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Nov 28, 2023, 3:00pm EST
Europe
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How Germany’s historical guilt is affecting Palestinians

Brandenburg Gate
REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
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The News

Journalists, academics, and recent op-eds are highlighting how Germany’s complicated historical relationship with Jewish people and Israel is eclipsing Palestinian voices in the country. An American writer on Tuesday claimed that a German university rescinded its invite for him to give the keynote address at a conference, citing his apparent “pro-Palestine posts on social media.”

The German government is also mulling measures to restrict criticism of Israel, with the parliament debating new proposals that would require refugees and asylum seekers to commit to Israel’s right to exist as a condition of acquiring citizenship.

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The situation of Palestinians in Germany is one of “collective loneliness,” a Palestinian doctor told Coda Media. Professional repercussions for being seen as pro-Palestine, along with bans on symbols and events, mean that many Palestinians “are not even allowed to mourn publicly” as their family members in Gaza are being killed, the doctor said. “Since reunification in 1990, Germany’s national identity has been founded upon ‘coming to terms with the past,’ Berlin-based writer Sanders Isaac Bernstein writes for Coda. It means taking responsibility for the Holocaust and showing support for Israel, but this historical guilt and culture of remembrance “holds little room for non-ethnic Germans,” he argues. Despite Germany’s legal protections for free speech and assembly, the country’s support for Israel “takes priority” over protests or gatherings supporting Palestine that from a “sober legal perspective” cannot be banned, a constitutional law academic told Coda.

The voices of Jewish people in Germany who criticize Israel are drowned out by “Germans whose Holocaust-guilt complexes cause them to fetishise Jewishness to the point of obsessive-compulsive embodiment,” writes Deborah Feldman, the German-American writer whose escape from her ultra-orthodox Jewish community was turned into a Netflix miniseries. The German government ignores “the way dissenting Jews in Germany are being thrown under the same bus as they are in Israel,” Feldman argues in the Guardian, referring to the lack of Israel’s military protection for the victims of Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre, many of whom were left-leaning and secular Israelis advocating for peaceful coexistence. Recalling her own experience of being targeted for criticizing Israel, Feldman accuses Germany of protecting only those Jewish voices who are “loyal to the rightwing nationalist government of Israel.”

The proposed reforms for Germany’s citizenship law are targeting the wrong people, argues Palestinian journalist Hebh Jamal in Mondoweiss. Over 80% of all antisemitic crimes in Germany are committed by the far-right, according to federal police, but the new bill “clearly singles out Arabs and migrants, claiming antisemitism in Germany is now only ‘imported,’” Jamal writes. The problem, she opines, is that Germany’s definition and scope of an antisemitic crime is “extremely ambiguous,” and has been criticized by some scholars as “wrongly conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism.”

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