeli massacres of Palestinians during a programme on DW’s English-language programme in 2021, DW removed the interview and claimed that the guest had made “antisemitic remarks” and intended “to justify acts of terrorism.”
DW later issued an internal guide, evoking the Holocaust and instructing its employees to use particular language when referring to Israel. Terms such as “apartheid” or “colonialism” were not to be used.
The continuous controversies are not necessarily about Israel, and even less about alleged antisemitism. Germany has now reached a point where anyone and anything “Palestinian” can easily become synonymous with “antisemitism.” Palestinians are constantly required to explain themselves, while their voices and lived experiences are excluded from the dominant discourse.
This racist ideology is inherent in the German state’s self-understanding. Germany officially declares the so-called security of Israel to be its “raison d’être.” Citing the Holocaust and the continuous process of dealing with the past, the rhetoric around guilt has helped Germany to justify its unconditional support for the Israeli aggressor and has not prevented Germany from supporting racist apartheid hierarchies elsewhere.
In fact, Berlin is also shielding Israel from any potential accountability because Germany itself is ideologically, economically, and politically invested in upholding it. Effectively, Palestinians are suffering so that Germany can feel better about its past and current role in the world.
Anti-Palestinian hate speech is not limited to mainstream media discourse. In recent years, government-backed measures have facilitated the policing and silencing of support for Palestinian human rights. Palestinian resistance, or even the mere refusal to capitulate to German-backed Israeli aggression, can thus become synonymous with “terrorism.”
The aggressive anti-Palestinian approach has translated into a culture of fear. In 2019, the German parliament passed a resolution that condemned the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement as antisemitic. The resolution has since been conveniently cited as a justification to exclude pro-Palestinian voices from the public sphere and vet people on their stance on Palestine, limiting their access to public communication.
This ideological positioning is fanatical and dangerous. Aimed at rendering any visible form of Palestinian agency as a threat to the German state’s racist fantasy about Israel, it is resistant to facts, documentation of actual crimes, international law, or any moral concerns.
When Amnesty International recently published a well-researched report in which it concluded that Israeli policies in Palestine constitute apartheid, its German office voiced its concern that the discussion about the situation in Palestine and Israel was taking place in a structurally antisemitic and racist environment, citing an increase in antisemitic attacks.
In an open letter to the German office of Amnesty International, pro-Palestinian activists expressed their disappointment about the organisation’s announcement that it would not campaign on this report. The activists further stressed that the “cowardly passive attitude” of human rights organisations in Germany “in the face of the overwhelming burden of evidence” constituted a “new low point in this country.”
Amnesty International does not position itself as anti-colonial and, in fact, regularly condemns Palestinian resistance. Yet, the report stirred controversy in Germany, where mainstream media accused the organisation of antisemitism.
The government was also quick to reject the term “apartheid.” Germany’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, Susanne Wasum-Rainer, protested “a one-sided focus on criticism of Israel” and claimed that “human rights advocates also have responsibility to not voluntarily encourage a worrying rise in anti-Semitism in Europe.”
This is just one example of how potential conversations about human rights are blocked in advance through language policies and allegations of antisemitism. It is, in fact, Germany and its media that are boycotting Palestinian human rights and showing an obsessive and one-sided focus on Israel.
Culture of fear
In Germany, there is hardly any public opposition to the racist targeting of Palestinians. Palestinians in Palestine are thus always condemnable perpetrators because they dare to exist and stand in the way of the German-backed Israeli colonial conquest. In Germany, there is a general fear of the visibility of Palestinians who represent a potential destabilisation of the engineered German national narrative.
In this context, the German public broadcaster’s latest silencing of Palestinians perfectly reflects the country’s perpetuation of Israeli tactics. A critical conversation should not only focus on Germany’s protection of Israel but also on Germany’s direct responsibility for settler-colonialism in Palestine, as well as the issue of censorship and control in German media.
In Germany, Palestine is not understood as a question of human rights, colonial oppression, or a struggle for liberation, but as a contestation of German identity and as a safe space for the continuation of the construction of racist hierarchies.
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