E&M Antonia Scholz, reflects the absence of German climate activists’ response to the atrocities in Palestine and its implications within the European climate justice movement.

German climate activists, where are you?

October 2023 marks the beginning of a new wave of atrocities of the Israeli state on the Palestinian people. Israeli statements from last autumn, such as “We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly” soon escalated into the Israeli government mass-starving, displacing, and carpet-bombing the Palestinian population, deliberately killing around thirty thousand people in five months. While the majority of Western governments, educational institutions, and media outlets have been accused by scholars and activists of complicity with brutal Israeli policies towards the Palestinian people, grassroots activist movements have constituted a much-needed counterforce to disinformation, and emerging anti-Muslim racism in Europe. As one would expect from the climate justice movement, groups under the umbrella of Fridays for Future (FFF) International have collectively signaled solidarity with the Palestinian cause, based on the movements´ common denominators of decolonization, anti-racism, and opposition to apartheid and systemic oppression. There is, however, one exception to this response: Fridays for Future Germany.

On the 19th of October 2023, FFF International called for a global general strike as part of “a day of protest against repressive state terror against Palestinians worldwide”. Here, FFF International stated that “Indigenous sovereignty is now more essential than ever, as we face the greatest existential threat of humankind -with the scientific power to stop it- occupation, land grab, settlements, concrete walls, apartheid against our only hope. (…) We will dismantle not only this textbook colonialism seen in Palestine but all around the world in different forms and intensities, guaranteeing ourselves a livable scenario of the IPCCs (…). This is genocide.” Meanwhile, FFF Germany stayed silent until the branch publicly distanced itself from the wider movement on the 26th of October: “No, the international account speaks, as previously reiterated, not for us. No, the post is not synchronized with us. No, we do not agree with its contents.”

Why Palestine is a climate justice issue

Decolonization, according to Fridays for Future International, constitutes a crucial aspect of the fight against climate catastrophe”, since “there is no climate justice under colonial occupations”.  Indeed, genocidal war pollutes, deforests, and destroys land and wildlife, increases levels of CO2 and methane, and degrades the soil: a study by the Social Science Research Network (2023) shows that the first months of the unlawful killings have produced more planet-warming gases than twenty Global South nations do in a year, and can be attributed to Israel´s bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza. The military destruction that we have seen throughout the last months will persist in the soil, the sea, and the bodies of the people in the affected areas. Beyond any material impact of the unlawful killings on the state of the climate crisis, what is at the core of climate justice is the opposition to any social injustice or oppression which must include the oppression of the Palestinian people.

Unsurprisingly, the murder of the Palestinian people has been a crucial issue during the last annual 28th Council of Parties of the United Nations. More than a hundred climate justice activists traveled to Dubai last winter, calling out the fossil fuel lobby, corporations, and heads of government for their complicity in Israeli war crimes. Yet, the German delegation to COP28 was missing from the action calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Instead, the delegation gathered in a small group for an action calling on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to adopt a 100 Billion euro special climate fund to implement nationwide measures and close emission gaps in Germany. Given that Germany´s arms sales to Israel have increased nearly tenfold in 2023, demanding a redistribution of money spent on military supplies to finance a just energy transition, could be a good start – but this has not yet seemed to occur to the German delegation.

The German-Israeli special relationship and the antisemitism-problem

The German climate activists´ (lack of) response to their government´s complicity in the murder of the Palestinian people may be concerning to some, yet, let´s be frank, it does not come as a surprise. With the establishment of the German-Israeli special relationship after World War II, German institutional pro-Israel bias manifested in its political system. Fridays for Future Germany and the delegation of climate activists to COP28 may be the best example of how institutional pro-Israel bias in Germany, at this point, has trickled down even into grassroots movements.

It´s no secret that Germany, after having committed the Holocaust, had to urgently redeem itself after World War II, to reestablish itself in the international community. Part of Germany´s redemption efforts consisted of the establishment of the German-Israeli special relationship. The significance of such bilateral relations nowadays is reflected in the high institutionalization and frequency of political interactions, as well as in Germany being the most important supplier of weapons to Israel, and the most important trading partner overall. There is also collaboration in education and research, as well as a broad range of well-developed partnerships in civil society, such as the German-Israeli society. Youth exchanges – as a personal anecdote, I remember my German high school considering going on a government-funded study trip to Tel Aviv in my twelfth year – are thus supposed to foster learning and personal connections between German and Israeli students.

With Israeli affirmations of the special quality of German-Israeli relations, Germany´s contested post-war identity up until this day is dependent on external validation from Israel. However, “We are not dealing with a quid pro quo. Nobody is saying to the Germans: You pay us, we forgive you”, stated Goldmann, the President of the World Jewish Congress in 1952. On a societal level, this means, that there is simply no space for Palestine solidarity because Palestine solidarity is not in Israel´s best interest. A good institutional strategy to keep the voices that call out Israeli war crimes in check is to label any critique of Israeli state actions as “antisemitic”. This strategy seems to work out well, since, given German historical guilt, the worst thing one can be accused of in this country, is to be antisemitic. Unfortunately, labeling critiques on Israel as “antisemitic” does anything but counter the actual antisemitism that is not only confined to right-wing spaces, as party politics and media want us to believe but is a German historical and structural issue.

Goodbye Greta, Hello Islamophobia?

While structural German antisemitism is real, so is the fear of being accused of it, and FFF Germany is not exempted from that. After Greta Thunberg, arguably the most known Fridays for Future activist, had expressed her solidarity with the Palestinian cause, the German branch of FFF was accused of antisemitism in multiple big German newspapers, publishing headlines like “´Fridays for Future in the conspiracy loop. Attention, brainwashing´”, “Antisemitism in Fridays for Future – is doing things with Greta still okay?” and “Fridays for Future: who is behind the Jew-hatred posts”. Accordingly, Luisa Neubauer, the face of the German branch of FFF, has distanced herself from Greta Thunberg, “after cases of antisemitism”. Unfortunately, while “antisemitism”, at least officially, has no place anymore in FFF Germany anymore, space is made for anti-Muslim and Arab sentiments, leading to alienation within the movement.

Elisa Baş is a Muslim climate justice activist from Hamburg and was, up until recently, the international spokesperson for FFF Germany. She caught the Springer Press´, one of Germany´s biggest media outlets, attention, after having called out Josef Schuster, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany for using the racist term “barbarians” to describe Arab-looking protestors at a Palestine solidarity demo. Elisa Baş, despite having taken a clear stance against antisemitism previously, called for solidarity within the climate movement, after she had been labeled antisemitic by the Springer-Press in multiple headlines and articles following her criticism of Schuster´s words. FFF Germany, however, shared after multiple requests from the media that neither does the movement stand with Elisa Baş´s claims, nor would she currently function as a national spokesperson. At least online, we haven´t seen Elisa Baş in the context of FFF Germany ever since.

As it seems, FFF Germany is currently haltering international efforts for working towards climate justice by interrupting effective networking with other movements in being complicit with Germany´s support of Israel. While working with the (German) system might be effective at times, such a strategy becomes morally questionable when it leads not only to exclusion internally but to complicity with the Israeli state’s murder of the Palestinian people, externally. With its failure to acknowledge Palestine as a climate justice issue, Fridays for Future Germany has missed its last chance to be part of the (German) opposition to complicity in genocide. Even worse than that, it has also missed the point of what it means to be a climate justice grassroots movement: that is, to stand in resistance to governing institutions in situations of injustice.

Cover photo: Wschód

  • retro

    Originally from a small town in Southern Germany, Antonia is currently based in Amsterdam studying Political Science. Next to reading critical theory, you can also find her at protests or dancing to electronic music.

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