Why is Germany so viciously anti-Palestinian?

German support for Israel is used as a cover to ramp up racist anti-immigration policies and downplay homegrown anti-Semitism.

Riot police take a demonstrator away during a pro-Palestinian rally in Frankfurt on October 14, 2023
Riot police detain a demonstrator during a pro-Palestinian rally in Frankfurt on October 14, 2023 [File: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP]

­­­­­­Since Israel launched its latest war on Gaza, Germany has stood firmly by its ally. Even as warnings of a genocide committed by Israeli forces have mounted, the German government has not budged. On October 12, Chancellor Olaf Scholz proclaimed that “there is only one place for Germany” which is “side by side with Israel” and indeed it has not moved from this stance.

The German government has not only provided wide-ranging political and diplomatic support for Israel, but has also fast-tracked arms exports to facilitate the­­­ Israeli slaughter of Palestinian civilians.

The German political elite has vehemently rejected calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and relentlessly repeated the false claim that under international law, Israel has the “right to defend itself” from the Palestinian population it occupies. It continues to disregard decades of apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

The German political elite has justified its stance with the alleged feeling of guilt for the Holocaust and the need to make amends by supporting Israel, considering its security “Germany’s reason of state”. But under the cover of “acting morally” and “atoning for its crimes”, German politicians and officials are actually seeking to further normalise anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism, justify more draconian anti-immigration policies, and downplay the persisting anti-Semitism among white Germans.

Anti-Palestinianism as a state policy

The marginalisation of Palestinians within German society and the suppression of pro-Palestinian activism are not a new phenomenon in Germany. Long before October 7, the anti-Palestinian tactics of the German authorities were already escalating. Protests were banned, pro-Palestinian voices, including those of Jewish activists, were silenced, and cultural events and award ceremonies were cancelled.

It is thus unsurprising that the crackdown on protests and police violence have increased in recent weeks. Numerous pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been banned, sometimes only minutes before they were supposed to begin, or allowed to take place only with heavy police presence. Bureaucrats have cited threats to public safety and potential display of anti-Semitism as reasons for the bans.

Hundreds of protesters were detained in the first weeks after Israel launched its war on Gaza. Many have experienced police violence and some have been put under investigation for incitement to hatred. Even anti-Zionist voices among the small Jewish minority have come under attack.

The freedom of speech in regards to pro-Palestinian activism has also been suppressed. Recently, the Federal Ministry of the Interior banned the slogan “from the river to the sea”, considering it a call to destroy Israel. The state of Bavaria has labelled the phrase a “symbol of terrorism”.

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU), one of Germany’s leading parties, has also made clear that the words “free Palestine” have no place in Germany and denounced the phrase as “a war cry of an internationally active terror gang”, claiming it would mean “the extinction of the Jewish state, the only democracy in the region, by Islamist terrorists”.

Free speech has been under attack in educational institutions as well. With German universities following the government’s pro-Israel stance, students who have protested on campus have faced police violence and smear campaigns in the media.

Pro-Palestinian symbols, such as the keffiyeh scarf, have been banned by some institutions. In one school in Berlin, a teacher physically assaulted a student who raised the Palestinian flag.

This systematic suppression of pro-Palestinian activism reflects the dystopian-like reality in Germany in which opposition to genocide is viewed as an act of disloyalty to the German state and could thus justify criminalisation.

The German authorities have clearly identified anti-Palestinianism as a national interest and a state policy. They wholeheartedly support Israel’s existence in its current apartheid form which requires continuous violence against the indigenous Palestinian population. This is, of course, not in contradiction to Germany’s own genocidal history and continuous racism.

Blaming immigrants for German racism

The genocide in Gaza has further strengthened the already omnipresent xenophobic and racist sentiments in Germany. The German authorities have actively sought to portray Muslims and Arabs in particular, and ethnic minorities in general, as dangerous to German society.

On November 8, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on Germans of Palestinian and Arab descent to distance themselves from Hamas and anti-Semitism. Thus, he implicitly put an entire demographic under general suspicion of terrorism, as the Palestinian resistance movement has been designated a “terrorist organisation” by the German state.

A little more than a week later, a draft law was submitted to the German parliament that tied German citizenship to a formal commitment to “Israel’s right to exist”. A month later, the state of Saxony-Anhalt issued its own decree, demanding from applicants for citizenship to declare their support for “Israel’s right to exist”.

In November, Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann said in an interview: “We do not want anti-Semites to become German citizens.”

The claims that immigrants pose a terror risk and carry and spread anti-Semitism have been used as a justification to change Germany’s migration and refugee policy.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz said Germany could not accommodate more refugees from Gaza, claiming, “We have enough anti-Semitic young men in the country.”

Already, legal measures are being taken to decrease immigration. In October, the federal government backed a draft law allowing for a tougher deportation policy that would make it easier to expel rejected asylum seekers.

But the unhinged racist and xenophobic sentiments in the country are not only reflected in policies. They now define what appears to be a society-wide consensus captured in a manifesto published by German right-wing tabloid BILD, lecturing immigrants on how they needed to behave in Germany.

Referencing the arrival of Arab refugees in the past decade, the newspaper laid out 50 points of instruction on what is permissible or not accepted in Germany.

The introduction to the manifesto states: “Our world is in chaos, and we are right in the middle of it. Since the terrorist attack by Hamas on Israel, we are experiencing a new dimension of hatred in our country – against our values, democracy, and against Germany.”

Then it goes on to declare that Germany must say “NO!” to anti-Semitism and that “we love life, not death”, “we say please and thank you”, “we don’t wear masks or veils” and “we don’t marry off children. And men can’t have more than one wife.”

The rabid Islamophobia of the manifesto is more than apparent. But beyond that, it reflects the absurdity of white Germans considering themselves “under threat” and “victims” at a time when the Palestinian population is facing genocide in their own homeland.

It also exposes the deep-rooted white supremacy in German society. Indeed, the reaction of the German authorities to what is going on in Gaza demonstrates that they want to strengthen and solidify racist hierarchies in German society: white Germans at the top and people from “the Third World”, including victims of Israeli violence, at the bottom, doing in silence dirty menial jobs and being expected to show their gratitude and “integrate” into German society.

Covering up German anti-Semitism

But there is something even more pernicious about misrepresenting anti-Semitism in Germany as a foreign “import”, brought to the country by non-white immigrants. This increasingly popular lie obfuscates Germany’s brutal, anti-Jewish history and somehow dumps blame for the suffering of Jewish people onto Palestinians who are victims of a European racist, settler-colonial regime.

It also covers up the German society’s anti-Semitic present. Anti-Jewish sentiment still persists in Germany. According to official statistics, the vast majority of documented anti-Semitic incidents are committed by the political right.

It is not coincidental that the far-right party AfD has reached an all-time peak in popularity in recent weeks. According to polls from mid-December, it is now standing at 23 percent, second only to the right-wing CDU and far ahead of any of the parties in the current governing coalition.

AfD representatives have glorified German ethno-nationalism and downplayed the crimes of the Nazi regime while consistently insisting that immigrants are anti-Semitic and demanding that the federal government prioritise combatting “imported anti-Semitism”.

This combination of Zionism and toxic German nationalism may further fuel racist violence against minorities, including the Jewish community.

Germany’s anti-Palestinianism needs to be viewed not as a reaction to, but rather a continuation of, Germany’s racist crimes. Palestinians and other victims of Israeli and German violence have never been considered human enough.

Like Germany’s colonial genocides and its support for apartheid in South Africa and racist regimes elsewhere – which never received sufficient attention in public discourse – its role in the genocide in Palestine upholds racist hierarchies and its own self-image as a “civilised” and “morally superior” nation.

The German-backed slaughter of Palestinians thus serves to strengthen the fantasies of white, ethnic German supremacy.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.