ELSC Newsletter: May 2022Published on Mon Jun 13 2022 - modified on Tue Jul 12 2022
This month, we achieved an important victory as a German court ruled in favour of scholar Dr. Anna Younes in digital surveillance case.
On 6 May 2022, the Berlin District Court upheld Dr. Younes’ claims and ordered VDK – the German state-funded organisation that legally represents RIAS Berlin and MBR – to give Anna Younes access to data that the two civil society organisations had gathered on her and passed on to others. The information released so far reveals that RIAS and MBR have been collecting people’s personal data based on their “positions on Israel and BDS”.
Dr. Younes and her lawyer will request damages in court as RIAS/MBR prevented her from accessing her information for two years. It also remains to be clarified whether RIAS and MBR have been storing further data other than those revealed in the disseminated dossier.
This is an important victory because organisations using the IHRA definition for the surveillance of Palestinian rights advocates will be required to provide access to the information they collect on individuals. We believe that this is not an isolated case and that there is a structural issue of profiling Palestinians and Palestinian rights advocates in Germany. This is what we intend to challenge further in court. This demeanour creates a chilling effect and limits democratic participation in public debate.Giovanni Fassina, Director of the ELSC.
This victory was made possible by the combination of litigation and public pressure along with collective support!
We still need your support to successfully move on with the next steps of the case.
AUSTRIA: PALESTINIAN SCHOLAR SUCCESSFULLY CHALLENGES CENSORSHIP
On May 30th, Palestinian scholar Walaa Alqaisiya was supposed to speak as part of the Spring Art Curatorial program organised by the MUMOK museum, the Fine Arts Academy of Vienna and cultural organisation Verein K. After a smear campaign against the Palestinian researcher, those institutions decided to cancel her presence only few days before the panel. Her censorship was justified by false allegations that depicted her as an “antisemitic”. The label was used with the effect of silencing the only Palestinian voice in a program dedicated to post-colonial research.
The ELSC reached out to its support network, the contributors and organisers of the event. Verein K and the curator of the event finally issued a strong statement and decided to remove the remainder of the program from the premises of the cancelling institutions. Share the good news!
Many organisations like the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES), the European Association of International Studies (EISA), SeSaMo (Società per gli Studi sul Medio Oriente) raised their concerns about this censorship, as well as contributors of the program such as Françoise Vergès, Kate Sutton and Raino Isto. The contributors set up a letter of support signed by more than 300 scholars, artists and students. Walaa Alqaisiya is still waiting for a public apology from the Rector of the Fine Art Academy.
NEW EPISODES OF VIOLENT REPRESSION IN BERLIN
Ahead of the 74th anniversary of the Nakba, the Berlin police prohibited public gatherings organised by civil society organisations in Berlin Jüdische Stimme für gerechten Frieden in Nahost, Palästina Spricht and Samidoun. They based their decision on unfounded allegations, using a language that amount to Anti-Palestinian racism. In the face of this imminent threat to the rights of freedom of expression and of association and the right of non-discrimination, the ELSC sent an urgent letter to the UN Special Rapporteurs on racism, on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly.
When individuals spontaneously took the streets of Berlin on the 15th of May, they were met with brutal police repression and disproportionate restriction on their fundamental freedoms. READ MORE about our request for accountability in relation to unjustified repression and violence from the Berlin police
Also read Human Rights Watch statement on the bans and the repression, by Omar Shakir.
In another violent episode, the site where a Palestinian artist collective is set to exhibit next month as part of art event Documenta 15 has been vandalised with hate speech by a far right anti-Muslim group. Read more here.
The art exhibition Documenta 15, happening this summer in Germany, has been under attack for several weeks already, after a group called the Alliance Against Anti-Semitism Kassel spread unfounded allegations of antisemitism against Palestinian participants, against the organisers and other participants who signed an open letter denouncing the German 2019 anti-BDS resolution as a threat to artistic freedom and freedom of speech. After those smears were picked up by national newspapers, the organisers have also been accused by the Central Council of Jews in Germany of not properly dealing with antisemitism. Nonetheless, they are resisting the smear campaign; read their open letter.
On the context in Germany, watch this new Al Jazeera documentary Germany, Anti-Semitism and the blacklisting of Palestinian journalists.
LEGAL VICTORY FOR ACTIVISTS IN STUTTGART AGAINST UNLAWFUL ATTEMPTS TO CLOSE THEIR BANK
In separate incidents in 2018 and 2022, the Stuttgart Palestine Committee faced undue interferences with its rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association, on the basis of its support for the BDS movement and following smear campaigns.
In a milestone ruling delivered on 26 April 2022 by the Regional Court of Stuttgart, attempts by the State Bank of Baden-Württemberg at financial deplatforming against Stuttgart Palestine Committee were found unlawful and the activists could retain access to their two bank accounts. The Court considered that:
- The Bank could not rely on the Bundestag anti-BDS resolution, as the resolution does not have any binding force;
- As a public-law institution, the Bank is bound to ensure respect for its customers’ fundamental rights;
- The Bank’s argument of threat of damage to its reputation does not hold ground and it must provide services to everyone equally.
This decision came less than one week after another legal victory for the Committee against the City of Stuttgart that had withdrawn its access to the Municipality’s website for the promotion of their activities.
TWO POSITIVE JUDGEMENTS IN FRANCE
On 5 May 2022, the French Court of Appeal of Lyon confirmed the acquittal of Olivia Zémor, issued last year by a French criminal court in Lyon. Olivia Zémor, the President of BDS group CAPJPO-EuroPalestine, was accused of incitement to discrimination and public defamation by pharmaceutical company Teva Santé because she amplified calls to boycott the company on EuroPalestine’s website.
Just like in the first instance, the Court of Appeal rejected both accusations and reiterated the legitimacy of the BDS (Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions) call and its protection as a form of expression, referring to the Baldassi case in its reasoning.
In two landmark rulings dated 29 April 2022, the French highest administrative court prevented the dissolution of the Comité Action Palestine (CAP) and the Collectif Palestine Vaincra (CPV).
French government had signed two governmental decrees on 9 March 2022, pronouncing the dissolution of the two Palestine solidarity groups, based on both groups’ alleged incitement to hatred, discrimination, or violence, as well as their supposed provocation to commit terrorist offences.
The Council of State rejected the unfounded allegations of antisemitism and support to terrorism made against the groups and determined that the decrees gravely violated the groups’ fundamental freedoms of association and of expression. It also confirmed the legitimacy of boycott calls.
PASSED AND COMING EVENTS
On the 24th of May, we intervened in the panel discussion organised by Student For Palestine in Leiden University. After having been censored by the University two months ago, Students for Palestine remain unsilenced and came back to campus with an in-person event on “Silencing Palestine”!
The panel discussed the obstacles of Palestinian resistance and advocacy in the Netherlands and beyond.
Thursday 30th June evening, Leonhard-Woltjer Stichting (LWS) and Een Ander Joods Geluid (A Different Jewish Voice) are holding a public event on “Silencing Palestinian voices: how Israel lobbies make it harder to speak up against Israel’s policies”, with the participation of Peter Beinart, Alice Garcia, Layla Kattermann and Itaï van de Wal. The panel will be moderated by Dr. Dina Zbeidy. Our report on the attempts to chill Palestinian rights advocacy in The Netherlands will be part of the discussion.
Join us and register by sending an email to email@example.com