Who Are the Humboldt 3? The Strange Case of Germany Criminalizing BDS Protests Against Israel

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On June 20, 2017, three political activists made the trek to Humboldt University in Germany to protest Israeli aggression against Palestinians. The group, composed of two Israeli Jews and a Palestinian from Gaza, are all activists in the BDS movement, which has recently garnered attention here in the United States due to lobbying by AIPAC.

Israeli legislator Aliza Lavie, a member of the Yesh Atid party and leader of the anti-BDS movement in the Knesset, is the chairwoman of the Knesset Caucus for the Struggle Against the Delegitimization of the State of Israel. As such, she was scheduled to speak at the Humboldt University event titled “Life in Israel – Terror, Bias and the Chance for Peace”. The other panelists included Holocaust survivor Deborah Weinstein and four young Israelis, all of whom are Yesh Atid party representatives taking part as an explicit anti-BDS delegation.

Lavie’s party has been at the forefront of defeating the BDS movement, a key strategy being to tie support for BDS with anti-Semitism. Ronnie Barkan, one of the activists, said “Nowadays, the attribute anti-Semitic is used as a political weapon to silence dissenters and critics of Israel. This tendency is led by Israeli hasbara (Hebrew for explaining) which insists on falsely conflating Judaism and Zionism-a conflation which is anti-Semitic in itself-to render Israel impunity and prevent a discussion concerning its crimes against humanity.”

So what exactly transpired that day? The three BDS activists, Ronnie Barkan, Stavit Sinai, and Majed Abusalama, attended the event with the intent of confronting Lavie on some of her stances. Barkan stood and addressed her as “a representative of a criminal apartheid state” while referencing the UN report by Profs. Virginia Tilley and Richard Falk, which he held in his hand. While being removed from the hall, he handed the report to Lavie, asking her to review it. A few minutes later, Sinai confronted Lavie for her involvement in the Gaza massacre of 2014, shouting “The blood of Gaza is on this woman’s hands”. Sinai was then forcibly removed from the hall and punched in the head.  Abusalama raised some questions at the end of the Q&A session and confronted the panel before leaving on his own accord.

The days events were documented in the video below.

Following the event, the German media labeled their protest as a “Hezbollah rally” amongst other things.  And, the German Intelligence Agency additionally labeled the action as anti-Semitic in its annual report.

This led me to ask, how can a Jewish person be accused of anti-Semitism? 

Barkan and Stavit explained, “The entire scope of German politics is dependent on justifying Israeli practices, no matter how barbaric they may be. This is an ‘easy fix’ approach that post-World War II Germany adopted in order to move past its Nazi history, without having to deal with the deep-rooted issues in German society which gave birth to Nazism. The character assassination we have experienced in German media because we dared to oppose institutional racism and apartheid, and the audacity of calling us ‘antisemitic’, even though two of us are descendants of Holocaust-surviving families, only exposes the willful-blindness of Germany towards Israel. Unlike the apartheid representative against whom we protested at Humboldt University, we take an uncompromising position against all types of supremacy and racism – including German Herrenvolk and Zionism. Only those Germans who do the same will be able to be liberated from their dark Nazi past and their complicity with Israeli crimes today.”

Barkan has been actively involved in the BDS movement from the beginning; He is the founder of Boycott From Within. I asked him why we should consider Israel to be an apartheid regime.  His response was, “Only one-third of the population (roughly 6M people) – those who have the ‘correct’ ethnicity – are entitled to rights under the Zionist regime – while two-thirds who possess the ‘wrong’ ethnicity are either stateless or lack their most basic rights. Among the roughly 12 million Palestinians, all of whom suffer from Israeli apartheid policies, are 6 million stateless and status-less refugees; 4 million who live under a brutal military regime; and 2M who live as subjugated second-class citizens.”  He added, “While Israel purports to be a democracy for its own citizens, it had in fact established a sophisticated 2-tier system which differentiates between ‘citizenship’ and ‘nationality’ of its own subjects. It allows all of its citizens to participate in its pseudo-democratic electoral game while legally denying every important right to those of the ‘wrong’ ethnicity – based on them having a different ‘nationality’. In fact, a German-Jew in Berlin has more rights, by law, in Israel than a Palestinian living in Haifa who is an Israeli citizen.”

The three activists are being criminally charged by the State of Berlin for trespassing and assault. The trial begins March 4, 2019. Yet, they have decided to use it as an opportunity to put the State of Israel on trial instead. 

The three activists official response states, “Our experience proves that critics of Israel are persecuted in Germany as we are currently facing trial for engaging in a peaceful protest. Having criminal allegations leveled against activists is a common and standard practice in Germany. Criminalization of political activists is not limited to those opposing apartheid Israel but constitutes a broader form of totalitarianism that manufactures a passive, obedient, and unpolitical public. Activists are routinely charged with petty crimes, which are often dropped later on, leading them to take a less radical position in the future. This is all the more true for people of color and refugees living in a precarious situation. In our case, we will use our relative privilege to turn the tables and take Israel to court, also on behalf of those who may not.”

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