Germany – threats to freedom of expression



In Germany there is a real painful and relentless political torticollis, in addition to the growth of intolerance and militarization

“Wanting good too strongly, in some uncertain way, may already be wanting evil, to begin with.” (The former jagunço Riobaldo, in Grande Sertão: paths).


It all started with the war in Ukraine. Even when provoked — and it was — Russia was the one who invaded another country. The invader was justly condemned at the UN General Assembly. Along with this gesture, another began to emerge in various quarters of Europe, including very intensely in Germany. Fingers were raised — albeit symbolic — pointing out “Russophiles” and “Putinists” where there were none.

The attitude of the German media was unanimous from the beginning of the war: Ukraine should not only win the war, it was winning the war, no matter what news came from the front. And this was a discourse that fed and fed on a diffuse feeling of Russophobia that came from the 19th century, to say the least, from more recent but no less vigorous anti-Sovietism.

A kind of think tanks collective and dispersed pointing out: if you criticize the United States, NATO, Kiev, Zelensky, the tolerated presence of Nazi symbols on Ukrainian uniforms, it is because, automatically, you are pro-Russia, pro-Putin, pro-invasion. As a corollary, war became naturalized, the return of European militarism as a defensive and aggressive solution at the same time.


In Germany, the recessive economic crisis that followed the cut in Russian gas supplies intensified militarism. German industry changed its backbone, relying once again on militarization. And Germany is no exception: France, Poland and other countries began to arm themselves more than they already were armed. The German government coalition, at this point led by the belligerent tone of the Green Party transformed into olive green, took every step towards greater military involvement in the confrontation, reaching the current point – one of the most dangerous – the authorization that the German Forces Ukrainian navies can attack Russian territory with German weapons.

For a good expert, this is a major sign that Ukraine, in fact, is losing the war in which it plays the role of a far from innocent utility for the West's war against Moscow. But for the culture generated by the release of belligerent sentiment, this is nothing more than an obligation to defend democracy against the now Sino-Russian authoritarianism, since Moscow placed itself under Beijing's protective wing.

The deviant fog

A kind of deviant fog spread throughout everyday conversations. Friends who used to talk about everything started to avoid the complicated subject: Ukraine. The discomfort condensed and became the accepted norm of concealment. At the same time, talking about “peace” and “negotiation” became synonymous, for this belligerent feeling, with “playing the Russian game”, “defending the invasion” of Ukraine, and so on. The fingers, in the media and beyond, remained stiff and pointed. The neutral position of the Brazilian government, not allowing the use of ammunition produced in the country by German Leopard tanks, provided to Ukraine, was widely criticized as pro-Putin.

The military protectorate

Meanwhile, the European Union was increasingly becoming a military protectorate of the United States, via NATO.

Criticizing both has become anathema. I even heard the comment that we, Latin Americans, made the “mistake” of considering the United States “an imperialist country”. In another comment, I heard on the radio a history professor saying that the United States had nothing to do with the preparation of the coup d'état in Chile in 1973... That the Chileans were in a position to carry out a coup themselves... And so on and so forth. inside…

Hamas enters the scene

It was in this context of growing intolerance that the news of the terrorist attack promoted by Hamas on October 7, against soldiers and civilians in Israel, broke out. There was immediate and fair solidarity with the victims of the attack.

Afterwards, the absurd disproportionate response by the far-right Israeli government began to emerge, promoting the destruction of the Gaza Strip and a true carnage of the Palestinian civilian population, affecting countless women and children.

Furthermore, repression against Palestinians has increased in the occupied West Bank, along with attacks carried out by Israeli settlers occupying vast areas of this region taken from the Palestinians, contrary to UN resolutions. And it became increasingly clear that the Israeli government would not stop at violating UN resolutions and the norms of international law, under the allegation of “defending itself” against the attack it had suffered.

The Israeli government's reaction

Basically, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies, among the most reactionary in Israel, began to exacerbate the already existing climate of discrimination against the Palestinian population. There followed vehement accusations that he was promoting genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The discussion took place and moved into the legal field, about whether the use of the word “genocide” would be appropriate.

I'm not going to get into legal arguments. What is more than clear is that the Israeli armed forces have been promoting a massacre of the Palestinian civilian population using the fight to “exterminate” Hamas as a pretext. And they destroy everything in Gaza: electricity, water, medicine, hospitals, schools, universities. Is life.

And the accusations came

Denunciations against this massacre appeared in various parts of the world, and large demonstrations followed in favor of the rights of the Palestinian population and the two-state solution provided for in UN resolutions, which Netanyahu and his past and present governments sabotaged. and sabotage without stopping. It is even known that in the past Benjamin Netanyahu's government helped to promote Hamas to weaken the influence of the Palestinian Authority, which defends the proposal of the two states, therefore recognizing that of Israel.

The political stiff neck

In Germany a real painful and relentless political torticollis ensued. It turns out that in the past, the existence of Israel was officially proclaimed as a “Rason of State” for the country. In light of this proclamation, doing anything that could be considered to endanger the existence of Israel is illegal. And in the climate of intolerance that already prevailed in the media and beyond, the floodgates were opened for a flood of sophistry of the worst kind.

Criticizing Benjamin Netanyahu, his government, condemning the massacre of civilians in the Gaza Strip, defending the Palestinian people's right to self-determination has become synonymous with “anti-Semitism”, with a “serious threat” against the Israeli State. The fingers, which were already raised because of Ukraine, stiffened even more and became rotating machine guns, shooting at everything and everyone that was the target of even the slightest suspicion of this “anti-Semitism” of convenience.

Anti-Semitism exists, but…

There is no doubt here about the existence of anti-Semitism in Germany and around the world, much less the need to combat it as well.

What is raised as a complaint is that due to an accumulation of historical guilt mixed with the defense of a discretionary government like the one that governs Israel today, a McCarthyist hysteria began to be promoted against anyone who defends the Palestinians and their rights. Such defense became an automatic synonym of anti-Semitism, the complaints increased and began to be accepted without further examination of their relevance.

First, the machine guns were turned against artists and intellectuals, many of these Jews who defend or have ever defended the Palestinians. Awards were annulled, invitations were cancelled, seminars were suspended, scheduled courses were rescheduled because the artists and intellectuals involved had never signed something in favor of the Palestinians. People's past lives were scrutinized, looking for suspicious signatures or statements considered “dangerous”.

Dangerous dependencies

It should be explained that the entire cultural sector in Germany depends on funding from public authorities. And any suspicion of favoring or tolerating some type of anti-Semitism is reason enough to cut off this funding. Even more so in a climate where any suspicion automatically turns into an accusation and becomes final with the conviction of the defendant under this true Lynch law.

The police's turn

However, as in other parts of the world, pro-Palestinian demonstrations grew, in the streets and… in universities. Then the police took action. And the broth, already thick, thickened even more, with broad support among politicians and also in the media in favor of the repression against that ghostly “anti-Semitism”.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations were often banned or repressed, on the grounds that they advocated terrorism. The students involved began, as in the United States, to occupy spaces within universities. And the repression, in response, began to invade university campuses, with applause from politicians and the media. This applause began to demand that university authorities also repress students who protested. The city council — Berlin is a city-state — began to do the same. There was the aggravating factor that Jewish students began to say that they felt “threatened” within universities – even by the looks of protesters.

the incident

An incident outside the Free University of Berlin, in which a Palestinian student punched another Jewish student, was the trigger for voices to be raised in the city hall calling for the former's expulsion. The university authorities claimed that the university statute would not allow such a maximum penalty in this case, and that other disciplinary measures could be applied once the circumstances of the incident had been duly investigated. The same voices began to demand that the city's legislators change the university's statute, without it being aware of it. The university's statute became political currency.

University autonomy in the swamp

The result of this climate of pressure was that the principle of university autonomy – if it was recognized at all – began to be questioned and neutralized, with dire consequences.

I spoke to someone who participated in pro-Palestinian demonstrations at two of Berlin's universities: Livre de Berlin and Humboldt. I asked him to tell me what had happened in both.

The report was detailed. In the case of the Free University of Berlin, protesters organized a camp in the space next to the University Restaurant – called Mensa. There were pro-Palestine posters. I asked if this person had ever seen or heard any pro-Hamas demonstration: the answer was negative.

The rector — here called the president — of the University gave them a deadline to break up the camp and leave. When this did not happen, he called the police to remove those who refused to leave. So it happened.

Arm twists

The police arrived and ordered the retreat. At the same time, other students, who were not at the camp, began to demonstrate around them, in favor of the campers. The police attacked them, at the same time as they began to remove them by force.

As a form of resistance, the protesters sat down and crossed their arms with each other, forming a chain. A series of pushes, twisting of arms, knees to the chest and similar pressures followed to undo the chains. The person I interviewed had a sprained arm and a bruise in the area. The withdrawal took place, the protesters were duly identified and booked, and were informed that they would receive some type of official communication about legal measures that could be taken.

Second police raid

At Humboldt University the action was more violent. The protesting students occupied the Social Sciences building, which is outside the official campus, facing the street. Some of them went to the fourth floor of the building, erecting barricades with tables, chairs and other resources near the doors. Among these was the person I interviewed. The university president was willing to negotiate with the occupants. As the occupation took place in the afternoon, she agreed for the occupants to spend the night in the building.

Negotiations would resume the following day. At the same time, other protesters gathered on the street in front of the building, and the police began to repress them violently. When asked about it, the president declared that she could do nothing, since the protesters were on the street, outside the limits of the university campus.

The police run over

The following day, before negotiations could resume, at the behest of the city hall, the police attacked the protesters inside the building, with greater violence than at the Free University. There were beatings and handcuffs were removed at will. The police arrived on the occupied fourth floor, dismantled the barricades and began to forcibly take the protesters down.

The person I interviewed told me that she was handcuffed with her arms behind her back and that all the way down the stairs to the ground floor she was hit in the head, neck and stomach. She told me that she saw people bleeding, with their eyebrows open.

Below this person had an asthma attack and had to ask several times for his handcuffs to be taken off so he could use the air pump. The same scenes of document examination, identification, registration and declarations that they would receive correspondence announcing possible legal measures followed.

Again I asked the person if he had seen or heard any statement, poster or slogan in favor of Hamas. He told me no. There had been songs and speeches of protest, yes, but related to the cause of the Palestinians and the violence of Israeli repression in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

I interviewed this person three days after the events at Humboldt University. At the time he told me that he still suffered from headaches and neck pain due to the blows he had suffered.

At the Technical University

A few days later, a new case exploded. This time the setting was the Technical University. Someone discovered and disclosed that at some point earlier the president of the university had given a “like” in an internet publication protesting the Israeli government’s violence against civilians in Gaza. It turns out that in this publication there was a photographic montage in which the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, appeared with an apron covered in bloodstains and a Nazi swastika in one corner of it.

The same voices as always denounced the publication and the “like” by the president as manifestations of anti-Semitism. Her dismissal or resignation was demanded. She refused to resign. The outcry against her continued, and the case was taken to the consideration of the institution's University Council. This was divided: 13 members voted in favor of the president's resignation and 12 against. Faced with this and a manifesto with many signatures in favor of her, the president decided not to resign. She opened disciplinary proceedings against herself, so that a disciplinary committee could examine the facts, committed to combating anti-Semitism at the university and declared herself sorry for having given that “like".

After all, a defense of autonomy

The case was then taken to the university's Board of Trustees, of eleven members, which functions as a type of supervisory board for the university. On the morning of Monday, June 10, in a digital meeting, according to the newspaper Tagesspiegel, the Council decided not to ask for the president's resignation, giving her “critical support”, although it considered her attitude of “like” as reprehensible and recommended a disciplinary investigation of the case, as she herself had previously requested. The matter must return to the University Council, where a proposal to dismiss the president needs a two-thirds majority to be approved. To be seen.

The “many-edged sword”

In conclusion, what can be said in light of this labyrinthine tortuous trajectory of allegations is that the case is thorny, complicated, a “many-edged sword”, as a friend and colleague from USP said.

Anti-Semitism, like any other form of racial discrimination, gender, ethnicity, religion, culture, etc., etc., etc. In this regard, including against the Palestinian people, it is reprehensible and must be fought in all its forms. However, returning to the epigraph of this article, by Guimarães Rosa in Grande Sertão: paths, quoting a country proverb, “Living is very dangerous… Wanting good, too strongly, in an uncertain way, may already be wanting evil, to begin with”.

Demonstrations in defense of Hamas' terrorist act on October 7 last year have clearly been in the minority. Most of the protests refer to the right of the Palestinian people to have their own state, in accordance with UN resolutions, and the massacre of the civilian population committed by the far-right government of Benjamin Netanyahu, especially in Gaza and also in the West Bank. Furthermore, they ask that other governments stop providing them with weapons and political support.

The hysterical climate that sees as a reaction to anything that is critical of the carnage that the Palestinian civilian population suffers, however, is leading to very dangerous directions in the direction of affronting the defense of human rights, freedom of expression inside and outside the universities, in cultural institutions and outside them, in a situation in which I see the discretionary and violent attitudes of the current Israeli government as the biggest promoters of anti-Semitism throughout the world.

This creates a situation in which anyone is authorized to denounce anyone else for anything they judge, in their total subjectivity, to be anti-Semitism. It is the promotion of lynching.

This is all too frightening at a time when right-wing, anti-democratic, discretionary extremist parties, often wanting to hide their own anti-Semitic past through Islamophobia and other forms of xenophobia, are on the rise in Europe and other parts of the world.

* Flavio Aguiar, journalist and writer, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (boitempo). []

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