conflict & communication online, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2017
ISSN 1618-0747







Fifty years after the Six Day War, more than ever since the failure of the Oslo Process there is an urgent need for open discourse that recognizes the rights of both societies and strives for a just, lasting settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.
Like every escalated conflict, however, the Israeli-Palestinian comes along with competitive misperceptions (Deutsch 2000) that in long-lasting conflicts harden into societal beliefs, marked by belief in the justice of one’s own cause and one’s own victim role, as well as by faith in protecting personal and national security through a policy of strength, etc. (Bar-Tal 1998). This occurs – a perfect mirror image – on both sides: What the one side believes, the other strictly rejects (Kempf 2015) and regards as “three Ds” – demonization, delegitimation and double standards.
In the words of Israeli author David Grossmann (2014), the dividing line no longer runs between Jews and Arabs, however, but rather between all those who want to live in peace and those who rely ideologically and emotionally on force.
It can therefore hardly come as a surprise when pro-Israeli hardliners reproach also peace forces for the three Ds, especially since Israeli occupation policy is increasingly losing support and approval. Even among American Jews, only ca. 8% unconditionally support Netanyahu’s policy (Ben-Ami, 2011), 60% of Jews in the Diaspora do not believe his government is really working for peace with the Palestinians (Goldmann, 2015), and the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli Occupartheid [1], supported by many Jews around the world (including Israelis), could change the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “if the discourse changes from concepts like strength and resistance to the level of rights and values” (Burg 2014).
That advocates of Israeli Palestinian policy have nothing to oppose this with except their own double standards may be an expression of helplessness. Since the head of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, labeled the three Ds anti-Semitic, however, a fourth D has joined them: denunciation of those who advocate a peace settlement in Israel/Palestine. A denunciation whose means range from A, Angriff auf Demokratie und Meinungsfreiheit [attacks on democracy and freedom of opinion], through the German alphabet via F, falsche Behauptungen [false assertions], R, Rufmord [character assassination] and V, Verleumdung [slander ] to Z, Zerstörung des Urteilsvermögens reichen, zwischen Antisemitismus, Antizionismus und Kritik der israelischen Politik unterscheiden zu können [destruction of the ability to distinguish between anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and criticism of Israeli policy]. A denunciation that brands any – no matter how slight – deviation from one’s own convictions as anti-Semitic, fends off insight into existing injustice through moral disengagement (Bandura 1999), and capitalizes on anti-Semitic resentment in order to silence any criticism of Occupartheid – namely on the belief in the power of Jewry, that permeates all societal strata, and the virulent wish to close the books on the past, which is widespread not only among anti-Semitic enemies of Israel, but also among radical supporters (sic!) of its policy (cf. Kempf 2015).
Pars pro toto for this denunciation practice, in this edition of conflict & communication online we document a few incidents that happened in Germany during the second half of 2016:

  • A chronicle of the Heidelberg prohibition of an exhibit of children’s drawings from Gaza and the occupied areas,
  • cancellation of the bank account of the German branch of European Jews for a Just Peace by the Bank for Social Economy [Bank für Sozialwirtschaft], as well as
  • an anonymous leaflet distributed on the occasion of a lecture by Rolf Verleger on results of the Anti-Semitism and the Criticism of Israel (ASCI) Survey at the University of Freiburg, and
  • a further leaflet circulated at the University of Marburg in connection with a lecture by Rolf Verleger about the Coalition to End Israeli Occupation [Bündnis zur Beendigung der israelischen Besatzung], which he co-founded.

In addition, we set links to two texts that deal with the press campaign against the Palestinian After the Last Sky cultural festival in the Berlin Ballhaus Naunynstraße (a cultural center and ballroom located in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin):

  • to a blog by the Jewish feminist Inna Michaelis in +972 Magazin, and
  • an open letter from Israeli and Jewish creative artists in Berlin, which appeared on the website of European Jews for a Just Peace, Germany.

That anti-Semitism can be articulated in the form of anti-Zionism which blames Jews collectively for Israel’s policy (Bergmann 2002), and that criticism of Israeli Palestinian policy can be used as a medium to get round the communication taboo for anti-Semitic attitudes was already recognized very early by anti-Semitism research (cf. Bergmann & Erb 1991). According to the results of the ASCI Survey (Kempf, 2015) [2], in 2010 a fourth of all Germans could be classified as anti-Semitic critics of Israel, among whom anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attitudes go hand in hand, and whose (apparent) sympathy for the Palestinians in the end serves only as a means to expose “the true face of the Jews.” A further tenth of the surveyed persons avoided taking a position on Israeli policy, “because one mustn’t say what one really thinks of the Jews.”
At any rate, however, four out of ten Germans criticized Israeli policy, because they support the universality of human rights, equally reject anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and oppose a policy that is not only unjust to the Palestinians, but also threatens to destroy Israel from within. “If we leave the situation as it is,” writes Etgar Keret (2013), “without offering the people who live under our occupation a solution, it will ultimately destroy our country.”
The small but all the more vociferous minority which unreservedly supports Netanyahu’s policies is certainly far from considering such things, and the denunciation of critical voices is a welcome means to persuade Jews within and outside of Israel that they are surrounded everywhere and at all times only by anti-Semites. In Israel itself, this strategy has already been so successful that it continually guarantees Netanyahu a parliamentary majority. In order to gain ground as well in the Diaspora, a differentiated and empirically based viewpoint on the reasons why people criticize Israeli policy has to be dismissed in favor of ideological constructions. The reality of Occupartheid and its traumatic consequences must not become known, the peace movement must be deprived of its basis for action and – as a prerequisite for all this – every perception of Palestinians beyond terrorism and /or (at least) radical activism must be blocked with all possible force.
This was also the bitter experience of After the Last Sky festival organizers in Berlin. In a city that was once called the largest Palestinian refugee camp outside the Middle East, Palestinians became for the first time visible. Not as Arabs, Muslims, migrants or any other cliché one wants to apply to them, but rather as people and as creative artists who do not have to fear a comparison with the international contemporary cultural scene: as musicians, dancers, dramatists and filmmakers, etc.
Making visible, becoming visible, being visible. This was the great general theme of the festival. Visibility also has something to do with self-awareness and mutual respect. As well the public – Palestinians, Germans, also Jews and Israelis – contributed to this, from disciplined discussions with artists and the absence of any attempt to misuse the festival for purposes of agitation, to apparent formalities: In Berlin an assembly of cultivated and well-dressed people such as attended the opening concert is seen at most at the State Opera or the Philharmonic Orchestra.
Naturally the festival was not apolitical. How could it be otherwise? That contemporary Palestinian culture has not been unaffected by experiences of expulsion and (almost) half a century of life under occupation can hardly come as a surprise. But it cannot be reduced to this either, and this is one of the things one could learn as a festival visitor.
And it is precisely this that is not supposed to leak out, so that the culture of force in Israel/Palestine will continue to find support or at least be accepted without resistance. Insofar, it is also not surprising that in (Berlin) media there were only few reports on the festival. Only when it was over was it denigrated in the Tagesspiegel on October 20, 2016 as an assembly of radical activists. The city Senate administration, which had supported the festival, was put under pressure, and it was alleged that festival organizers denied Israel’s right to exist. The Berliner Zeitung, which the next day adopted the accusations without checking their truth, went a step farther and linked the festival with anti-Semitic slogans at demonstrations against the 2014 Gaza war.
The claims of anti-Semitic comments supposedly made at the festival have not stood up to examination. Festival organizers obtained a temporary restraining order from the Berlin regional court (Landgericht), due to which the Tagesspiegel had to remove its article from the Internet, and in the Feuilleton of the Berliner Zeitung, a brief report appeared on October 28, 2016: “No anti-Semitic statements in the Ballhaus.” But the rumor had already gone on the way. And more than a rumor has never been needed to demonize and delegitimize those who are different-minded about politics. This all the more, because the libel of the festival and its organizers spread by the Tagesspiegel had by the end of October 2016 been repeated by ca. fifty articles in other media. All these articles can still be accessed in the Internet today.

Berlin, April 2017

Wilhelm Kempf


[1] Defined as discrimination between populations on the basis of ethnic origin as a result of a long-lasting occupation that denies political and economic rights to the occupied population (Bar-Tal 2015).
[2] During the months from June to November 2010 – thus immediately after the Gaza Flotilla Incident – the ASCI Survey collected its data in a period when public opinion was especially critical of Israel. Even if the baseline of varieties of support versus critique of Israeli policy seem in the meantime to have shifted still farther to Israel’s disadvantage, the orders of magnitude identified by the ASCI Survey should still be valid.

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