“There’s no Pride in Apartheid”, reads one banner. Another: “Palestine is a queer issue”. From a megaphone, chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” echo through the streets. Rather than queer rights, the demo seems to have above all one clear focus – and one clear enemy: Israel, the only Jewish state in the world. Two weeks ago, several thousand people attended the Internationalist Queer Pride in Berlin’s Neukölln district. Among the organisers: BDS Berlin, the anti-Israel boycott movement.
The Internationalist Queer Pride attracts those who find the traditional Christopher Street Day Parade too conformist, too tame – understandably. But among the demonstrators were also many who are taking to the streets for Palestinian freedom – and a fight against Israel. At Queer Pride, Israel was not only accused of the usual anti-Zionist buzzwords: apartheid, settler colonialism and pinkwashing. Palestine Speaks was also present and held a speech – a group that organised demos in May this year where open hatred of Jews was commonplace and the press was attacked. Apparently, without the need for any consequences. The Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Antisemitism, which filmed the demo, speaks of a “normalisation of antisemitism.”
Palestine flags are increasingly becoming a fixture of radical-left demos in Berlin, some with their own Palestine blocks. This is completely legitimate. But appropriating myriad issues not even to campaign for Palestinian rights, but to chant anti-Israel propaganda and antisemitic slogans, is well and truly not. This was the case at the revolutionary May 1st demo and at a memorial demo for the far-right Hanau attack in 2021, with calls of “Yallah Intifada” and “Intifada is our class war” abound – a glorification of the two Intifadas which left thousands of people dead, on both sides of the conflict. Israel-hatred belongs once again to the bon ton of the radical left. Keffiyehs are in.
Criticism was already voiced in the run-up to the demo. On the poster, a seemingly blind, Jewish person is depicted “in a typical antisemitic manner as a pale, peaky Jew”, as the Jewish journalist Deborah Antmann noted on Twitter. Moreover, that Jews are considered white, and thus privileged in the logic of Critical Whiteness, is a mindset that doesn’t allow us to think through the specific ways in which they are affected by antisemitism. “Jews don’t count”, the Jewish comedian David Baddiel titled his book on progressive antisemitism in Britain.
Baddiel’s motto also proves true when reading the demo’s “Awareness Statement”. In it, the organisers list at length what they will not tolerate: racism, sexism, transphobia and much more. But one searches the list in vain for antisemitism. The most well-meaning interpretation of this omission assumes that antisemitism is understood here as a form of racism, and is thus also meant – a misconception that is becoming increasingly widespread, and which the controversial Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, which would simply explain away the antisemitism of such a demo, is also based on. This blank space omitting antisemitism was followed by an implicit threat: “The so-called anti-Germans (Antideutsche) are not welcome at this event.”
Who exactly is meant by “Antideutsche” remains vague and abstract. Presumably those who stumble over this omission of antisemitism. Here, the term “Antideutsch” has degenerated into a flexible enemy construct that can be used at will. On social media, Jews who denounce antisemitism have long been branded as “anti-Germans”. What is clear, however, is how people marked “Antideutsche” are treated at demos: at the alternative Pride March in Berlin in 2021, organised by BDS Berlin, journalists were intimidated and harassed as “Zionist press”. They were only able to report on the demo under police protection.
The most peculiar demo banner at the Internationalist Queer Pride read: “Queer as in Free Palestine”. A bizarre statement, that’s actual meaning is not entirely clear. The NGO United Nation Watch reported in March 2021 that LGBTQ+ in the West Bank and Gaza suffer persecution and ostracism. Gay men who have escaped report torture, forced marriage and death threats. The Islamic scholar and prayer leader of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem stressed in early July of this year: “Our Palestinian people will not accept a single homosexual proclaiming his abominations in public. Will you tolerate a single homosexual in Jerusalem and the land of Palestine?”
“Queer as in Free Palestine” cannot therefore be a description of the current state of affairs. But it could perhaps contain a promise of happiness: that one day there will in fact be a free Palestine, where people can live without fear, regardless of their race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. But as long as this land does not exist, the Pride banner must surely be understood as merely a criticism of the existing Palestine – whether intentional or not. And fighting for the rights of queer Palestinians – in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and beyond – truly is something worth our support, and not just during Pride Month.