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Student Movement in Germany takes Call for Free Palestine to the Campuses

After a wave of protest camps at universities in the United States rocked the country, protest camps and university occupations have also started at campuses all over Germany in the last couple of weeks. While the police violently dispersed some campus protests in Germany, others were able to uphold their encampments on university grounds.

At the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, pro-Palestine students set up a camp last week under the name “Hind’s Garden” in honor of Hind Rajab, a six-year-old Palestinian girl who was murdered by the Israeli military in the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Although the university tried to ban the camp, the court upheld the right of the students to keep their camp at the university for a week. The protest camp at “Hind’s Garden” was accompanied by a racist smear campaign by the university management and bourgeois media, who depicted the students as “terrorist sympathizers” who were posing a threat.

The demands of the students at “Hind’s Garden” to the university management entailed an end to the criminalization and defamation of pro-Palestinian voices, an apology by the university management for the defaming the protest camp, an end to the IHRA-definition of Antisemitism, and end to the equation of Antisemitism and Antizionism at the university; opening up spaces for academic debate on BDS; interdisciplinary research by students and researchers on various aspects of the ongoing genocide in Gaza.

While the students in Frankfurt were able to uphold their encampment, attempts to occupy campuses at universities in Berlin have been faced with brute force by the state.

An attempt to occupy the Freie University in Berlin on May 7th was violently dispersed after a few hours when the university management called the police to evacuate the camp. A Germany-wide open letter by academics criticizing the university administration for calling the police on students was smeared as “anti-Semitic” not just by the mainstream press but also by the German Minister of Education herself.

Another attempt to occupy Humboldt University in Berlin last week was more successful. This time, students barricaded themselves in one of the university buildings, calling it the “Jabalia Institute.” The university management allowed the students to stay overnight. However, the next day, the mayor of Berlin, Kai Wegner, from the Christian Democrats (CDU), and the Senator for Academic Affairs, Ina Czybolla, from the Social Democrats (SPD), demanded that the University management call in the police to clear the camp.

The demands of the students at Humboldt University to the university administration were more abstract than those proposed by the students in Frankfurt, calling to take action to stop the genocide in Palestine by all possible means: entirely boycott Israel academically and culturally, protect academic freedom, and stop repressions against students; recognize Germany’s colonial legacy.

Overall, the student protests in Germany have been an important aspect that attempts to disrupt “business as usual” at German universities over seven months into an ongoing genocide in Gaza that the German state is complicit in and which German academia has widely stayed silent on. Challenges that the pro-Palestine movement is confronted with, in general, regarding state repressions, criminalization, and police violence, have also hit the student movement on the campuses. Simultaneously, as can be seen by the discrepancies in demands by different student groups, many challenging questions of tactics and strategy continue to unfold. Concrete demands like opening up spaces on campus to discuss BDS or getting rid of the IHRA definition of Antisemitism are points that students can win over other students on and raise consciousness. Such tangible demands also give the students leverage vis a vis the university administration on the grounds of freedom of expression.

The student movement in Germany has made a brave step forward to bring the call for a free Palestine to the university campuses. Despite vicious smear campaigns by bourgeois media as well as university administrations, students continue to stand up against the genocide in Gaza, as well as the German state’s complicity in aiding and abetting the ongoing slaughtering of over 35.000 Palestinians in Gaza. In general, the student movement in Germany and the pro-Palestine movement must now build broad alliances based on a united front. This means mobilizing on common ground with key demands to build up pressure and reach as many people as possible.

Polls continue to show that over 60 percent of people in Germany are against Israel’s actions in Gaza. Through mechanisms of smearing all pro-Palestine actions as “terrorist sympathizers” and “anti-semites,” German bourgeois media is, of course, able to deter many people from joining protests or raising their voices for Palestine. The ferocity of the German state’s repressions against the pro-Palestine movement shows that the fear that 60 percent of the population will rise is very real. Thus, pro-Palestine activists must try to mobilize the masses onto the streets and continue to push the struggle forward.