German police outside Palestine Congress. Photo: Sol Germany
German police outside Palestine Congress. Photo: Sol Germany

Protest to defend democratic rights!

Tom Hoffmann, Socialist Organisation Solidarity (Sol – CWI in Germany), Berlin

On 12 April, the Berlin police broke up the ‘Palestine Congress’, a conference of various pro-Palestinian and left-wing organisations, which met under the slogan of “we denounce”, opposing support for the Israeli government’s Gaza war.

A weeks-long smear and defamation campaign – orchestrated by the tabloid press and other capitalist media, as well as with the participation of politicians from the conservative CDU, ruling coalition parties FDP, SPD and the Greens and, scandalously, even parts of the Die Linke (Left Party) leadership – was followed by action.

An event where critical discussions about Israel’s war against Gaza could take place, including about German support for (among other things) arms deliveries and the repression of pro-Palestinian protests, was banned. The fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression were, once again, massively restricted. Protests against this are needed immediately in Germany.

Even in the run-up to the event, very few people expected this Congress would run smoothly. Around 2,500 police officers, some of whom were sent to Berlin from other federal states, were supposed to ‘accompany’ the three-day Congress. What this meant became clear in advance. There were repeated calls, including from the Federal Minister of the Interior, the Berlin city Senator of the Interior and Berlin’s Governing Mayor, for police to “intervene harshly” during the Congress in the event of alleged criminal offences.

The organisers only announced the Berlin venue on the morning of the event for fear of disruption. Anyone arriving at the site early in the morning saw a venue surrounded by police vans, barriers and a wide cordoned-off area. Inspections by the building authorities, fire brigade and police delayed the start by several hours – as did subsequent police checks. Several hours passed before only the speakers were allowed onto the site.

Agitation and defamation

For weeks, the organisers and the Congress were vilified as ‘antisemitic’. As we wrote in another article, this accusation was “constructed from the fact that hostility towards Jews is derived from opposition to the state of Israel and its racist policies”. In contrast, the call of the Congress, which was deliberately ignored, explicitly demanded that all people in the Middle East, “regardless of their religion or ethnic affiliation, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian – should be able to live with equal rights.”

The blocking of the bank account of one of the co-organising groups, the ‘Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East’, in the run-up to the Congress, showed how the rights of Jewish people in Germany who are organising against the Gaza war are faring. A member of Jewish Voice was arrested by the police at the Congress venue without any reason being given.

An absurd incident occurred in front of the Congress centre when the police took away a person with the banner ‘Jews against genocide’. The police then allegedly asked the organisers whether this person was wanted at the Congress – which was of course answered in the affirmative. A chant from the crowd, which was still waiting to be admitted, went up: “Jews, Christians and Muslims – against their war machine”.


The Congress, which was only allowed to start after a massive delay, with only around 250 of the roughly 1,000 who had turned up allowed into the hall, was then interrupted when the speech by Salman Abu Sitta, who had previously been banned from entering Germany, was to be shown on video.

The police stormed the hall and cut the power supply. In videos on social media, the organisers criticised the fact that the police made accusations of inciting hatred in the video, but did not specifically name the incidents. Instead they said they were ‘examining’ them. The police later wrote on X/Twitter that they had ended the Congress because Abu Sitta had been banned from taking part and “there is a risk that such antisemitic, violence-glorifying and Holocaust-denying speeches could be repeated at the event”. The organisers have announced in a press release that they will legally challenge the procedure.

Ex Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who served under the left-wing Syriza government in 2015, has also been banned from Germany, including from taking part in Zoom events hosted in the country.

We reject the defamation of the Congress and its participants as antisemitic – as well as the arbitrary repressive measures taken by German authorities. Some of the speakers and organisers have what we consider to be an overly uncritical attitude towards Hamas and see it as a possible ally in the fight against occupation and oppression by the Israeli state, which we consider to be wrong.

According to various media reports, the entry ban, and also the ban on Salman Abu Sitta’s activities, were justified by the fact that he described the participants in the Hamas-led attack on Israeli territory as “resistance fighters” and said that if he had been younger he could have been one of those who stormed the fence (the border between Gaza and Israel) on 7 October.

Police prevent debate

Socialist Organisation Solidarity (Sol – CWI in Germany) condemned the massacre of Israeli civilians on 7 October and sees Hamas as a reactionary, anti-worker and anti-women force that shows no promise for the liberation of Palestinians. At the same time, we have always emphasised the fundamental responsibility of the Israeli state for Hamas’ development, which thrives under conditions of occupation, state terror and oppression of Palestinians, and has even been supported by Israel in the past, and more recently by Netanyahu’s government’s campaign to block the establishment of any Palestinian state. 

We are convinced that the implementation of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination will only be possible on the basis of socialist change in the region and that a mass movement of Palestinians under their democratic control against war, occupation and oppression is needed – which also seeks to gain the support of the Israeli Jewish working class. The relationship to Hamas and the development of left alternatives to it could have been critically discussed at the Congress. The police prevented this discussion. 

The fact that the police are not concerned with preventing antisemitism or incitement to hatred is evident when you consider how many events, party conferences, speeches and marches by Nazis and right-wing extremists in this country have been protected by the police for decades without such arguments being used. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government, which also includes right-wing extremists, has been ‘glorifying violence’ and ‘inciting the people’ for years – and yet it continues to be supported by the German government because, its leaders claim, of the history of the Nazi past – but in fact because capitalist Israeli governments are seen as the most reliable defenders of the interests of Western imperialism in the Middle East.

Protest necessary

The action taken by the Berlin police marks severe restrictions on the right of assembly and freedom of expression. Today, it affects those who oppose the propaganda of the German establishment and the German government’s support for the war. But it is also a precedent for future action against others who express criticism of capitalist conditions, growing militarism, oppression and falling living standards and want to organise resistance. Leftists, trade unionists and activists from social movements should therefore also protest against this.