In the recent controversy about an antisemitic op-ed by Columbia University Professor Joseph Massad, some fans of Massad noted gleefully that the disgraceful screed published by Al Jazeera "was based on a lecture Massad gave at a conference in Stuttgart… Germany, to a largely German audience." The implication was of course that if the audience at a German "conference" happily listened to an American professor claiming that Nazism and Zionism were both antisemitic, this lunacy somehow became legitimate.
But Germans don't really need an American professor to demonstrate how best to dress up antisemitic resentments. Despite many official German efforts to grapple with the Nazi past and combat contemporary antisemitism, studies have not only documented that about 20% of Germans hold persistent antisemitic views, but that there is also "a big rise in anti-Semitism based on hostility toward Israel." Since some 40% of Germans believe "Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians," Massad could clearly expect to find a sympathetic audience for his preposterous comparison of Nazism and Zionism.
Indeed, the kind of "conference" Massad attended in Stuttgart in May all but guaranteed that any effort to endow vulgar antisemitic tropes with a veneer of pseudo-sophisticated academic respectability would be warmly appreciated.
The event was organized by a group named "Palästinakomitee Stuttgart," which seems to be a small but long-established organization that spreads the usual propaganda against Israel. Like most organizations that are supposedly "pro-Palestinian," the Stuttgart group doesn't campaign for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but for the abolition of Israel as the world's only Jewish state in favor of the fiction of "ONE secular democratic State." The fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians want to live under Islamic Sharia law is just one of the many inconvenient issues that the "Palästinakomitee Stuttgart" prefers to ignore.
For its "Second Palestine Solidarity Conference" this May, the group hosted several well-known "anti-Zionists," including academics like Ilan Pappé and Ghada Karmi (both University of Exeter, UK), Joseph Massad (Columbia University, NY, US), and Asaad Abu Khalil (aka the blogger "The Angry Arab," Cal State Stanislaus, US). According to the group's website, some 300 people – "many of them from abroad" – came to listen to these "high carat" speakers. While we are not told how all this was financed, the information on the event highlights the participation of Al Jazeera's Mhammed Krichen, noting proudly that the network carried the two-day proceedings live for a "broad audience in the Arab world."
Given this fabulous free publicity for the small gathering, it is perhaps hardly surprising that the Palestinian ambassador to Germany also showed up to address the audience [in German]. At the beginning of his short remarks, ambassador Abdel Shafi seemed to implicitly acknowledge that it was rather curious that an official of the Palestinian Authority (PA) – which is supposedly committed to establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel – would attend an event organized to champion a very different goal. But in the course of his not particularly coherent remarks, Abdel Shafi also suggested that it was actually pointless to discuss any solution as long as the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank were unable to bridge their differences; of course, he also indicated that, somehow, it was all Israel's fault. At the same time, he seemed to deplore the growing power of Islamists in the wake of the "Arab Spring," but he also suggested that the West viewed the Islamists favorably, considering them as a suitable replacement of the Arab dictators that had supposedly served Western economic and political interests so faithfully.
Naturally, Abdel Shafi also talked about the "ongoing nakba" and warned that it was a major task to prevent Israel from realizing its supposed plans to expel all Palestinians from historic Palestine. It was hardly a coincidence that the following day, the ambassador returned to Berlin to host a nakba event that featured a speech focusing on exactly the same accusations against Israel. The speaker was Norman Paech, a well-known former politician and academic whose dedicated anti-Israel activism has brought him some accusations of antisemitism. Indeed, in a sympathetic article [pdf in German] about Hamas-ruled Gaza, Paech has described Israel as "poisonous."
Demonizing Israel and associating with organizations and individuals who have considerable expertise in this field is apparently part of the job of the Palestinian ambassador to Germany. This is also reflected in the website of the Palestinian mission, where one section is devoted to Israel's cruel "hunting" of Palestine.
Yet, the ambassador faces a dilemma, because most of the "pro-Palestinian" Israel-haters he happily associates with despise the Palestinian Authority he represents. At the Stuttgart gathering, this was clearly spelled out when "Angry Arab" Asaad Abu Khalil railed against Abdel Shafi's presence and denounced the PA as a "creation of Tel Aviv."
The failure of the Palestinian ambassador to openly confront the PA's detractors and present an alternative to their relentless demonization of Israel by articulating a clear commitment to peaceful coexistence unfortunately reflects the policies of the PA. As Khaled Abu Toameh points out in a recent commentary, "Palestinian Authority leaders have radicalized Palestinians to a point where many do not want to hear about peace with Israel."
In other words: there is a fierce competition between the PA and Hamas about who is the most intransigent foe of Israel.
Obviously, events like the Stuttgart "solidarity conference" have primarily one purpose: to strengthen this dynamic and keep it focused on making the Jewish state a pariah that will eventually crumble to be replaced by an Arab-Muslim Palestine.
German media and German officials apparently prefer to ignore all this politely. As one participant of the Stuttgart "conference" notes bitterly, the event was largely met with silence; similarly, Paech writes on his website that only a few representatives of the far left followed the Palestinian ambassador's invitation to attend the nakba event in Berlin.
But while this could be seen as a tacit rejection of the extreme views that are usually propagated by "pro-Palestinian" campaigners, the agenda pushed by the organizations and individuals who relentlessly demonize Israel is not necessarily rejected by German officials. This is illustrated by the recent German decision to back EU demands for labels that distinguish between products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Israeli goods produced within the pre-1967 armistice lines. The only purpose of this measure is to enable supporters of the campaign to boycott Israel to gain followers among people who might find the blanket boycott a bit too reminiscent of the Nazi-slogan "Don't buy from Jews."
Benjamin Weinthal has argued that the labeling of Israeli products from the settlements may therefore be a slippery slope leading to a legitimation of the broader boycott campaign which singles out Israel – after all, as Weinthal rightly notes, there are no efforts to have similar labels for products from Turkish occupied North Cyprus or the many other areas around the world that are in dispute.
Of course, supporters of the boycott want Israel singled out, and they couldn't care less that in the case of the settlements, Palestinian workers who are employed there – earning salaries that are considerably higher than in the PA-ruled West Bank – would be the first to suffer.
But this is indeed a characteristic feature of most "pro-Palestinian" campaigns targeting Israel: the enthusiasm for harming Israel is usually so great that the very real costs to the Palestinians are happily ignored. In Germany as elsewhere, solidarity with the Palestinians all too often means supporting efforts to demonize and harm Israel. This appeal to the lowest common denominator is unlikely to bring the Palestinians a state any time soon, but this is apparently not really the priority.