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17 April 2024

Why I was banned from Germany

In the name of protecting Israel’s security, the German government has sunk to farcical new authoritarian lows.

By Yanis Varoufakis

As I write these lines, I am banned not only from stepping on German soil but, remarkably, also from connecting via video link to any event in Germany. Why?

The solace of solidarity

On 8 October, a day after Hamas attacked Israel, I was in Berlin and found out about the previous day’s events during a TV interview. To the question “Do you condemn Hamas?” I replied:

“I condemn every single atrocity, whomever is the perpetrator or the victim. What I do not condemn is armed resistance to an apartheid system designed as part of a slow-burning, but inexorable, ethnic cleansing programme. As a European, it is important to refrain from condemning either the Israelis or the Palestinians when it is us, Europeans, who have caused this never-ending tragedy: after practising rabid anti-Semitism for centuries, leading up to the uniquely vile Holocaust, we have been complicit for decades with the slow genocide of Palestinians, as if two wrongs make one right.”

Days later I was disinvited by Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts from delivering the prestigious Otto Wagner Lecture. Then, on 16 February, at Berlin’s Babylon theatre, it was the premier for In the Eye of the Storm: The Political Odyssey of Yanis Varoufakis, a six-part documentary by the British film-maker and philosopher Raoul Martinez. The police leaned heavily on the Babylon’s proprietor to cancel the event. Asked for their reasons, the authorities simply replied: “Varoufakis.” Defiantly, Babylon’s Jewish proprietor told the police that he wouldn’t budge. It was truly touching to see him, along with Jewish, Palestinian and German supporters, stand together in solidarity and prevent the police from raiding the event.

The age of Staatsräson

A month ago, I received an email from my German publisher, Verlag Antje Kunstmann. It warned me that my participation in the Palestine Congress, an event scheduled to take place on the weekend of 13-14 April, and which had been organised by my political party in Germany (MeRA25) along with Germany’s Jewish Voice for Peace, would “overshadow” my next book’s reception in Germany. My association with a publisher that had issued six of my books in Germany over a dozen years came to a sad end.

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As the body count in Gaza mounted and hearings at the International Court of Justice challenged Germany’s official policy of Staatsräson (Israel’s security is Germany’s raison d’être), the authorities began to lash out. The case of my colleague Iris Hefets is exemplary. Iris, an Israeli psychoanalyst in Berlin, was arrested on charges of anti-Semitism for walking alone on the street with a placard reading: “As an Israeli and as a Jew, stop the genocide in Gaza.”

Behind police lines

On 12 April, Ghassan Abu-Sittah, the British-Palestinian rector of the University of Glasgow, was prevented from entering Germany to join us at the Palestine Congress. He was deported to the UK after hours of interrogation at the airport. Meanwhile, 2,500 police mobilised outside the event and harassed attendees. A young Jewish activist holding a placard with the words “Jews against genocide” was arrested. As he was led away, only half-jokingly, he asked the policemen: “Would it have been OK if it read ‘Jews support genocide?’”

Our congress started with only the fraction of attendees who managed to get through police lines. Shortly before I was due to address the audience via video link, the police invaded the auditorium, grabbed the microphones and tore out the wires of the live-streaming equipment. I recorded the speech I was unable to deliver and posted it on my personal blog. The authorities were not pleased.

On Saturday 13 April, I was issued a Betätigungsverbot – a ban on any political activity that has been used only a few times against Islamic State operatives. Our lawyers reminded the authorities that, besides being an EU citizen, in 2019 I was a candidate in Germany for the European Parliament, winning a respectable 135,000 votes. After a long, embarrassed silence, the Betätigungsverbot was replaced with an Einreiseverbot – a “softer” entry ban. To this day, the German authorities have refused my requests for a written statement on their rationale.

Draconian Deutschland

It is clear that Germany’s Staatsräson is not about protecting Jews. It is about protecting the right of Israel to commit any war crime of its choice. It is also a sad reflection on a waning economic power that is embracing an increasingly farcical authoritarianism.

[See also: My mother-in-law’s life ended as it began: in a Gazan refugee camp]

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This article appears in the 17 Apr 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Israel vs Iran