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Banned by Germany

Germany prohibited a Palestinian Congress from taking place, arrested its Jewish supporters, and barred one of its organizers, former Greek finance minister, from entering the country: Powerful evidence Germany's pro-Israel Consensus is breaking down

Kiril Kudryavtsev /AFP via Getty Images

ATHENS – Three weeks ago, I was banned from entering Germany. When I asked the German authorities who decided this, when, and under what rationale, I received a formal reply that, for reasons of national security, my questions would receive no formal reply. Suddenly, my mind raced back to another era when my ten-year-old self thought of Germany as a refuge from authoritarianism.

During Greece’s fascist dictatorship, listening to foreign radio broadcasts was banned. So, every evening, at around nine, my parents would huddle under a red blanket with a short-wave wireless, straining to hear Deutsche Welle’s dedicated Greek broadcast. My boyish imagination was propelled to a mythical place called Germany – a place, my parents told me, that was “the democrats’ friend.”

Years later, in 2015, the German media presented me as Germany’s foe. I was aghast; nothing could be further from the truth. As Greece’s finance minister, I opposed the German government’s monomaniacal insistence on harsh universal austerity, not merely because I thought it would be catastrophic for most Greeks, but also because I thought it would be detrimental to most Germans’ long-term interests. The specter of deindustrialization that today casts a depressing shadow across Germany is consistent with my prognosis.

In 2016, when choosing a European capital to launch DiEM25, the pan-European political movement that I helped to found, I chose Berlin. At Berlin’s Volksbühne Theatre, I explained the reason: “Nothing good can happen in Europe if it does not begin in Berlin.” To reinforce the point, in the 2019 European Parliament elections I chose symbolically to be DiEM25’s candidate not in Greece (where I could win easily) but in Germany.

Given my lengthy relationship with the land of Goethe, Hegel, and Brecht, the German center-left government’s decision to ban me is more bewildering than even my nearest and dearest can imagine. I shall leave to my lawyers the legality of being denied the right to know the rationale behind the ban, and I will set aside the threat to my safety from the reckless insinuation that I am, somehow, a threat to Germany’s national security. Nor will I delve into what my ban means for a European Union where free movement and association are singular virtues. Instead, I want to focus on the ban’s deeper significance.

The trigger for banning me was a Palestinian Congress co-organized by DiEM25’s German party (MERA25), various Palestinian support groups and, crucially, the German organization Jewish Voice for a Just Peace. But the writing had been on the wall well before that.

Last November, Iris Hefets, a friend and member of the aforementioned Jewish organization, staged a one-woman protest in Berlin. Walking alone, in silence, she held a placard on which she had written: “As an Israeli and as a Jew, stop the genocide in Gaza.” Astonishingly, she was arrested for anti-Semitism. Soon after, the bank account of her organization was frozen – by officials unable to grasp the irony, indeed the horror, of the German state seizing Jewish assets and arresting peaceful Jews in Berlin.

In the run-up to our Palestinian Congress, a coalition of political parties representing almost the entire German political spectrum (including two leaders of my former comrades in the Left party) took the extraordinary step of creating a dedicated website for denouncing us. Their charges?

First, they branded us as “terrorism trivializers” vis-à-vis Hamas’s October 7 attacks in Israel. It was not enough for them that we had condemned as war crimes all acts of violence against civilians (regardless of the identity of perpetrator or victim). They wanted us to condemn resistance to what even Tamir Pardo, the former Mossad director, described as an apartheid system designed to push Palestinians either into exile or into permanent servitude.

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Second, they claimed that we were “not interested in talking about possibilities for peaceful coexistence in the Middle East against the background of the war in Gaza.” Seriously? All participants in our Congress are committed to equal political rights for Jews and Palestinians – and many of us, taking our cue from the late Edward Said, support a single federal state as the solution to the conflict.

Dismissing their groundless accusations, let me home in on the central question: How could almost the entire German political class embrace this denunciation, which prepared the ground for the subsequent police action? How could they remain silent as the police arrested Udi Raz (another Jewish comrade), prohibited our conference and, yes, banned me from entering Germany – even from connecting via video link to any event in the country?

Their most likely answer is the German state’s official semi-rationale, or Staatsräson: the protection of Jewish lives and Israel’s security. But the German state’s recent behavior is not at all about protecting Jews (especially my friends Iris and Udi) or Israel. The purpose is to defend Israel’s right to commit any war crime its leaders choose in the process of enforcing an agenda whose goal is to render impossible the two-state solution that the German government claims to favor.

If I am right, something else is behind the current political consensus in Germany. My hypothesis is that Germany’s political class has a penchant for national catechisms that unite its members behind a common will: net exports as Germany’s strength; China as German industry’s playground; Russia as its source of cheap energy; and Zionism as proof that it has turned a page, morally.

Once such a catechism is established, debating it rationally becomes next to impossible. Moreover, the fear of being denounced for abandoning it motivates the concerted denunciation of any apostate who questions it.

A silver lining here is that young Germans, seeing the bodies piling up in Gaza, are not afraid that they will be denounced if they challenge a catechism that has jeopardized German democracy, the rule of law, and basic common sense. This is why, despite the ban, I am not giving up on Germany.

Yanis Varoufakis, a former finance minister of Greece, is leader of the MERA25 party and Professor of Economics at the University of Athens. 

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