Tarik Cyril Amar – Germany Feels Special Again

At the side of Israel, Berlin is finding its inner authoritarian again, with crackdowns at home and contempt for international law abroad.

Tarik Cyril Amar is a historian from Germany, currently at Koç University, Istanbul, expert on Ukraine, Russia, and Europe, and the author of “The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv. A Borderland City between Stalinists, Nazis, and Nationalists.”

Cross-posted from Tarik Cyril Amar’s substack


The new old Germany is really showing its fangs now. Yesterday, a congress in Berlin, called to support Palestine and protest against Israel’s genocide of Palestinians, was first systematically harassed and then shut down. The police sent in a small army of almost a thousand officers, many in tactical black, clearly meant to frighten by their very obtrusive presence alone, and they used methods from – as we would say if this had happened in, for instance, Russia or Hungary – the playbook of up-to-date authoritarianism: “technical” issues, including fire safety regulations were transparently made up and misused to first delay the event and then cut down the number of attendees allowed into the venue. Those standing in line outside were then wrongly categorized as an illegal gathering. When a speaker merely appeared on a video screen, the police rapidly used this pretext to break into the venue’s control room and turn off the power.

As a sort of Teutonic cherry on this rich layer cake of harassment and bullying, an officer with a look right out of central casting in search of “Siegfried” topped it all off by arresting a Jewish congress organizer wearing a Kipa. Congrats, officer: You are famous now. Your picture will last and grace future history books.

There is no doubt that the suppression of the congress was illegal and even unconstitutional. Yet it is unlikely that those responsible – up and down the German local and central government hierarchies – for this textbook attack on the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech will face prosecution or even much public backlash.

There are two related reasons to be pessimistic: First, the assault on the Palestine Congress is only the latest peak in a systematic, sustained crackdown. German authorities, with those of the capital Berlin in the lead, have already built up a solid track record of terrorizing and suppressing those who show solidarity with Palestinians and Palestine or speak up openly and clearly against Israel’s genocide and Germany’s complicity in it. The Palestine Congress, of course, tried to do exactly that. The German response has been to escalate the repression, clearly to send a message: Official Germany will stay its vile course. They are digging in their heels, as German “elites” historically can, once they have bunkered themselves in, clinging tight to an arrogant belief that they know best, whatever most of humanity says to the contrary.

In addition, of course, there is the fact that these German “elites” are now doubling down: In moral as well as legal terms – members of the Berlin government should worry about individual prosecution in a better future – they are already deeply complicit in Israel’s crimes. And not “only” in genocide, but also – as Nicaragua is rightly arguing before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – in various other crimes against humanity and war crimes.

At this point, for the Berlin accomplices, changing course would be to tacitly admit how wrong they have been and how much they have already incriminated themselves as well as the civil servants following their orders. Sooner or later that truth will catch up with them. But it is typical for cornered offenders to postpone the reckoning as long as possible. And the worse the crime, the greater the obstinacy.

The second reason why I would not expect much resistance inside Germany to this brazen case of political repression is that it also reflects a wide – though not total – consensus in German society. This German complicity consensus is especially strong among the media and, broadly speaking, cultural “elites” that shape and control much of public opinion.

Well before its organizers and participants bravely tried to gather, the Palestine Congress was subjected to a pervasive smear campaign. The lies spread about it included, as you would expect, baseless accusations of “antisemitism.” Conflating criticism of and resistance to Israel and Zionism – a genocidal apartheid regime and its ideology – with “antisemitism” has become a foundational lie in Germany. This vicious absurdity serves as a conformism test that those who want to belong to the new old Germany’s “value” community must pass. (As I discussed last October. Yes, this pattern was that predictable, because it has such a long history already.)

After the Congress had been shut down, Zeit, the German weekly for the middle class with ambitions of sophistication (those who would not be caught alive with yellow-press Bild) gloated “Kurzen Kongress gemacht.” Apart from a verbal emetic, the phrase is untranslatable. It is, roughly, the equivalent of “They got’em uppity bastards and serves ‘em bloody right!” As a German, I can tell you that it reeks of that foul mix of servility and kicking downward that has always characterized the Untertan, the gladly submissive subject of the Obrigkeit – “our betters,” who rightly tell us what to do and, even more importantly, think – from Kaiser, via Führer, to Kanzler and TV.

Official Germany is now siding with a genocide mis-represented as “self-defense” in a struggle for bare existence. Ironically, that kind of narrative is what the Nazis – the foremost genociders in German history – also deployed. Hitler claimed precisely that: that mass-murdering Jews was how Germans defended themselves and their future. Perverse? Indeed. Insane? Of course. Absolutely evil? Obviously. Yet many contemporary German “elite” representatives let Israeli genocidaires not only get away with, in essence, the same trick but rush to help spread their lies.

It makes a sad sort of sense that, at just this moment, many Germans are also rediscovering their predilection for ham-fisted political repression, as long as it hits those who most of them agree deserve it. Nazi Germany, too, trampled dissent from its “national community” with both: the police baton and the jackboot (and then some of course) and what it called “healthy national sentiment” – a fascist way of saying “we all agree on ostracizing/demonizing/incarcerating/beating/killing them and that’s why they deserve it.”

Many observers abroad will now rightly focus on the sheer, shameless display of lawlessness-from-above in the suppression of the Palestine Congress in Berlin. But don’t miss two other, equally noxious and foreboding things: Conformism is being aggressively weaponized again in grand, proudly intolerant style; and the German “elites” – and the many conformists who follow them willingly – are rediscovering German exceptionalism: The words and actions of these Germans display a sense of privilege – derived, perversely, from Germany’s historic crimes – allowing Germany to scorn reason and the law, at home and abroad. Not a good sign.

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