Three activists who protested against an Israeli politician yesterday appeared in a German court, facing trial for trumped-up claims of trespassing and assault.
The trio – Palestinian activist Majed Abusalama and Israeli activists Ronnie Barkan and Stavit Sinai – are facing trial for their involvement in a June 2017 protest at Humboldt University, in the German capital Berlin, against Israeli Knesset Member (MK) for the Yesh Atid party, Aliza Lavie.
Lavie had given a speech at the university during which she downplayed Israel's ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories (oPt) and its treatment of Palestinians, as well as expressed her support of Israel's 2014 war on the already-besieged Gaza Strip. The activists disrupted the talk and challenged Lavie on her opinions, but are now facing charges of trespassing and assault for their actions.
However, lawyers representing the activists – who have become known as the Humboldt3- argue that there is "no clear evidence of criminal activity and that the charges are disproportionate to what actually happened," the Electronic Intifada reported. The lawyers have also charged that putting the trio on trial violates their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, adding they are "worried that the case could set a precedent by conflating criticism of Israel and Zionism […] with anti-Semitism".
The activists have however hit back at the charges, writing in a statement that "having criminal allegations leveled against activists is a common and standard practice in Germany." They added:
We are, however, determined to use our relative privilege in order to turn the tables against Israel and take it to court. We do not concern ourselves with the consequences, but rather with the opportunity of challenging Israel along with Germany's complicity in crimes against humanity.
The statement continued: "Where, if not in Berlin, should we be able to speak up against such immoral and criminal practices?"
In the 18-months since the protest, Abusalama, Barkan and Stavit have been targeted by German and Israeli media in what they have called a "coordinated slander campaign". They claim that the "special relationship" between Germany and Israel means the two countries' respective media institutions have "parroted the lies [against them], even though there is video evidence to the contrary […] while we were physically attacked and we were referred to as [Nazis]".
The legal action against the trio will be seen in light of Germany's efforts to crackdown on criticism of Israel and anyone affiliated with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In an interview with US-based news site Truthout, the Humboldt Three said that a number of public relations victories for BDS in Germany – including a number of artists pulling out of Berlin's Pop Kultur Festival – "angered Israeli authorities to the point of bullying several leading German politicians", including the mayor of Berlin, who was pressured into halting municipal financial support for BDS and supporting the case against the activists.
In October, Israel's Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, Ze'ev Elkin, attended a conference in Belgian capital Brussels in a bid to convince European political parties to brand BDS anti-Semitic. The move was seen as the latest escalation of Israel's war against BDS, for which it has reportedly set aside a war chest of $72 million and which has seen a number of smear campaigns launched against activists affiliated with the movement.