Issue #8

  1. Introducing CONTRACTING AT THE SEAMS

  2. All Our Departed / El Male Rachamim אל מלא רחמים

  3. Jewish Ugliness

  4. Plastered Cistern That Leaks A Drop

  5. A Ghostly Seam

  6. Searching for Spanier Arbeit

  7. Reading Me

  8. Palestine, Antisemitism, and Germany's "Peaceful Crusade"

  9. Holding Onto Nothing to See How Long Nothing Lasts

  10. Hallucinatory Ethnicization

  11. lady of the sutures

  12. Anti-Racism as Procedure

  13. A Revolution of Silence

  14. Bodiless At The Bimah

Palestine, Antisemitism, and Germany's "Peaceful Crusade"

Emily Dische-Becker, Sami Khatib, Jumana Manna

The German Colony at Haifa, negative (glass, dry plate), 10 x 12 in., Matson Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, 1898-1914.

[Image description: Black and white photograph seemingly shred off at the top. Across the center is a large grouping of two- to three-story buildings with slightly sloped roofs, surrounded by scattered trees and grass or earthen lots. The buildings sprawl out to the background, down against a sea wherein there are four boats. In the foreground of the image is a grassy field with bushes and small trees and two stone walls splicing across it.]

A system of surveillance, censorship, and exclusion has become de rigeur in German cultural and educational institutions. In May 2019, the Bundestag passed a resolution categorizing the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement as antisemitic and restricting organizations that are close to BDS from accessing public funds and public space. An expansive culture of fear and inquisition has inevitably followed. The situation has reached such a boiling point that just recently major cultural institutions in Germany published an unprecedented joint open letter decrying the censorship and harassment produced by the resolution. But the most immediate result of this political climate is the ongoing silencing of Palestinians in Germany — the largest Palestinian diaspora in Europe. This conversation between writer Emily Dische-Becker, scholar Sami Khatib, and artist Jumana Manna reflects on the specific political, artistic, and curatorial situation in Germany and the on-the-ground realities faced by artists, curators, and scholars engaged with Israel and Palestine. 

Emily Dische-Becker (EDB): The Bundestag’s non-binding resolution declared the methods of the BDS movement to be antisemitic and applies to organizations. The resolution doesn’t apply to individuals, but it is overzealously interpreted. An accusation of antisemitism is a greater deterrent than an actual law would be. On the one hand, you don’t really need a law against individuals because a resolution that is vaguely worded will be over-enforced to target individuals and, on the other hand, an actual law would likely be unconstitutional as it clearly violates freedom of opinion.

The issue now in Germany is whether people who may have been vocally critical of Israel’s actions in the past by, say, signing a petition during a war in Gaza should be allowed to perform or show work in publicly funded spaces. At this point, the issue isn’t the actual content of the work; it’s about the personal political position. It’s pretty arbitrary whether they will in fact run into trouble; one is never sure if it’s going to happen. The institutions that show their work may get called out by random people — “concerned citizens” — who could email the Ministry of Culture or any of the public bodies funding cultural exhibitions or research in Germany and request that they look into the political views, specifically concerning Israel, of any of the artists or academics. 

Usually these complaints happen in a coordinated way, so it’s not one person but numerous people calling or writing. It can grow more public on Twitter, in the local press, or on marginal blogs of the Antideutsche. There might also be parliamentary inquiries by the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AFD) or the neoliberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP), who have authored dozens if not hundreds of inquiries into funding for cultural projects that might be going to BDS supporters. Once there is a real torrent of inquiries, you could have a talk or exhibition canceled. Or the Ministry might say, “We would like to have our logo taken off the venue’s website,” or “Please make it clear that this isn’t funded by the state.” So the institutions basically have to respond to that. And they have a variety of responses from what we’ve seen in the last few years. But a lot of the time, they basically just bow to pressure. That’s the situation broadly. 

The last thing Germans want is to be accused of “relativizing” antisemitism. That’s the often-heard charge here when antisemitism is put into any kind of contextual relationship with other systems of power and oppression. These degrees of abstraction are pretty much just as bad as the original charge: in other words, being antisemitic is as grave a charge as “relativizing” antisemitism. Being brought into connection with the term antisemitism – accusations of funding the “relativization” of antisemitism or apologizing for the “relativization” of antisemitism — is a sufficient deterrent for most people to not want to engage. You also have local decisions in local city councils that are more stringent than the BDS resolution. For example, even before the parliamentary BDS resolution, the city of Berlin passed a resolution that does apply to individuals. So individuals who support BDS are prevented from accessing public space, which means that any artist who has ever signed any petition relating to Palestine could conceivably be denied access to the public realm. I mean, who even knows what that means. 

Jumana Manna (JM): And that includes funding.

EDB: Yes, that includes funding. So, in various cities you have had these decisions challenged in court, where individuals were excluded or organizations were excluded from accessing space or participating in events because of their support for — or alleged support for — or proximity to the BDS movement. When these individuals have sued, which has happened on three to four occasions on a city level, and in late November there was a court ruling in Munich, these decisions have been declared unconstitutional and a violation of freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. 

Sami Khatib (SK): All these cases were ultimately won in higher courts. But we should maybe broaden the field a bit. It is considered the duty of the state in Germany to facilitate and ensure the freedom of education, culture, and art. This means that content is not prescribed; however, on the municipal, city, county, state, and federal levels you have cultural institutions, art institutions, foundations, and especially the entire university system dependent on state funding. Public universities are really important here because there are virtually no private universities in Germany. Most art academies are also funded by the state. So we have to talk about how the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism, including the so-called Israel-specific antisemitism, has been applied to universities. It has been adopted by the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK), which is the association of public and government-recognized universities in Germany, and universities are encouraged to use it. This is an interesting move because, in a press release from the same year (2019), the same association warned about the dangers to academic freedom in an age of “radically politicized and polarized opinion” and urged the “need to face up to attacks on academic freedom” and “resist the destructive external forces and the internal pressures that threaten this mission.” Yet, at the same time, this association adopted the legally non-binding Bundestag resolution on antisemitism and against BDS. 

So, to reiterate what Emily said, the more state funding there is to facilitate access to public space, the more they can use that money as an indirect way to exclude and censor. It will be done — even though I can, for example, go to the federal court, the highest German court, the constitutional court, or even afterwards to the European Court of Human Rights and get my right, after many years. So there’s clearly a gray zone in which the actual application of legally guaranteed academic freedom is in conflict with the cloudy expressions and political notions of the Bundestag resolution. This has created a situation where people do not even want to get into the debate and will just submit to the state’s authoritarian behavior. Germany has a long tradition of such behavior of preemptive submission to official authority. 

We have to emphasize here that the extent of state funding in Germany does not mean there is a centralized state, like in France, but a multilayered federal state whose layers are actually legally free to decide whatever they want within the constitutionally guaranteed limits. But local authorities and decision makers voluntarily follow a political line that represents roughly the four parties that actually voted for the resolution in the Bundestag.

It reaches even to the lowest level where the signifier of “Palestine” itself could become a microaggression against some imagined Jewish person. What is this German fantasy? Who are these subjects they fantasize to protect? Clearly, it is all about Germany and its narcissistic self-obsession of “having-come-to-terms-with-its-past.” You cannot challenge this fantasy on the level of rationality or empirical reality. And of course, this sort of German identity politics is deeply antisemitic, or the flipside of it, philosemitic — it expresses ressentiment. But beyond fantasy it has really created a toxic public discourse. 

JM: Although the motion is new, this history of silencing the discourse on Palestine is old, especially in West Germany. In East Germany, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), there is an interesting history of solidarity movements, which came to an end with the so-called reunification of 1989 and, with it, those movements have been largely forgotten in Germany today. But West Germany has a long history of silencing, shaming, and guilting Palestinians both within and beyond Germany’s borders. If it happens that a Palestinian is invited to speak on the topic of Palestine, then it is very common that the institution would ask that there be a Jewish Israeli there to speak alongside them for some false idea of balance or neutrality. This is certainly not the case the other way around. Never would a Jewish Israeli have to be balanced by a Palestinian voice.

EDB: In recent years it does feel like Palestinian voices have become even more marginal. Simultaneously, there has been an increase in minority voices, but Palestinians are mostly left out of that. In the last 15 years, for example, there has been a rise in German-Turkish people more visibly represented in leadership roles in cultural institutions, in parliament, in politics. There’s a much greater sense in general, especially in the liberal cultural scene, that people who have a so-called “migration background” should speak for themselves. Of course, it is still pretty tokenistic. But even this does not apply to Palestinians; their participation in public life remains at the “pre-token” stage.

“Cycling Unites” advertisement for 2015 Berlin Bicycle Week.

[Image description: Photograph of two men in profile on a red, double-seated bicycle, each with one foot on the ground and the other on a pedal, as if pausing from a ride or about to set out heading towards the viewer’s left. The photograph feels staged, inside a building with wood flooring against a white brick wall. The man at the front of the bicycle is smiling and squinting slightly towards the man behind him so that his face is fully visible. He is designated as “Imam Ferid Heider” by the lettering below his body and wears a white taqiyah and a casual suit jacket, pants, and shining black boots. The other man behind him wears a kippah and holds his right hand flat and warmly upon the imam’s back. This second man wears a kippah but is otherwise dressed similarly with shining black boots. He too is smiling at the imam and is designated as “Rabbi Daniel Alter” in the lettering below him.]

Sawsan Chebli, a local Berlin politician for the Social Democratic Party, is one of the few German-Palestinian public figures. She has to go to Auschwitz like once a month — figuratively, I mean, of course. She’s constantly riding tandem bikes with rabbis as part of some interfaith initiative. But it doesn’t matter. She’s still treated like absolute trash. I find her politically difficult to stomach, but you’d be hard-pressed not to feel that it’s an outrage how she’s treated. It’s misogynistic and racist. And there’s nothing she can do to fully arrive. No matter how much she denies her Palestinian-ness, it’s never enough. The other person is Ahmad Mansour, who is an expert on youth radicalization. For him, any kind of repressive anti-Muslim discrimination anywhere in Europe couldn’t be more welcome. He’s like the first guy who congratulated Sebastian Kurz in Austria for making “political Islam” its own criminal category. 

Sawsan Chebli, a local Berlin politician for the Social Democratic Party, is one of the few German-Palestinian public figures. She’s constantly riding tandem bikes with rabbis as part of some interfaith initiative.

This is all to say that Palestinians are arguably the most maligned minority in Germany. I can’t speak for them, but what I’ve heard from Palestinain acquaintances and friends over the years, especially when there’s a war with Israel, is that they are just the constant target of German annihilation fantasies. It’s almost as if Germans view Palestinians through a lens of: “Well, if we were Palestinian, we’d definitely be genocidally antisemitic.” And so they are pushed out of any conversation. There’s no need to quote a Palestinian voice or have a Palestinian perspective in a newspaper article or anything else. There are events on BDS, panels and what not, but there’s never a single Palestinian. 

SK: One should add that this is not by accident. In Germany, we can speak of a kind of transcendental anti-Palestinian sentiment. It’s the condition of possibility under which you can enter and participate in public discourse. That also means that people from other non-German backgrounds are expected to learn and get used to this specifically German anti-Palestinian sentiment. If you have post-migrant voices, let’s say from Turkish or Kurdish backgrounds, they have to get accustomed to the general right-wing narrative that frames the construction of Palestinian identity under the premises of Israel-related antisemitism. So that means the very signifier of “Palestine” is already antisemitic — unless proven or “balanced” otherwise. It has become at least a dubious signifier that needs further scrutiny. This suspicious scrutiny of, and anxious distance towards, the issue of Palestine is one of the entry points to German discourse. So, it is not surprising that even if you have some minority voices in public discourse, the conversation surrounding Palestine sounds so monolingual, so German. It is structural. And, of course, every Palestinian or German-Palestininan who lives in Germany, more or less, knows this and has learned to speak this way, at least in public, particularly when speaking from the position of public office. 

This has been the situation in West Germany since the terror attack at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, after which West Germany covertly collaborated with the Jordanian secret service and deported some Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship. This first instance of explicitly anti-Palestinian “security-related” measures of the West German state mostly resulted in deportations and withdrawals of residency permits. Ever since then, there has been increased state hostility towards the Palestinian cause. In West Germany, there had always been some politicians in the Bundestag who were, for various reasons, “pro-Arab” in the sense of being friendly to Western-allied Arab regimes. This is less and less the case. As Jumana mentioned earlier, in East Germany, with the GDR, the picture was different. The GDR understood itself as an ally of the Palestinian cause — or at least of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a major Marxist-Leninist group. But many people coming out of the GDR who were critics of the authoritarian, post-Stalinist GDR regime felt that, after 1990, their way of making it in West German society was by exercising an extra effort in working through their past correctly, as the West Germans supposedly did. They learned how to become accepted by the West German public discourse by learning this anti-Palestinian narrative, in order to earn their ticket to speak in the German public as a respected voice. And after 1990, reunited Germany exported its supposedly well-balanced and self-critical commemoration narrative. 

JM: And this is part of the victory story of the West against the East. 

EDB: Culture and academia are the final frontier. They are so international that it is hard to insulate them from international discourses oblivious to the German context. So culture has become a sort of specific battleground for this issue. I take the Texte zur Kunst issue on “Anti-Antisemitism” as an encroachment on this final frontier — the international art and culture scene — that the German narrative still hasn’t entirely occupied and provincialized.

SK: For the real political background, you have to go back in German history, the Holocaust and postwar Germany. You have to go through all the stages of West Germany and Israel establishing diplomatic ties. And Israel’s changes of policy, of course. And then the general human rights-based discourse, post-1990. These are many layers coming together. As a result, you can say that Germany succeeded, in ideology at least, to prove to itself and to the world that it is a guardian of peaceful international relations, and thereby gain a moral high ground from having worked through its own past. And, of course, we can witness the process of shifting the collective blame of antisemitism to someone else. Today, Palestinians and Palestine solidarity movements are the perfect subject of antisemitism. Germany has atoned, so from a mainstream German and Israeli perspective it is consistent to blame someone else. In this way, Israel’s “security” and the commitment to the non-existent “Two-State Solution” –– that is, in fact, the commitment to the non-existence of collective Palestinian rights and the denial of the existence of Palestinians as people and political agency –– has become the German raison d’état, as Chancellor Merkel put it. 

This is consistent with Germany’s history. It works within the logic of how after 1945 the West German state turned shame and historical guilt into a moral high ground of political responsibility. We can, of course, criticize this logic and find it flawed from the beginning, but this is realpolitik and this is how Germany made it so far, all the way to its leading position in the European Union (EU) as an economic powerhouse. Its market position in the world also benefits from having a good name. Some non-German people, however, had to pay the price for this huge political-ideological shift of historical guilt. And so Palestinians became terrorists or, at least, ontological antisemites by existence. It is as twisted as it sounds: Germany’s atonement ultimately means Palestinian non-existence. Those who claim Palestinian identity must be scrutinized for antisemtism until proven otherwise. And if proven otherwise, as “balanced” and “self-critical” Palestinians, there are, of course, career options as native informant or multicultural German. 

JM: Germany’s toxic obsession with or, rather, denial of Palestinians is also older than the twentieth century. Sami pointed to the history and ideological context of Germany’s guilt-driven passion of protecting Israel as a “Jewish State,” particularly post-1990. But if you look much further back, Germany and Prussia were interested in the region prior to the establishment of the state of Israel. Like many European nations, most notably Britain and France, Germany shared in the missionary impulse toward Palestine from the early 19th century onwards. And they were very active in opening schools, hospitals, churches, and later archaeological digs, industry, and commerce. The Templars — a religious Protestant sect formed in southern Germany — also built German neighborhoods in Jerusalem and Haifa. Germany was another Protestant mission, part of the “peaceful crusade” to the region. Germany’s role in Israel/Palestine and the region at large cannot be disentangled from the older religious and economic involvement of the late Ottoman period.  

EDB: I do think there’s something specific that’s happened in the last few years, though. There’s a general revisionism underfoot, about Germany’s past and this revisionism has made it possible to shift the blame. For liberals and leftists, too, who are invested in Germany’s culture of remembrance and things like that, this revisionism allows them to shift the focus of anti-antisemitism from the far-right to Muslims, to Palestinians, and now to the left, to Islamo-leftists (or Judeo-Bolsheviks!) or whatever. The rise of the far-right in Germany and a general surge in right-wing, anti-immigrant racism over the last few years is definitely the backdrop against that. And I don’t think you can separate those two things. They are very much connected. It’s become acceptable in many ways to be very racist as long as you are pro-Israel and it’s become unacceptable to criticize Israel, even if you’re Jewish. 

JM: Certain discussions that are held elsewhere in the world, as facts on the ground, are taboo in Germany. Even the term, Zionism, apparently can make people insecure. I mean, I remember I had “Zionism” in a press release and the head of the media department asked me to remove it because she thought it was a problematic word to use. And I was like, “But Zionism is a historical movement, not an opinion.” It’s really intense how much paranoia there is about “Zionism,” “occupation,” even the term “West Bank.” Not to mention  “apartheid” or “settler-colonialism.” So it’s really more extreme here than other countries.

Censorship often happens not directly, but through exclusion. That is, non-invitation or non-engagement. I believe that is the most prominent form: a non-engagement with these issues by avoiding inviting Palestinians or Arabs, and more recently left-wing Jews. But also, it’s no longer even about Palestinians. It’s about the possibility of thought in Germany, which has reached a kind of limit. When certain public discussions on history, ethics, and international law are avoided or prevented, how can the German cultural scene still see itself at the forefront of critical thought? There seems to be a growing number of Germans who are sympathetic, but still won’t risk sharing their views in public for fear of being mislabeled. And I think there’s a lot of educators who would like to include these politics in teaching, maybe through an invite-only, closed sessions with students. So, these conversations still happen to a limited degree, but it’s a big challenge when they happen in a public space with public funding. 

EDB: From an institutional level, the everyday things that do happen is that complaints come in that paralyze an entire institution for days on end. For example, someone can call and say “So, on your website it says that so-and-so spoke at your university four years ago and that person has now published something that references someone else and that other person co-authored a report with somebody who is pro-BDS.” We are talking that level of abstraction. And the whole thing is written like a threat. These things happen all the time. And even when the Ministry or employees who call to check up ask, “Hey, can you explain what this person is referring to? Could you make a statement in writing?” — even when those employees are sympathetic, they still don’t want any trouble. 

So, people look for the easiest way out. And that’s grounds for auto-censorship, grounds for avoiding inviting people from certain backgrounds. It has been mostly always people from Arab backgrounds, but Israelis are the new suspects now, especially if they are in Berlin and leftists. They are the kind of troublemakers you don’t want. It used to be that people would want to hide behind Israelis. Germans who would want to express certain positions would find a left-wing Israeli or Palestinian and have them say it for them. But it doesn’t work like that anymore. It’s just trouble. And trouble means you might jeopardize your funding. So those are very, very real factors that influence the way institutions make decisions about who to hire, who to commission, who to fund, who to invite. If you just look at what happened in the last few years, no one stuck up for anyone. No one in Germany stuck up for the Jewish Museum. Not a single institution in Germany said, “Wow, that’s terrible that the director of that institution was forced to resign, or that the Israeli government — in writing — asked the German government to defund the Jewish Museum in Berlin.” There were no protests from other institutions when that happened. There’s a chilling effect. 

In order to participate in this topic in Germany, one is required to deny reality. You have to deny the reality not of just what goes on in Israel or Palestine, but even deny the reality of Germany as part of the EU. The EU actually ruled that it would label products from the West Bank and the occupied territories as such. But, at the same time, if you take the position that you would then boycott these products — which the EU has themselves decided to mark — and you’re an artist, and you’re now doing finger-painting, you can be canceled for that. You have to deny the fact of the official EU policy. On the cultural-symbolic level, you have to deny reality and play along. And that, as Jumana said, includes not referring to the reality in Palestine because it offends Germans. It’s not just that it offends them; it disturbs them. And they don’t really know a lot of the time. And even when they do, it’s inconvenient knowledge and very difficult for them to deal with. 

You have to have at least one serious Nazi criminal grandpa in order to be able to have the expertise it takes to talk about antisemitism in Germany.

I think it’s also difficult, speaking from a Jewish background and perspective. I find it very difficult to deal with taking German feelings into consideration before I speak. And in fact, I’m required to do so and asked to do so explicitly all the time. I’ve literally been told by a Green Party politician that surely the associations BDS conjures for her, as the descendant of Nazis, aren’t anything that I would understand as a person who doesn’t have that same background. They’re the most traumatized people, Germans, what can I say! You have to have at least one serious Nazi criminal grandpa in order to be able to have the expertise it takes to talk about antisemitism in Germany. There’s one person at the Jewish Museum who has a vaguely Muslim-sounding name and people have said, “How can she study antisemitism if she’s Muslim?” It’s just so crazy. It’s almost officially a requirement that you have to say, “Well, my grandfather killed 50,000 people so that’s why I’m here to teach about this subject.” It’s become farcical to an extent that it’s hard to impart to people on the outside. But the conflict in Israel/Palestine is not about Germans and Germans forget that all the time. It is not about their feelings.

 

Poster from “After the Last Sky,” a 2016 Palestinian art festival held at Ballhaus Naunynstraße in Kreuzberg, Berlin.

[Image description: Flyer for two-day festival at Ballhaus Naunynstrasse, “After the Last Sky: A Festival in Berlin Transgressing Boundaries of Palestinian Life and Identity”. At the center, taking up most of the image space and enclosed by a fading grey color field, a woman squats wearing a grey keffiyeh that is tied around her head twice by a black band. Her dark brown hair and keffiyeh blow back and up as if by a wind and her gaze rests straight and determined at the viewer. She wears a white collared shirt, sleeves rolled up above the elbows, wide grey pants, and black high-heeled shoes. Below her left shoe is the symbol of the theater organization, a graphic illustration of a black dog, or perhaps another animal, with its tongue out and mouth open, facing a small red star.]

JM: There was a Palestinian festival of contemporary art in 2016 that was the first of its kind in Berlin. It was put together by a group of Palestinian-Germans who wanted to see what could be done in Berlin, given that it’s the home to one of the largest diasporas of Palestinians in Europe. The festival was put on in an alternative theater space in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district that’s known for having more political cultural events. But given the number of attacks they got after the festival, the theatre simply said we will never host this festival again because we cannot risk losing our funding. So, even at a radical space that was doing this festival as a statement, what was supposed to be a biannual event was discontinued. Even spaces dedicated to anti-colonial struggles, Black voices in Germany, and migrant struggles, etc. — no one wants to touch this issue because it means they will immediately lose their funding. But it hasn’t yet reached a point where Palestinians don’t show their work. I live here and have exhibited a decent amount in Germany. But public programs focused on Palestine or the critique of Israel is basically a no-go. 

SK: The German public might even be sympathetic to you but, again, the censorship takes place from the institutional side. We have spaces where we can create a narrative that allows us to speak, even as Palestinians. However, there are Germans who will come on their own grounds and with their own motivations to create a problem for the programmers of these institutions. Actually, if you frame the event with a nice bouquet of “diversity,” official politicians will even like it. But there will always be these few insane German exculpation-overachievers who show up. And I don’t mean insanity on an individual level. The pathology is structural. It’s a structural thing because there is a moral jouissance to presenting oneself as against an imagined international left — to fashioning oneself as an overzealous critical subject precisely through being the one that calls the ideological polizei and puts pressure on these institutions. So it’s not that we have no spaces. We have spaces. But we have a problem with a very special kind of self-appointed German criticality. I fear we need to find other sites of activity for these people because, at the moment, they are on our heels.

There is a moral jouissance to fashioning oneself as an overzealous critical subject precisely through being the one that calls the ideological polizei and puts pressure on these institutions.

EDB: The system has empowered a snitch culture. Unlike other manifestations of authoritarianism in Germany’s past, you don’t have an expert class of interrogators trained at some Stasi school. Instead, you get a bunch of people who are terrified, petrified, sending out emails to incredibly well-known artists saying, “Could you please renounce the BDS movement?” Or, “The internet says you are maybe for boycotting. Is it true?” And all that is just based on some random mole. It’s very pathetic. It’s very disturbing how powerful it is. 

I do think there’s pushback now, though. I just want to talk a little bit about the fact that we are organizing ourselves in different ways. I think that there is a feeling that this can’t continue the way it is. People will have to immigrate and move somewhere else. You know, after the explosion in Beirut, I had a lot of friends planning to move to Berlin and we joked about expunging their Twitter accounts. I’m not trying to over-dramatize the material consequences of this, but it is something to consider and it is also scary. I find it scary. Take a look at what happened at the School for Unlearning Zionism. Basically, there was a group of Israeli Jewish women who had been meeting for the past year and they called themselves the School for Unlearning Zionism. It was a deliberately internal discussion group for people with varying backgrounds of politicization, but all born and raised in Israel and now living in Germany. They would talk about their relationship to Jewish nationalism and I think they talked about their experience in the army. They read things together. One of them is an art student at the Kunsthochschule, a public art school, and she turned this reading group into her Master’s project and made it publicly available. There was a month of programming and events, like Zoom talks, as part of her exhibition.

Daphna Westerman, Die Geschichte einer Frau (aus dem Archiv), Sound Installation, “School for Unlearning Zionism” (exhibition), Kunsthalle am Hamburger Platz, Berlin, 2020.

[Image description: Photograph of exhibition piece exposing a rectangular corridor, the left side of which is a white wall paneled with two large window facing autumn trees outside and the right a white wall. On the white wall in the foreground is black capitalized lettering which reads, “DIE GESICHICHTE EINTER FRAU [AUS DEM ARCHIV]”. In the background, opposite to the camera, is a third and smaller white wall connecting the other two walls. Seated in profile on a wooden chair is a woman with shoulder-length dark hair staring out the window. Hanging above her head is a wooden box, nearly indecipherable from this vantage, hanging by metal chains.”]

First, it made it into the Israeli press and then it went to the Jüdische Allgemeine, which is the official newspaper of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. They reported on it by saying there’s a group close to BDS — “BDS nah” — organizing these events. It didn’t mention they were Jewish Israelis, by the way. It only mentioned that what they were doing was antisemitic, that it was demonizing Israel, blah blah bah. This incident was then placed into the “chronology of antisemitic incidents” compiled by Germany’s leading NGO against far-right extremism, the Amadeu Antonio Stiftung, which incidentally is run by a former Stasi mole. In this chronology, the Jewish reading group is sandwiched between an attack on a Jewish man who was assaulted with a shovel and severely injured outside of a synagogue in Hamburg, and swastikas defacing Jewish graveyards. 

But there is growing resistance to all this. The initial media coverage was terrible, but there was also a backlash to that. One of the students was asked to go on the radio to explain her project and she explained that this is her story, that the Germans don’t own her family history. I do think there’s some pushback starting now. 

JM: I have the impression that the discourse is shifting ever so slightly for the better despite the anti-BDS resolution and the embarrassing series of events that have occurred as a result. Berlin, in particular, is becoming more and more diverse and I think this together with the general understanding of the depth of Israeli state violence are changing things. Even though at the same time, there are strong political efforts to nullify the Palestinian struggle altogether, particularly from the US and the Gulf states this year. In terms of discourse in Germany, things are possibly opening up a little. But very, very slowly. It will take generations for things to really change.

SK: I am more of a pessimist here, yet still optimistic in this sense: these Germans are desperate. There’s a certain pathology in this extra-investment to go after us. In feminist discourse, you call this masculine fragility. I see a German fragility, to the extreme. So from this perspective, I think we will outlive this very special German discourse eventually. However, from the broader geopolitical perspective, I’m very, very pessimistic. I think today the worst people can push through their agendas. They can always find an ideological battleground to release those pressures, divert them, and make it impossible to deal with the real antagonism itself. In Germany and many EU states, we have become experts in a complete nonsense discourse while on the ground the politics of dispossession, occupation, and war crimes continue. However, I think we are better equipped to deal with those who are sent after us. They are really desperate. You can see how it is getting crazier all the time, so I think by just standing our ground, they lose. We are the partisans in this discourse. As long as we are here, they lose. And they cannot win the battle. It’s the asymmetry of the partisan’s position: you gain victory not by winning, but by staying on the ground, by not disappearing.

Emily Dische-Becker is a writer, researcher, and film producer who lives in Berlin.

Sami Khatib is a researcher and lecturer in critical theory. He is a founding member of the Beirut Institute for Critical Analysis and Research (BICAR). His main focus is on Walter Benjamin, Karl Marx, and Modern Continental Philosophy. Khatib was born in Germany to a mixed German-Palestinian family and lives in Berlin.

Jumana Manna is a visual artist working primarily with film and sculpture. Her work explores how power is articulated through relationships, often focusing on the body and materiality in relation to narratives of nationalism and histories of place. Manna was raised in Jerusalem and is based in Berlin.