Freedom for the One Who Thinks Differently

What frightens us is the prevailing atmosphere of racism and xenophobia in Germany, hand in hand with a constraining and paternalistic philo-Semitism. We reject in particular the conflation of anti-Semitism and any criticism of the state of Israel.

An open letter from a group of Jewish artists, writers, and scholars in Germany

Hermannplatz. Image via Flickr.

A German-language version of this letter appears in taz.

We, the undersigned Jewish writers, academics, journalists, artists, and cultural workers living in Germany, are writing to condemn a disturbing crackdown on civic life in the wake of this month’s horrifying violence in Israel and Palestine.

There is no defense for the deliberate targeting of civilian life. We condemn without reservation the terrorist attacks on civilians by Hamas. Many of us have family and friends in Israel who have been directly affected by this violence. We condemn with equal force the killing of civilians in Gaza.

In recent weeks, regional and city governments across Germany have banned public gatherings with presumed Palestinian sympathies. Canceled demonstrations include those named “No conflagration in the Middle East,” “Youth against Racism,” and “Solidarity with the civilian population of Gaza.” The ban extends to gatherings planned by Jews and Israelis, including one called “Jewish Berliners against Violence in the Middle East.” In an especially absurd case, a Jewish Israeli woman was detained for standing alone in a public square while holding a sign denouncing the ongoing war waged by her own country. 

The police have offered no credible defense of these decisions. Virtually all of the cancellations, including those banning gatherings organized by Jewish groups, have been justified by the police in part due to the “imminent risk” of “seditious, anti-Semitic exclamations.” These claims, we believe, serve to suppress legitimate nonviolent political expression that may include criticisms of Israel.

Attempts to defy these arbitrary restrictions are met with indiscriminate brutality. Authorities have targeted immigrant and minority populations across Germany, harassing, arresting, and beating civilians, often on the flimsiest of pretexts. In Berlin, the district of Neukölln, home to large Turkish and Arab communities, is now a neighborhood under police occupation. Armored vans and squads of armed riot police patrol the streets searching for any spontaneous showing of Palestinian support or symbols of Palestinian identity. Pedestrians are shoved and pepper-sprayed at random on the sidewalk. Children are ruthlessly tackled and arrested. Those detained and arrested include well-known Syrian and Palestinian activists. Schools have banned Palestinian flags and keffiyeh, and although these objects are legally permitted in public, to possess one invites police violence and arrest. Earlier this year, Berlin police officers admitted in court that in suppressing protests they have targeted civilians who “stood out” for wearing the colors of the Palestinian flag or scarves associated with Palestinian solidarity. A preponderance of filmed evidence suggests that this remains the case, and that racial bias plays a significant role in the targeting of suspects.

These infringements of civil rights are taking place almost entirely without comment from Germany’s cultural elites. Major cultural institutions have silenced themselves in lockstep, canceling productions that deal with the conflict and de-platforming figures who might be critical of Israel’s actions—or who are simply Palestinian themselves. Such voluntary self-censorship has produced a climate of fear, anger, and silence. All this is done under the banner of protecting Jews and supporting the state of Israel.

As Jews, we reject this pretext for racist violence and express full solidarity with our Arab, Muslim, and particularly our Palestinian neighbors. We refuse to live in prejudicial fear. What frightens us is the prevailing atmosphere of racism and xenophobia in Germany, hand in hand with a constraining and paternalistic philo-Semitism. We reject in particular the conflation of anti-Semitism and any criticism of the state of Israel.

At the same time that most forms of nonviolent resistance on behalf of Gaza are suppressed, acts of violence and intimidation are also taking place: a Molotov cocktail thrown at a synagogue; Stars of David drawn on the doors of Jewish homes. The motivations for these indefensible anti-Semitic crimes, and their perpetrators, remain unknown. It is clear, however, that Germany’s refusal to recognize a right to grieve the loss of lives in Gaza does not make Jews safe. Jews were already a vulnerable minority population; some Israelis report they are afraid to speak Hebrew on the street. Bans on demonstrations and their violent enforcement only provoke and escalate violence. We also contend that the perceived threat of such assemblies grossly inverts the actual threat to Jewish life in Germany, where, according to the federal police, the “vast majority” of anti-Semitic crimes—around 84 percent—are committed by the German far right. If this is an attempt to atone for German history, its effect is to risk repeating it.

Dissent is a requirement of any free and democratic society. Freedom, wrote Rosa Luxemburg, “is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.” As our Arab and Muslim neighbors are beaten and silenced, we fear the atmosphere in Germany has become more dangerous—for Jews and Muslims alike—than at any time in the nation’s recent history. We condemn these acts committed in our names.

We further call on Germany to adhere to its own commitments to free expression and the right to assembly as enshrined in its Basic Law, which begins: “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.”

Yoav Admoni, artist 

Abigail Akavia 

Hila Amit, writer and teacher 

Yael Attia

Maja Avnat, scholar 

Lyu Azbel, professor 

Gilad Baram, filmmaker and photographer 

Yossi Bartal 

Alice Bayandin, photographer and filmmaker 

Eliana Ben-David  

Anna Berlin, artist 

Sanders Isaac Bernstein, writer 

Adam Berry, photojournalist and TV news producer 

Jackson Beyda, artist 

Julia Bosson, writer 

Paula-Irene Villa Braslavsky, sociologist

Ethan Braun, composer 

Candice Breitz, artist 

Adam Broomberg, artist 

Jeffrey Arlo Brown 

Noam Brusilovsky, theater and radio maker 

Cristina Burack 

Dalia Castel, filmmaker 

Alexander Theodore Moshe Cocotas, writer and photographer 

Eli Cohen, dancer 

Zoe Cooper, writer 

Miriam Maimouni Dayan, writer and artist 

Dana Dimant, filmmaker 

Emily Dische-Becker 

Esther Dischereit, writer 

Tomer Dotan-Dreyfus, writer 

Asaf Dvori

Shelley Etkin, artist 

Emet Ezell 

Deborah Feldman, writer 

Sylvia Finzi 

Erica Fischer, writer 

Nimrod Flaschenberg 

Ruth Fruchtman, writer 

Olivia Giovetti, writer and cultural critic 

Harry Glass, curator 

William Noah Glucroft 

A.J. Goldmann, writer and photographer 

Jason Goldman 

Noam Gorbat, filmmaker 

Avery Gosfield
Liat Grayver, artist

Max Haiven, professor 

Yara Haskiel, artist 

Iris Hefets, psychoanalyst and author 

Marc Herbst 

Wieland Hoban, composer and translator 

Sam Hunter, writer/director 

Alma Itzhaky, artist and writer 

Eliana Pliskin Jacobs

Eugene Jarecki

Roni Katz, choreographer and dancer 

Otto Kent, writer and performer

Giuliana Kiersz, writer and artist

Marett Katalin Klahn 

Michaela Kobsa-Mark, documentary filmmaker 

David Krippendorff, artist 

Quill R. Kukla, philosopher

Sara Krumminga 

Jenna Krumminga, writer and historian 

Matt Lambert, artist 

Na’ama Landau, filmmaker

Elad Lapidot, professor 

Danny Lash, musician 

Boaz Levin, Curator

Eliza Levinson, journalist and writer 

Shai Levy, filmmaker and photographer 

Rachel Libeskind

Rapha Linden, writer 

Adi Liraz, artist 

Anna Lublina 

Sasha Lurje 

Roni Mann, professor 

Ben Mauk, writer 

Lee Méir, choreographer 

Dovrat Meron 

Aaron Miller, scientist and artist 

Ben Miller 

Carolyn Mimran 

Shana Minkin, scholar 

Susan Neiman, philosopher 

Gilad Nir, philosopher 

Ben Osborn, musician and writer 

Rachel Pafe, writer and researcher 

Peaches, musician 

Siena Powers, artist and writer 

Udi Raz 

Aurelie Richards, Kunstvermittlerin 

Kari Leigh Rosenfeld 

Liz Rosenfeld 

Ryan Ruby, writer 

Rebecca Rukeyser, writer 

Alon Sahar 

Tamara Saphir 

Eran Schaerf 

Anne Schechner 

Oded Schechter, scholar 

Jake Schneider 

Ali Schwartz 

Maya Shenfeld, Composer 

Cari Sekendur, designer 

Yael Sela (Teichler), historian 

Mati Shemoelof, poet and writer 

Lili Sommerfeld, musician

Maya Steinberg, filmmaker 

Robert Yerachmiel Sniderman, poet-artist 

Avinoam J. Stillman 

​​Virgil B/G Taylor 

Tanya Ury, artist and writer 

Ian Waelder, artist and publisher 

Eyal Weizman

Rachel Wells, performer and producer 

Sarah Woolf 

Yehudit Yinhar 

Sivan Ben Yishai, writer

Dafna Zalonis, artist 

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