Last week, the German organisation Jewish Voice for a Just peace in the Middle East received a peace prize from the city of Göttingen.
As the organisation supports the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, the announcement of its nomination became a battleground, wherein prominent Jewish leaders tarnished its members as anti-Semites, suggesting that they were the ‘wrong kind of Jews’. The mayor and the president of the Göttingen university withdrew their support and cancelled the booking of halls for receptions. Nonetheless the jury stuck to its decision, and crowdfunded a prize of 28,000 Euros, which the organisation will donate to human rights organisation in Palestine as well as to the liberal Israeli +972 Magazine.
This is not the first time the organisation is targeted for its Palestinian solidarity. In 2016, after an incitement campaign by the Israeli government and its local supporters, the bank account of the organisation was closed. This was in fact the first time in the post-WW2 era, that an account held by a Jewish organisation in Germany was closed. It was explicitly explained to them that this was for political reasons – if they would rescind their support for BDS, they could reopen the account. Only after a massive protest campaign, were they allowed to reopen the account.
This is a familiar pattern in Germany, where Holocaust guilt is weaponised as a means of stifling any meaningful protest against Israel and its policies.
Iris Hefets, the chairwoman of the organisation, spoke at the prize event. Below are highlights from her speech (full speech here).
Small fish in the murky waters in the pond of slander
It is a great honour to receive a prize for peace and an even greater honour to be included in this list along with these other so venerable recipients of this Göttingen Prize for Peace. In the wake of these turbulent days I can also add: it is a considerable achievement. We are probably also the only award winners who when told of the decision to grant us this award on the one hand were elated but on the other knew we were in for a bumpy ride. That we would be attacked and slandered was to be expected….
I cannot conceal the fact that the experience of being a Jew and being undesired is extremely unpleasant. During the period in which the Foundation was seeking refuge for this ceremony, we were at the same time met with so much support, recognition and gratitude that we were truly very moved and felt ourselves to be in good hands. We were not left alone and we are very appreciative of this. Our great thanks is due not only to the Foundation and the Jury but also all those people who refused to be compelled under social pressure to conform and were not conquered by fear but were undeterred in standing up for their political beliefs. Your solidarity is the oxygen for us small fish in the murky waters in the pond of slander. We are indeed especially dependent upon this commitment to democratic values.
Not in our name
Being Jewish is mark of identity and bears no further qualification in terms of political commitment or any specialised knowledge. The considerable and well-founded support which we have received in the past few days in no small part from non-Jews is evidence of this. On the other hand, the Israeli government holds us hostage when they claim to speak for all Jews worldwide. This is why we say, loudly: “Not in our name!” We are a few dozen Jews with an internet connection and a sense of guilt and shame with respect to the Palestinians and fear for the future of Israel. All our activities are documented in writing, we are a political organisation and operate in the public sphere. We have nothing to hide. We are of course not neutral, neutrality serves only the oppressor. We are affected by events, they concern our children, friends and relatives. We don’t have the resources of the federal government and no newspaper, as does the Central Council for the Jews. We all do this as volunteers without pay and in addition to our professional responsibilities and our personal social lives.
The events leading up to this ceremony once again demonstrate that when one speaks of Israeli politics, at least in Germany, one is not speaking about politics but about identity. Many Germans, Jewish and non-Jewish, try to assuage their difficulties with their identities by indiscriminately identifying themselves with the state of Israel. Regardless of the policies which the Israeli government pursues, they are always on board. This is why we founded our organisation, in order for us, as Jews living in Germany, to give an outlet to our voice and to exert influence upon the German civic society. This is why this prize means so much to us: to be able to speak to you and with you as Jews. This is one of the central aims of our organisation and our work within it.
A familiar pattern
In Germany we repeatedly experience events which unfold according to the same pattern: the rights of the Palestinians are violated, there is political protest against it, the German press finds – or invents, as recently evidenced by the fake news – an anti-semitic incident and ultimately the subject becomes anti-semitism itself which is then acted upon and the original protest is suffocated. Trump, for example, decides to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem in violation of international law, young Palestinians protest in Berlin, a journalist from the Berliner Zeitung claims they shouted “Death to the Jew” and immediately there is talk of anti-semitism among Muslims. The fact that laborious research by the journalist Emily Dische-Becker revealed that the journalist who reported the incident does not speak or understand Arabic and that a thorough examination all film footage and audio recordings was unable to substantiate this assertion of course goes unnoticed. This is also because this view is suitable to many in this country. The new German identity has consolidated itself as “not anti-semitic” and has thus shifted Christian anti-semitism to a Muslim minority. Thus the German past can be regarded as overcome and one can look past the NSU murderers, NPD, Pegida, Legida and the AfD (Alternative for Germany). There are of course but few Muslims among the AfD’s voters. Through this continuous shabby journalism the Jews remain the eternal victim and the Palestinians, or “Arabs” their perpetrators, while it is the Christians who are now there to “save the Jews”. This approach has been orchestrated for decades by the Israeli government and their institutions and supporters both in Israel and abroad.
Israel’s Christian-oriented allies in Europe, the United States or also now in Brazil together with Israel are spreading the idea of a struggle again “Islam”. Thus the State of Israel can sell its conflict over land, rights and self-determination which it has with the Palestinians as one aspect of a larger global threat. It is then no longer a matter of Israel’s actions, the expulsion of the Palestinians, the expropriation of their property and the sealing off of Gaza. Israel’s violent expansion at the expense of the Palestinians is being reinterpreted as resistance toward the global attack of Islam. Israel is being stylized as a victim while the Palestinians have been cast as the perpetrators who are acting aggressively against Israel, supposedly because they are anti-semites, and not because they are leading a struggle for liberation. In the view of the Israeli government, this is a religious conflict which must be waged internationally and forms the basis for alliances between Israel and the radical right led by Orban, Salvini, Trump or Bolsonaro and their political parties. And if as Israel claims, this conflict is religious and lies “in the nature of Muslims”, then any agreement with the Palestinians is superfluous for this is an existential fight against “evil”.
This Judeo-Christian covenant can also be seen in Germany. Here there is talk of “Moslem anti-semitism” or “imported anti-semitism” and even a federal commissioner for anti-semitism has been created. There is no such commissioner to combat racism or Islamophobia. Such preferential treatment is of course not without its risks for the privileged minority. Dr. Felix Klein is the current “Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life and Against Anti-Semitism”. His responsibilities overlap with those of the Central Council of Jews, which in turn represents roughly half of the Jews living in Germany. Now he has as a partner a Christian civil servant. We now only need a male federal commissioner for the lives of women and to combat sexism. We members of the Jewish Voice have had the opportunity to experience this so-called “protection” from the new Federal Commissioner first hand.
In 2016 our account with the Bank for Social Economy was terminated, due to pressure from the Israeli government and its representatives in Jewish community. For the first time in the post-war era, an account held by a Jewish organisation in Germany was closed and, as was explicitly explained to us, for political reasons. If we would be willing to rescind our signature beneath the BDS call, we would be able to reopen our account. A German institution, in this case a bank, can thus decide which Jews are the real ones with correct views and who would be desirable customers of the bank and which are not. Among other things, we are accused of denying Israel’s right to exist, yet many of us are Israelis. After we assured them that our concern is with the safe future of our families and friends still living there and after protests from many people and organisations in the private sector who recognised the threat to the right to freedom of expression, the bank revised its decision. However, the pressure on us from the right has not receded. The Bank for Social Economy found itself on the Top Ten List of Anti-Semites published by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre because of our account with the bank. The development of this centre is symptomatic for the bond between the Israeli government and the radical right which is described above. Once a renowned centre which fought anti-semitism and sought out and brought Nazi war criminals to justice, after Simon Wiesenthal’s death it became a radical right-wing organisation that in Israel established a museum of tolerance on the site of a Moslem cemetery and branded any criticism of Israeli politics as anti-semitism.
Testing Jews for anti-Semitism according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition
As the Bank for Social Economy was at a loss how to proceed, they had already asked the help of Dr. Felix Klein. Felix Klein, as Federal Commissioner, should really be trying to promote Jewish life, including and especially our fundamental rights to freedom of opinion and to political organisation. In the case of political censorship against a minority he should have been particularly sensitive. The German civil servant Klein however recommended that a survey be taken to determine whether the members of the Jewish Voice, all of whom are Jews, are anti-semites. The standard to be used in determining this was to be the controversial definition of anti-semitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which for obvious reasons is propagated by the Israeli government. If the question had been left to the German commissioner for anti-semitism, the granddaughter of Jews starved in Leningrad would, for example, have been the subject a of German scientific examination as to whether or not she is an anti-semite. We refused to comply.
That’s less than half of Iris Hefets’s excellent speech. An interview with organisation member (and The Real News correspondent) Shir Hever is available here.
Hefets explained in length about BDS – about its three demands, about how it “aims by non-violent means to exert pressure on Israel to turn back from its current policies and escape the destructive and self-destructive impasse into which Israel has fallen”. She noted how BDS is a means of political pressure that is aimed against a state policy and not against individuals.
She also pointed out the importance of there being Jews in this whole debate, due to German taboos:
While many citizens support our work, politicians tell us quietly and in private that we can say such things, but for them such statements would mean the end of their careers. Journalists who dare to type the word apartheid into their keyboards in connection with Israel risk being dismissed. The task of criticising Israeli politics still falls mainly to Jews and Israelis.
This is indeed a worthy task which requires resilience and courage. Zionists and Israel apologists have been calling Jews who are critical of them ‘the wrong kind of Jews’ since before Israel was established.
This is a fight not only for the lives of Palestinians, but also for the soul of Judaism.
Although these advocacies often fall on deaf ears in Germany, drowned by the Israel-apologia of the mainstream Jewish establishment, events like these sometimes stir the necessary debate. This event garnered exceptional attention from German media, and the prize ceremony was attended by 450 people from all over Germany.
Thanks to Iris Hefets for providing a transcript of the German speech