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in Germany, the memory of the Shoah curbs freedom of expression

Germany’s responsibility for the Shoah explains Berlin’s alignment with Israel and the ban on any expression of solidarity with the Palestinians, whom the authorities accuse of being at the origin of a rise in anti-Semitism in the country. However, critics say the state is failing to meet the expectations of Jewish Germans opposed to Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies and hindering immigrants’ freedom of expression.

“Anyone who wants to use the Holocaust to justify more violence has renounced their own humanity.” With this sentence, the writer Deborah Feldman puts her finger on a particularly sensitive subject across the Rhine: the special and unwavering relationship that Germany maintains with Israel and its consequences for Jewish Germans and Muslim Germans who are critical of Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu and who call for an end to the war in Gaza.

Germany’s sense of guilt for the horrors of the Holocaust has for decades pushed Berlin to line up behind the Jewish state. All the main political parties thus condemned the Hamas attack of October 7 against Israel, without leaving the slightest possible space for a discussion to begin on the context of the current conflict. Pro-Palestinian rallies were banned. The list of writers, artists and personalities from the cultural world disinvited or forced to resign due to demonstrations of sympathy for the Palestinian people grows day by day. And even small demonstrations by Jews criticizing Israel’s actions in Gaza have been censored.

During her appearance on German public television, Deborah Feldman put her foot down. The author of a best-selling autobiography that served as the basis for the Netflix miniseries “Unorthodox,” in which she recounts how she escaped her ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in New York, the Satmar Hasidic sect, she has since moved in Berlin and was naturalized German in 2017.

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She has since become, at 37, a familiar figure in her adopted country, where she regularly appears in the media to recount her unusual destiny and where her lectures are sold out. But once is not customary, his last appearance on a TV set, Tuesday 1er November, in a talk show, was marked by his strong criticism of the German position since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.

The video went viral on social media. We see Deborah Feldman attacking Robert Habeck, the vice-chancellor having published a 10-minute video the same day criticizing anti-Semitic acts on the rise in Germany.

These increased by 240% during the week following the Hamas attacks of October 7, compared to the same period in 2022. On October 18 in particular, attackers threw two Molotov cocktails at a synagogue in Berlin.

“Anti-Semitism cannot be tolerated in any form,” said Robert Habeck in his video seen more than 11 million times on X. “Every German person will have to answer for it in court. If you are not German, you also risk your residence permit. Anyone who does not have a residence permit gives a reason to be expelled.”

Israel’s security, Germany’s “reason of state”

“You say you defend Jewish lives in Germany. I am horrified that Jews are only considered as such in this country if they represent the right-wing conservative agenda of the Israeli government,” replied Deborah Feldman, who regrets this reflex that the Germans have to systematically support Israel.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was the first Western leader to visit Israel after the Hamas attack, which left 1,200 victims in a single day. After his meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister on October 17, Olaf Scholz declared that “the responsibility (that Germany bears) for the Holocaust obliges us to defend the existence and security of the State of Israel “.

To allow Israel to achieve its stated goal of destroying Hamas, the chancellor called for humanitarian pauses, but not a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, where more than 12,000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli army, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health.

Proof of continuity over time and governments, Olaf Sholz’s position is aligned with that adopted by Angela Merkel 15 years ago. In a speech to the Knesset in 2008, on the occasion of the 60e anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, the former German leader affirmed that Israel’s security was part of Germany’s “reason of state”.

This formula had left experts doubtful as to its exact meaning and its legal implications. “No one has sat down to discuss it and no one knows what it means. Is Germany going to send troops to the Golan? Of course not. It’s just a symbolic statement that no one feels able to question,” Susan Neiman, director of the Einstein Forum, based in Potsdam, explains to France 24.

The latter is one, like Deborah Feldman, of the hundred Jewish academics, artists and writers who signed an open letter in which they reject “the confusion between anti-Semitism and any criticism of the State of Israel” and call on Germany to “respect its own commitments on freedom of expression and the right to assembly.”

“Politicians and most of the media are adamant about the idea that we must support Israel, whether it is right or wrong, and that what is being done in Gaza is justified by Hamas terrorism. My position is that we can condemn both,” says Susan Neiman.

Far-right AfD party’s support for Israel

But this political line is difficult to maintain in the Bundestag, where German parliamentarians must deal with the rise in power of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which this year overtook Chancellor Scholz’s coalition in the polls. of opinion due to migration issues.

Like the National Rally in France, the AfD attempts to respond to suspicions of neo-Nazism within its ranks with public demonstrations of support for the Jewish state and continues to embrace Israel’s positions on Gaza and Islamic terrorism .

It is in this context that the Bundestag, which is currently debating a new immigration law, added a provision allowing citizenship to be refused to people convicted of anti-Semitism. The citizenship bill was announced on October 25, after a meeting between German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser and Israel’s Ambassador to Germany, Ron Prosor.

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Given the very broad definition of anti-Semitism in Germany, the announcement was greeted with shock by defenders of freedom of expression, with some German media claiming to have difficulty bringing foreign guests on set due to their concerns regarding the right to residence and employment.

“Right-wing politicians have called for making unconditional support for Israel a condition for living in Germany. Unsurprisingly, this call targets immigrants from Muslim countries. They do not attack German far-right anti-Semites, although “Official figures show that most anti-Semitic crimes are committed by far-right activists. Despite this, all the attention is focused on so-called left-wing anti-Semitism,” says Susan Neiman. “During a recent demonstration, police even told demonstrators that the slogan ‘Stop the war’ could not be said.”

Deborah Feldman felt the same disbelief after her televised debate with Robert Habeck, when she urged the vice chancellor to allow citizens to express their grief for Gaza.

“He responded that my view was one of great moral lucidity, but felt that it was not up to him, as a German politician, in the country that committed the Holocaust, to take this line.” , wrote Deborah Feldman in the Guardian a few days after the debate. “We have reached a point in German discourse where we now openly recognize that the Holocaust is being used as justification for abandoning moral principles.”

This article was adapted from English by Romain Brunet. You can read its original version here.

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