German authorities barred Palestinian-Canadian journalist Khaled Barakat from speaking at a Palestine solidarity event in Berlin, claiming his “anti-Semitic” speeches posed a threat to public order and could undermine relations between the country and Israel.
The activist has been prohibited from attending future political events and threatened with up to one year in prison, marking another success in the Israel lobby’s bid to clamp down on criticism abroad.
Barakat had been invited to speak at an Arab community event in Berlin on 22 June to discuss Palestinian liberation and its implications for other Arab communities, as well as US President Donald Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century.
But he was accosted by police on arrival.
“As soon as we left the U-Bahn station nearest the venue my wife and I noticed heavy police presence in the area, including multiple vans full of police,” Barakat told The Electronic Intifada.
“I was approached by a group of police and one officer spoke to me. He said: ‘You have an event here tonight and you are the speaker … you cannot speak.’”
The police took Barakat and his wife to a police station where government officials handed him an eight-page document prohibiting him from political activity.
The document, issued by the Berlin Foreigners Registration Office and seen by The Electronic Intifada, states in German that Barakat faces a ban on participating in specific events and a general “limit on your political activity until you leave the Federal Republic of Germany.”
“They [representatives of the foreigners office] told me that I am banned from speaking at any public event in Berlin and even attending meetings and gatherings,” Barakat said.
He said was also ordered to avoid social events of “more than 10 people,” or face a one-year prison sentence.
Barakat’s wife is also a Palestinian rights activist, but not Palestinian and she was not banned.
“After I was told to acknowledge that I had received the document we were released from the police station. We also noticed significant police presence on the way home,” Barakat added.
German-Israeli relations trump free speech
Barakat’s case mirrors that of Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh who was smeared in the German media before being banned from speaking at an event in Berlin for International Women’s Day earlier this year.
She was finally forced to leave the country.
The official document states that Barakat’s political activities “pose a threat to public safety,” that his talk would “impair and endanger the peaceful coexistence of Germans and foreigners” and that Germany’s relationship to Israel could be “considerably endangered” if he were allowed to speak.
The document also states that it believes Barakat might be working for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – PFLP – which the document notes is listed as a “terrorist” organization by the US, Israel and the European Union.
However it acknowledges that the group is “not prohibited” in Germany. Israel considers virtually all Palestinian political parties and organizations that militarily resist occupation to be “terrorist” groups.
“If you look at the campaigns being carried out by Israel and the Ministry of Strategic Affairs against BDS organizations around the world, or Students for Justice in Palestine in the US, they are trying their best to criminalize all movements for Palestine or even human rights organizations by using so-called connections to Hamas and the PFLP,” Barakat said.
Barakat observed that in the leaked Al Jazeera undercover film The Lobby–USA, “representatives from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies openly advocated for this tactic and now we are seeing it in practice.”
BDS stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions – a global campaign for Palestinian rights modeled on the one that helped end apartheid in South Africa during the 1980s.
The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies is a Washington-based neoconservative think tank and agent of Israel’s strategic affairs ministry.
The document goes on to list a number of speeches given by Barakat in Germany, but fails to cite any examples of anti-Semitism.
Barakat believes this is because the authorities need to “exaggerate in order to justify their repressive measures.”
Despite offering no examples of anti-Jewish bigotry on Barakat’s part, the government order insists the draconian ban on his political activities is justified because “the public should be protected from your expected anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements.”
Fear of a united front
Barakat strongly refutes the claim that his speech would have caused tensions between Jewish and Arab communities in Berlin and asserts, rather, that authorities are trying to prevent a united front from emerging.
“The same forces advocating for and issuing this political ban against me are involved in repressing Jewish voices that criticize Zionism, Israeli policy and German policy on Israel,” he said.
Barakat noted that under Israel lobby pressure, the director of the Jewish Museum Berlin was recently forced to resign.
Moreover, the group Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East had its bank account closed. And, two Jewish activists with Israeli nationality are on trial for criminal charges alongside a Palestinian activist from Gaza for interrupting an Israeli politician who supported Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians including 550 children.
These facts, as well as the German parliament’s recent resolution smearing the BDS movement as anti-Semitic make it increasingly difficult for activists to advocate for Palestinian human rights.
The people who face the brunt of these attacks are Palestinians themselves.
The racism, political bans and growing repression aside, Barakat remains undeterred: “I firmly believe that the vast majority of people in Germany support justice for the Palestinian people and reject Israeli war crimes and apartheid, but they live in fear and I understand.”