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Germany puts BDS activists on trial for disrupting Israeli MK

Two Israelis and a Palestinian activist are standing trial for interrupting a talk by Israeli member of Knesset Aliza Lavie at a Berlin university in 2017. 

Demonstrators hold signs outside a Berlin courthouse on the opening day of the trial of three BDS activists charged with assault for interrupting an Israeli MK during a lecture in 2017, March 4 2019. (Magda Stefanenco)

Demonstrators hold signs outside a Berlin courthouse on the opening day of the trial of three BDS activists charged with assault for interrupting an Israeli MK during a lecture in 2017, March 4 2019. (Magda Stefanenco)

Three BDS activists, two Israelis and a Palestinian, are on trial in Germany after being charged with assault and trespassing during a lecture by an Israeli member of Knesset in June 2017. The activists, Stavit Sinai and Ronnie Barkan from Israel, and Majd Abusalama from Gaza, interrupted MK Aliza Lavie of the centrist Yesh Atid party as she spoke at Humboldt University in Berlin. The activists accused Lavie of having “the blood of Gaza” on her hands, and accused her of representing an “apartheid regime.”

Sinai, Barkan, and Abusalama succeeded in halting the lecture for several minutes, until both members of the audience and university security guards forcefully removed them from the room. Lavie’s lecture was titled “Life in Israel: Terror, Prejudice, and the Chance of Peace,” and delivered alongside Holocaust survivor Deborah Weinstein. The event was organized by the German-Israel Society branch in Berlin as part of a delegation of Yesh Atid’s youth chapter to promote Israeli hasbara on campuses across Germany. At the time of the presentation, Lavie was the chairperson of the Lobby for the Struggle Against the Delegitimization of the State of Israel.

Shortly after the talk began, the activists stood up and shouted, “While you take pride in LGBTQ rights in Tel Aviv, Israel is forcing Palestinians out of the closet,” and demanded Lavie speak about the “crimes you committed in Gaza.” Following the event, which was covered by both the Israeli and German press, the German-Israel Society filed a criminal complaint with the German authorities, who launched an investigation and charged the activists with assault and trespassing. Their trial opened on March 4 in Berlin, where over 100 supporters from various left-wing organizations, including Jewish ones, were in attendance.



Charges of anti-Semitism were quick to follow. After the talk, Lavie published a statement in which she claimed her lecture quickly “turned into a violent and anti-Semitic demonstration of hatred by BDS activists, including Israelis who did not let me speak.” German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel published an article on the incident under the headline “Anti-Semitism in Berlin,” while Israeli pro-settler news site Arutz 7 emphasized that this was the same university where Jewish books were burned in 1933. Even German intelligence mentioned the incident in a report published last year, in which it established that the BDS movement is part of an outburst of anti-Semitism in Berlin.

While the prosecution claimed the activists attacked those in the room and shouted anti-Semitic slogans, video of the incident shows a different story, showing no signs of violence.

In late February, in the run up to the trial, Academia for Equality, an Israeli organization made up of 500 academics dedicated to advancing equality and the democratization of Israeli academia and society, wrote a letter to the Humboldt-University Berlin President Sabine Kunst, urging her to express concern regarding the university’s part in the “prosecution of the activists.” According to the group, the fact that the university does not openly reject the accusations of anti-Semitism only “contributes to the growing delegitimization and silencing of civil society organizations and critical voices – many of whom are Jewish – that oppose the ongoing military occupation of the Palestinian people and territories.”

“The struggle against anti-Semitism is, without question, very important,” the letter continued. “However, it is also important to keep that struggle morally, intellectually and politically right, and refrain from redirecting it in the service of questionable political interests.” Blurring the differences between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians is “manipulative use of the worthy struggle against anti-Semitism for purposes that have nothing to do with protecting Jews against racial hatred, and everything to do with shielding the Israeli government from criticism regarding its continued occupation of Palestinian territory and the consequent violation of human rights of millions of people.”

Activists from the Berlin Against Pinkwashing (BAP) group and supporters, hold a banner that reads: "No Pride in Israeli Apartheid", in front of the Israeli embassy's stand during the Christopher Street Day (CSD) Pride Parade in Berlin, July 28, 2018. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Activists from the Berlin Against Pinkwashing (BAP) group and supporters, hold a banner that reads: “No Pride in Israeli Apartheid”, in front of the Israeli embassy’s stand during the Christopher Street Day (CSD) Pride Parade in Berlin, July 28, 2018. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

“This is how they try to brand Israel,” said Majed Abusalama by telephone. “They want to talk about democracy and how beautiful Israel is, especially for the LGBTQ community and vegans. As a Palestinian from Gaza, it is difficult for me to hear this. As long as there is no equality, they have no right to talk.”

Abusalama, one of the three activists on trial, is a political activist who moved to Berlin after being shot by an Israeli sniper while planting olive trees next to the Israel-Gaza border fence in 2014. Abusalama was one of the founders of the Intifada Youth Coalition, which protested alongside the wall in 2013-2014.

“We came to hold nonviolent civil action, just like in South Africa, against a person who represents Israeli apartheid,” said Abusalama, who is currently writing a dissertation on conflict resolution at the University of Tromsø in Norway. “Lavie is part of the coalition that decided on the Gaza war in 2014.”

The trial has exacted a heavy price on Abusalama and could bring about his eventual deportation from Germany. “In Gaza, we couldn’t see our oppressors face to face, because we are behind bars and fences. It hurts me to listen to Israeli officials. I told her she belongs in The Hague, not in the university.”

Abusalama sees a direct link between his case and the growing tendency in Germany to restrict freedom of speech when it comes to criticism of Israel, as in the case of a German bank that is planning to conduct a “scientific review” of a Jewish peace group after the latter was accused anti-Semitism for its pro-BDS stance. “They are going after me in order to deter others, Palestinians and non-Palestinians, from speaking out against Israel because of the ‘complex’ relationship between the German people and Israel. This is a direct continuation of the fear Israel is trying to sow against all forms of criticism.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Jennifer

      “They have no right to talk.”

      And herein lies the problem–the anti-Israel crowd loves free speech when they’re the ones speaking, but denies others this very same right.

      If it hurts you to listen, then cover your ears. You have NO right to silence anyone. Ever.

      Hope they get deported. It’s a far kinder treatment than they deserve.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        Because just saying somebody shouldn’t talk is EXACTLY the same thing as actively using the law to gag them. Brilliant.

        Reply to Comment
        • Jennifer

          Ray, for some reason, it’s not letting me reply to your comment.

          He did NOT merely say someone shouldn’t talk, he DISRUPTED someone else from speaking, in hopes that that person would NOT be heard.

          That they were promptly removed like garbage doesn’t change their intentions.

          They have NO right to disrupt anyone else’s speech. EVER.

          And, THAT is why they’re on trial.

          Your side would flip your sh*t if someone disrupted your hate fests this way.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Jennnifer, while you are on your high horse about the sacrosanct right to free speech (while silent about the fact that the very same hypocrites who coldly and cynically blackmail gay Palestinians into becoming informers and collaborators by threatening them with being outed are the hypocrites who then go to Germany, yank the anti-Semitism guilt chain, wave a rainbow-colored flag, and burble about how gay friendly Israel is) could you please send angry missives to the Israeli state and Ayalet Shaked in particular about their persecution of and silencing of Breaking the Silence and of Palestinian legislators and of Israeli human rights activists through all sorts of devious tricks, brutality and East German Stasi-style techniques? Thanks so much. Because I know you want to be consistent and non-hypocritical, right?

            ‘You are all traitors’: The political persecution of Breaking the Silence’

            Reply to Comment
          • Jennifer

            Ben, doesn’t your side love to scream “whataboutery” when someone brings up another’s offense as a reference point?

            So…are you a hypocrite?

            I never claimed Israel is perfect or flawless.

            My original point, that neither you, nor Ray can address is that your side only cares about free speech for YOU and YOURS.

            You have NO problem whatsoever disrupting someone else’s right to free speech.

            And therein lies your problem–you’re a bunch of hypocrites with no shame or dignity.

            If you don’t want to take the consequences, don’t disrupt other people’s right to free speech. If you choose to disrupt other people’s right to free speech, then don’t complain when you’re forced to take the consequences.

            And, instead of pointing out the alleged offenses of Israel, why not just admit that your side has a free speech problem, in that you don’t support free speech unless you agree with what is being said?

            At least be honest for a change.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            OK, Jennifer, let’s take this apart.

            I did not engage in whataboutery, never mind “scream” it. Whataboutery would be if I said something like, “Well, what about those left wing Israelis who had their talks interrupted? Huh?! Did their right wing interrupters go to jail?! No! They should go to jail too!”

            This I did not say.

            And you know why? Do you know why the very idea is absurd and exposes the whole game you are playing here whether you know it or not? The game of fake balancing and fake two-sidism? Because the Israeli government does not have to take the poor man’s route, the silenced man’s route, the civil disobedience route of interrupting propaganda talks given in solicitous German universities and in the halls of power like the US Congress, because it has always ways to routinely silence those who would speak in opposition to it and curry favor with those in power. Aliza Lavie will never be silenced by disappearing her into indefinite detention without trial as are thousands of Palestinians who try to protest or speak their minds; or a kangaroo court trial as was Khalid Jarrar. The Israelis arrest without trial or any due process anyone they feel like, anyone who speaks their mind. And enjoy unequaled solicitousness by guilt-ridden European governments intimidated by charges of anti-Semitism; and by the Americans, a whole other story.

            More to follow.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The fact is that these interrupters, these disrupters at the German university in Berlin were engaging in civil disobedience, not silencing of free speech. The “disrupting other’s right to free speech” charge you make is false. These protesters had no intent and no hope and no prayer of actually disrupting a right. Or of silencing anyone. And they knew it. They knew ahead of time that the right to free speech would be protected in that room within seconds. And every one in that room in Berlin knew it. Including Aliza Lavie, however annoyed she was at the inconvenience and how much she pontificates about “free speech.”

            What the activists were in fact doing was engaging in free speech themselves. They knew beforehand that they would be immediately dragged off and arrested and they took the consequences. It was a statement, not a deprivation of a right. It was civil disobedience. An addressing of a massive power imbalance. (And to deny or minimize that massive power imbalance, and massive imbalance in the power simply to be heard, is to engage in the normalizing, fake balancing and “two-sides”-ism that is Israeli stock in trade.) Aliza Lavie went right on speaking I can assure you. Freely. With tender solicitousness accorded her by the German government and university system. And no country denied her travel rights, imprisoned her without due process, disappeared her, or blackmailed her because of her sexual orientation. Would that that were true for Palestinians at the hands of Israel.

            Jennifer, I’m not complaining about consequences. I like the consequences in this instance of civil disobedience by “my side.” They were planned, intended, anticipated, with full realization ahead of time. By my side. You’re the one posing fake consequences for your side.

            (And my critique of the hypocrisy of Lavie’s rainbow gay propaganda act stands. Whether you think that is “whataboutery” or not.)

            More to follow.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You say my “side” has a free speech problem. Let me tell you what free speech problem my side has.

            It has the problem that Palestinians who would try to exercise their free speech rights, like Aliza Lavie freely exercised hers, are not even allowed out of the country to travel , to Berlin or to the United States, or are denied entry by the United States.

            It has the problem that people like Stavit Sinai, Ronnie Barkan and Majd Abusalama will never be given the same platform as Aliza Lavie was given at a German university, and so they had to grab a platform and commit civil disobedience to be even heard in the first place.

            It has the problem that an Israeli Prime Minister was allowed to speak in the US House of Representatives over the objections of the American President and the opposition party (AIPAC is so “bipartisan” is it?). But no countervailing Palestinian speaker was, or ever conceivably would be allowed there.

            It has the problem that lawmaker Ilhan Omar’s free speech was immediately intimidated into silence by the chokehold the Israel lobby has on the American Congress.

            It has the problem that a Feminist Palestinian lawmaker named Khalid Jarrar was imprisoned, virtually disappeared, into Israeli prisons for 20 months without trial in order to shut her up.

            It has the problem that an Israeli conscientious objector named Roman Levin, and many others beside him, were sentenced to long times in prison in order to shut them up.

            It has the problem that the Israeli soldiers of Breaking the Silence have been viciously persecuted, using devious and not so devious tricks, to inhibit them from exercising their free speech rights. Ask Ayelet Shaked, another person whose free speech rights and right to travel will never be denied by the Palestinians or anyone else.

            It has the problem that civil rights activists trying to exercise their right to free speech in the occupied territories are routinely harassed, threatened, denied entry, deported or arrested, and otherwise shut up. By an Israeli government and its supporters whose free speech rights have never ever been violated anywhere. But rather coddled.

            It has the problem that a Las Vegas gambling magnate and American right wing Republican Party kingmaker funds a massive Bibi-ton, a frank propaganda sheet, in order to drown out other voices; while the Israeli Prime Minister is charged on other fronts with bribery for trying to silence viewpoints he does not like. Because the Bibi-ton wasn’t enough.

            It has the problem that Israel is trying to silence a stateless Palestinian journalist named Mustaf al-Haruf who has spent the last 20 years living in East Jerusalem, where he has a wife and daughter, and where he works. By deporting him to Jordan.

            It has the problem that Israeli Police snatch Palestinian flags from peaceful protestors in Jerusalem.

            It has the problem that weaponized anti-Semitism charges are constantly flung in order to shut people up.

            It has the problem that German banks are having their arm twisted to conduct a ‘scientific review’ of Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East.

            It has the problem that all efforts at the free speech of boycotts is aggressively anti-Semitized by Israel, a country that has no problem whatsoever exercising its own right of free speech by boycott whenever it feels like it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Jennifer, you never claimed Israel is flawless but you aren’t interested in pointing to the flaws. But that is not the main point. The main point is that the way you have it set up in your mind, the pose you are striking, is that there are two equal sides engaged in a point-counterpoint debate on national TV, with equal access on both sides to due process and mainstream forums, and to the halls of power and the ears of the powerful, is equal. And that the exposure of both sides to silencing is equal. That is false. It’s a nice illusion, a comfortable, smug illusion, suffused with occupier’s logic. I rather think that one can be so mired in a fake two-side-ism and its accompanying self-righteousness that one can’t see the real problem for what it is. And in this the right wing Israeli machine and its brainwashing has been very successful.

            Reply to Comment