An "ultimatum" presented by pro-Israeli lobby groups to organisers of a talk on the occupation of Palestine forced a German university to cancel an event by a prominent Israeli human rights activist.
Israeli peace activist and founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Jeff Halper, was booked for a talk on Monday at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Heidelberg and the city's adult-education Folk School. However a threatening open letter sent by the Young Forum of the German-Israeli Association, which is funded by the Israeli lobby in Germany, forced the university to cancel the event.
Halper, who was a Noble Peace Prize Nominee in 2006, announced the cancellation of his talk on Facebook and confirmed that the Folk School had refused to budge despite intimidation. He revealed details of the threatening letter sent to the university. In it the Young Forum of the German-Israeli Association warned the venues that if they didn't cancel the talk by noon of Thursday last week, "[you] will suffer the consequences".
The University Institute said Halper gave in and cancelled the event but Folk School refused. Halper delivered his presentation on "how Israel is exporting the occupation to other countries" and shared a clip from the video in which a pro-Israeli heckler can be seen disrupting the event.
Halper, who is a Jewish Israeli, has been a long-time critic of his country. While he has campaigned tirelessly against Israeli house demolitions in the occupied territory, his incisive observations have been a constant irritation for pro-Israeli groups.
In his book "War Against the People", Halper claims that Israel's biggest export is knowledge and technology of suppression and occupation. He suggests that the occupation of Palestine has been a political and financial boon for the Zionist state; allowing it to sell the idea of "full spectrum security" to the rest of the world at a time when autocrats and tyrants all across the globe are desperate for similar technologies to deploy against restive populations at a time of global unrest.
According to local German newspaper, in their efforts to prevent Halper from speaking pro-Israeli lobby groups accused him of being anti-Semitic. German newspaper RNZ reported the reasons German-Israeli Association gave for silencing Halper. They said that he is "a well-known representative of the BDS campaign against Israel" and BDS "is tied with the anti-Semitic actions against Jews before and during the Nazi period."
According to RNZ the adult-education Folk School, described the accusation as "ludicrous". Director of the school, Silke Reck, described the letter as an attempt to force the content of the institution. She said she "refused to play the game" while insisting that the school was "committed as a community college to religious and ideological neutrality".
The letter was also condemned as an attempt to apply "moral pressure". According to Reck, the open letter was an attempt to set an "ultimatum" and "discredit" her school. Organisers of the event, Winfried Belz from the Palestine/Middle East Initiative, explained that they were not surprised by the accusations of anti-Semitism. "That's the usual defamation," he said. For him, according to the RNZ report, "the BDS campaign is an attempt by Palestinian civil society to make Israel non-violent and align its policies towards international law".
Despite the organised attempt to prevent him from speaking in Germany, Halper said that "most Germans get it", explaining the fact that Israel is a country that has displaced the Palestinian people and has held millions of them under a 50-year occupation with no human or civil rights. He admitted also that "it is easy to intimidate them [German society] by fusing criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism, which Israel does to great effect".
Halper believes,"German Universities do not step up to the plate". "It's the only country in which I don't get to speak at universities" lamented Halper, a source close to the activist who was with him in Germany told MEMO.