The “Humboldt Three” Take Israel to Court

In June 2017, three active members of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement disrupted a talk titled “Life in Israel — Terror, Bias and the Chances for Peace,” by an Israeli official who was hosted by the Deutsch-Israelische Gesellschaft (German-Israeli Society) at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. Aliza Lavie, a member of Knesset for the centrist Yesh Atid party and chairwoman of the Knesset Caucus for the Struggle Against the Delegitimization of the State of Israel was an Israeli government coalition member during the 2014 attack on the besieged Gaza Strip, “Operation Protective Edge,” in which 2,220 Palestinians were killed. Accompanying Lavie was Dvora Weinstein, a Holocaust survivor.

As a result of their protest disrupting a representative of the Israeli state and challenging her responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity, “the Humboldt Three” — Ronnie Barkan, Stavit Sinai and Majed Abusalama, two Israelis and a Palestinian from Gaza — were charged with trespassing and assault in response to accusations from the organizers of the event. Further, Israeli and German media labeled their protest an anti-Semitic attack against a Holocaust survivor.

Israeli governments throughout history have exploited a dynamic of violence and inequality reinforced by propaganda to promote a Zionist ruling class at the expense of the Indigenous Palestinian people.

Israel has persecuted Jewish and non-Jewish anti-Zionists since its inception, and even before the foundation of the state. Nowadays, Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of the BDS movement are routinely villainized, accused of anti-Semitism and even deported.

The legal proceedings against the Humboldt Three are set to begin today — March 4, 2019. Truthout spoke with the activists via video chat and email about their activism and the BDS movement, the plans for the trial, and the importance of the trial in both the German and global contexts.

Yoav Litvin: Are you guilty of the crimes you have been charged with?

The Humboldt Three: Rather than concerning ourselves with defense against the bogus charges lobbed against us, we are focusing on our legal and moral obligation to oppose Israeli crimes against humanity. As for the actual charges, we could not have committed the crime of “trespassing” as this was a public event, and we certainly did not assault anybody. Stavit was the only one assaulted during the event [she got punched by someone in the audience]. However, her complaint was never taken seriously by the organizers.

Our freedom of speech is protected by Article 5 (freedom of expression, arts and sciences) of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany and Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

This trial is solely an attempt to intimidate us and fellow activists from carrying out this sort of protest in the future, and is part of a concerning pattern here in Germany.

Is this sort of trial common in Germany? What do you hope to achieve?

Activists are routinely charged with petty crimes in Germany, though they are often dropped later on. This fosters fear to engage in political activism and is more pronounced for people of color and refugees who suffer from systemic oppression and live in precarious situations.

In our case, we plan to leverage our relative privilege and take Zionist Israel and its German ally and collaborator to court on behalf of those who cannot. We intend to argue that our protest is not only legal, but a moral obligation against Israel’s ongoing criminality.

Is Israel a criminal state? If so, outline your reasoning.

The Zionist project in Palestine is a white supremacist, settler colonialist project, which uses and abuses Judaism to justify its sinister and deeply racist agenda of supremacy and ethnic exclusivity via continuous expansion and apartheid.

The crime of apartheid, defined as a crime against humanity, is entirely a legal matter with strict definitions. Leading scholars have determined Israel maintains an apartheid system throughout the territory under its control and beyond — relating to every single Palestinian refugee who lives in forced exile. In 2017, Virginia Tilley and Richard Falk co-authored a UN report on the matter.

Ronnie Barkan, Stavit Sinai and Majed Abusalama — members of the BDS movement — are going on trial following their June 2017 protest at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany.

There are roughly 14 million people under Israeli rule, and 6 million Palestinian refugees living in forced exile. Only one-third of these stakeholders (approximately 7 million people) — those who have the privileged ethnicity — are entitled to rights under the Israeli regime in Palestine (also known as Israel) while two-thirds who possess the “other” ethnicity are either stateless or lack their most basic rights. Among the roughly 12 million Palestinians worldwide, all of whom suffer from Israeli apartheid policies, 6 million are stateless and status-less refugees; 4 million live under a brutal military regime in Gaza and the West Bank; and 2 million live as subjugated second-class citizens.

While Israel purports to be a democracy, it has in fact established a sophisticated two-tier system, which differentiates between “citizenship” and “nationality” (Jewish, Arabic, Druze, Circassian and several others) of its own subjects. Israel allows all of its citizens to participate in its pseudo-democratic electoral game while legally denying a long list of rights to those of the “other” nationality. As such, a German-Jew in Berlin who has never visited Israel has more rights there, by law, than an Israeli citizen in Haifa whose Palestinian family has been living there for generations.

Outline the discourse in Germany surrounding Israel and the importance of your trial within the German political context.

Germany is a crucial arena in the struggle for equality in Palestine-Israel. Any change in awareness through discourse which we manage to bring about in the German context will have repercussions throughout the world. Israeli officials know this, which is why German authorities are increasing their fight against BDS activists under immense pressure by the Israeli government to criminalize such activity.

Germany also constitutes the heart of Europe’s economic and military power and is a leading actor within EU institutions. In challenging its unconditional support of the Zionist colonial project, we expose Germany’s humanitarian/liberal façade, while also addressing its sordid past of colonialism, fascism and genocide. Germany must acknowledge its crimes of genocide during the Nazi era and in Namibia, among its other colonial projects, and apply the same standards to its present-day complicity in Israeli crimes against humanity.

We claim Israel is a supremacist, unjust and discriminatory state which should be denounced as such. Yet all German politicians from left to right justify and support Israeli practices. Germany adopted this approach following the second World War as a means of moving past its Nazi and anti-Semitic history, though it has avoided dealing with the societal foundations which gave birth and promoted its devolution into fascism. The results are clear today with the rise of right-wing fascistic parties, such as Alternative for Deutschland (AfD).

The “Humboldt Three” with supporters outside the courtroom in Berlin, Germany.

In Germany, just as in apartheid Israel, the very organizations which claim to promote peace and justice are ironically those leading the assault on human rights whenever it relates to Israel. At the forefront of the campaign to criminalize BDS activists and those who oppose Zionist crimes is the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung — the PR wing of Die Linke party — which, under the guise of peace and justice, targets human rights defenders as well as abuses the memory of Luxemburg herself.

In a statement from June 2011, Die Linke refers to BDS as well as to proponents of full equality under a single state as anti-Semites. This laid the groundwork for the criminalization attempt of BDS we are experiencing today, to the dismay of a group of dissident Israelis. Die Linke also escalated its assault on Palestinian rights when it issued a joint statement with several other parties in May 2018, again equating BDS with anti-Semitism.

The claim by Die Linke, as if our demand for equal rights between the current state of ubermenschen and untermenschen under Zionist rule is somehow “anti-Semitic,” can be understood in one way alone: It would be equivalent to deeming the demand for equality between Jews and Aryan people under the Nazi regime as somehow “anti-German.” This is the level of racism and protectionism of deep-rooted racism and supremacy being offered by the so-called German left.

As Richard Falk eloquently stated in a recent event we held together:

It seems to me important to present yourselves as actually engaged in German patriotism in a way. That you are liberating Germany from its own dark past, because that’s what it really is. It really comes down to the understanding that if you want to get rid of anti-Semitism, you’ve got to begin to take criminality seriously wherever it occurs. And you can’t choose your criminals because of your history.

Some media have attempted to discredit you by accusing you of anti-Semitism. What is the purpose of such an accusation and how do you intend to cope with it?

Nowadays, the accusation of anti-Semitism is used as a political weapon to silence anyone who criticizes Israel’s criminal policy, and even more so against dissidents who oppose the Zionist regime as a whole. This tendency is led by the Israeli propaganda apparatus Hasbara, which insists on falsely conflating Judaism and Zionism — a fallacy that is in itself anti-Semitic. This conflation — between a religion and a racist ideology inspired by 19th century European nationalism — is carried out in order to shield Israel from justifiable critique and to fragment its opposition.

The character assassination we have experienced by Israeli and German media, as well as by member of Knesset Lavie herself, is a result of our daring to oppose institutional racism and apartheid. Our case exposes Germany’s complicity with Israeli criminality. Notably, both Knesset members Yair Lapid and Lavie have tried to influence German politics with regard to banning Hezbollah and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) activities while attempting to associate such activity with BDS activism in the country. Further, a report by the Berlin intelligence agency deemed the BDS movement “anti-Semitic” and provided our protest as an example. BDS activists were recently labeled “terrorists in suits” in a recent report by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs. These are extremely dangerous, anti-democratic and inherently racist developments aimed at shielding and promoting continued oppression of Palestinians by the Israeli government.

Unlike the apartheid representative against whom we protested at Humboldt University, we take an uncompromising position against all types of supremacy and racism — including both the Nazi idea of “Herrenvolk” and Zionism.

It is outrageous to label us “anti-Semitic,” as two of us are descendants of Jews who survived the Nazi Holocaust. We intend to continue speaking our truth and exercise our rights under German and international law.

Outline some successes of the BDS movement in Germany. How do you see its future?

The consumer boycott of Israel has significantly impacted the ongoing complicity of major multinational companies, such as Veolia, G4S and Airbnb. Yet, it is the Palestinian campaign for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel (PACBI) that has scored major victories on the world stage.

The Meteor Music Festival in apartheid Israel had its main event with Lana Del Rey along with over 15 other acts canceled due to pressure from PACBI activists. Nine artists cancelled their participation in the Pop-Kultur Festival 2017 in Berlin, solely due to sponsorship by the Israeli embassy. These public relations victories, along with our successful Humboldt University action, angered Israeli/Zionist authorities to the point of bullying several leading German politicians. In an outrageous step, the Simon Wiesenthal Center threatened to include the mayor of Berlin, Michael Müller, on their list of top-10 worst cases of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity in 2017 for not doing enough against BDS. This intervention led the mayor to “pledge to halt municipal financial and logistical support for the BDS movement,” along with possibly supporting the case against us.

These baseless accusations are positive signs that BDS is working and a real threat to the unjust Israeli establishment.

Note: Members of the Humboldt Three can be contacted via Twitter: Ronnie Barkan: @ronnie_barkan; Stavit Sinai: @Stav_Si; Majed Abusalama: @MajedAbusalama.