In recent years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has gained importance in the leftist scene in Berlin and also in parts of Berlin's club culture.
On the one hand, this is certainly due to the continuing insolubility of the conflict, the repeated failure of peace policy initiatives, and escalating violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories. On the other hand, increasing activities of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and similar groups such as PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) within a local context have led to the topic gaining attention. In the wake of this, ://about blank has also been strongly and repeatedly in the focus of these debates, for various reasons.
In September 2018, our cancellation of an event by Room 4 Resistance and our political argumentation for this move because of their support for the #djsforpalestine campaign and the call for a boycott of Israel generated a lot of encouragement, but also criticism. This dynamic could not be defused even by the joint statement of the ://about blank collective and Room 4 Resistance, which came about through the mediation of the party collective "Buttons".
In the summer of 2019, the "Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel" (PACBI) called for a boycott of the three left-wing venues Golden Pudel Club (Hamburg), Conne Island (Leipzig) and ://about blank, who are accused of "shameful complicity" with Israel.
In mid-May 2021, drastic antisemitic incidents occurred in Germany, for example in the form of attacks on synagogues or anti-Israel slogans at demonstrations addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In response, the initiative Artists Against Antisemitism, for example, published an appeal against all forms of antisemitism, while the alliance #wirlassenunsnichttrennen, an association of Jewish and Muslim initiatives, positioned itself against antisemitism as well as anti-Muslim racism and at the same time spoke out in favor of tolerating and recognizing different attitudes towards the “Middle East conflict”.
://about blank published a short social media post after the events that positioned itself against all forms of antisemitism and at the same time criticized the demonization of Israel as a "core element of left-wing antisemitism."
In June 2021, the party collective Buttons decided to end its long-standing cooperation with us and named in its statement, among other things, the club's "well known anti-German views" as a problem. In their statement, Buttons also referred to the Open Letter of the Berlin Nightlife Workers Against Apartheid with several hundred signatories, including some staff members of ://about blank.
Shortly before, ://about blank was listed on the "index.palestine" list as a "pro-Zionist" cultural institution. However, we are not aware of any connection with the Open Letter or the Buttons Statement.
In the aftermath of the Buttons Statement, there were several cancellations by DJs, with the result that two queer-feminist parties planned for July 2021 at ://about blank could not take place. From our point of view, it is as obvious as it is regrettable that these cancellations are related to the accusations against ://about blank, which were renewed and intensified by the statement of the Buttons crew. According to our assessment, the situation in the run-up to the parties was characterized by a strong polarization. From some of the participants we know that they were put under massive pressure. In the case of others, we can only speculate on whether their cancellations were politically motivated.
So far, we have not publicly commented on the accusations made by Buttons against ://about blank, because we wanted to give priority to an internal debate, determine our own positions, and begin a dialogue regarding the opinions within ://about blank, which are anything but uniform. In addition, we did not want to fuel the often exacerbated, unobjective and hurtful dynamics of social media debates.
In view of the massive insecurities among many organizers and artists, in view of the seriousness of the accusations and the devastating effects that the current controversy has on many of our promoters, but also on all those who work at ://about blank or are otherwise associated with this place, we now see ourselves called upon to explain ourselves, to position ourselves and to contradict these accusations.
On September 14, 2021, we had a first in-depth discussion of the topic with the panel discussion "Boycott on the Dancefloor - Club Culture and the Israel-Palestine Conflict”. DJ, journalist and writer Hengameh Yaghoobifarah discussed with Meron Mendel, director of the Anne Frank Educational Center, as well as Mohamed Ibrahim, trainer and consultant in conflict transformation and the Middle East conflict, moderated by Rosa Fava from ju:an, a youth work project against racism and antisemitism. Feel free to re-listen to the talk here: https://soundcloud.com/about-blank-berlin/boycott-on-the-dancefloor-clubkultur-der-israel-palastina-konflikt
Our statement as well as this FAQ have been developed with the involvement of the ://about blank Clubrat (our elected crew representation) as well as some representatives from various teams. In the run-up, we asked our promoters for feedback and talked to some of them more intensively. The whole crew of ://about blank had the opportunity to give feedback.
We would like to thank everybody who helped us directly or indirectly with this process for their valuable feedback, their criticism, their openness and their energy, which this exhausting process demands from all of us.
We are still available to all artists, promoters and all those who work with us for in-depth discussions, questions and explanations of this FAQ in a personal conversation.
://about blank opened in 2010 as a techno club and cultural center with a leftist identity in Berlin. We see ourselves as a place where good music, rave and excess come together with economical solidarity, critique of capitalism, feminism and climate justice as well as the fight against racism, antisemitism and discrimination against LGBTQ+.
://about blank is meant to be a place where all people, regardless of their appearance, preferences, origins, identity concepts or physical constitutions, can feel welcome and have a wonderful time.
Over the past ten years we have built a subcultural space that to this day provides an important platform and resources for queer-feminist, anti-fascist and anti-racist initiatives, for example via regular monthly benefit parties and fundraising campaigns, a consciously queer-feminist booking policy and deliberate queer-feminist empowerment in typically male dominated domains such as booking, bouncing and sound engineering.
://about blank also tries to achieve economical solidarity. This means, for example, that there is a standard wage: everyone gets the same wage per hour, regardless of whether they work as a bouncer, booker, cleaner, coat check attendant, bar person, or as a member of the collective. Nobody skims off the profits, and there are no shareholders. All money the club generates is used to pay wages or is reinvested in the club. We have no sponsors and don‘t do corporate event shit.
The founding collective of ://about blank came from the radical left in Germany, and has repeatedly experienced the destructive and explosive power that the debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can develop in the scene. Against this background and knowing that this conflict is too complex to take sides unambiguously, the club has avoided taking an unambiguous position on it from the very beginning.
At the same time, it has always been important for us to address and attack racism as well as antisemitism within the dominant German society, but also on the left.
"The 'Middle East conflict' cannot be solved on the dance floor" - this was and is ://about blank's stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a place where different, sometimes contradictory attitudes meet, there are many topics we do not agree on - this also applies to the assessment of Israeli and Palestinian politics.
Depending on our personal socialization or political positions, we have different attitudes toward the state of Israel, its history, social and political conditions, and government policies.
We also have varying views on what terms should be used to describe the policies of the Israeli government and Palestinian leadership organizations, how the political and military balance of power in this conflict should be assessed, and what the relationship is between the violent and military actions of those involved.
We have to put up with these different points of view because we do agree that even a techno club with political attitudes cannot be the place where a conflict as complex and charged as the one of Israel and Palestine is resolved.
What we also agree on: There are so many different perspectives, experiences and personal backgrounds in this conflict, from which Palestinians as well as Israelis suffer massively, that we think it would be wrong to take sides. We agree that Israelis and Palestinians are all victims of the situation and that they all should have the right to live freely, without fear and in peace.
://about blank does not define itself as an anti-Deutsch club or an anti-Deutsch collective - there are diverse views, opinions and voices at all levels. However, some people from the ://about blank collective and also from the crew have been involved in anti-Deutsch Antifa groups and movements.
In addition, ://about blank also includes many people without an anti-Deutsch background, people with a history of migration or flight, people with experiences of racism, homophobia or transphobia, anti-imperialists, autonomists from social movements, feminists, so-called "belly-leftists", humanists and people who do not describe themselves as political but have their hearts in the right place.
Some of us have had experiences with violent hatred of Israel on the German left in our individual activist biographies, and it is not only against this background that criticism of antisemitism, also coming from the left, is important to us. At the same time, we also see that remnants of the anti-Deutsch scene now hold racist and right-wing positions that we clearly reject.
Because we haven’t voiced any one-sided condemnation of Israel, have visibly positioned ourselves against the BDS campaign and have taken a stand against antisemitism in its various varieties, we are perceived as "pro-Israeli" or "pro-Zionist" and attacked by BDS groups for this. Sometimes false claims are made, for example that BDS-affiliated artists are not allowed to perform at ://about blank or that Palestinians are not allowed in the club.
No, we do not have a ban list of BDS-affiliated artists or promoters, nor have we banned them from performing. There is also no ban on people who support Palestinians or who address the undisputed suffering of Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Also, the rumors that we have canceled Palestinian artists is a false claim that is unfortunately currently being spread by some individuals on social media.
At our own events, our respective bookers decide independently and without any guidelines which artists they book. Our external promoters also decide independently on how to curate their program. However, what we as a club always insist on is that there should not be an exclusively white, cis-male line-up at parties that take place at ://about blank.
In fact, we have been repeatedly criticized by parts of the anti-Deutsch scene in Berlin for having given space to BDS positions at ://about blank at all, or for collaborating with party collectives or artists, some of whom also share BDS positions or take a very one-sided, anti-Israel position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Contrary to isolated false allegations, ://about blank has not dismissed any employees because they support BDS positions or boycotts against Israel. We employ people with a wide variety of backgrounds and political opinions. Some of them have also signed the Open Letter of the Night Life Workers Against Apartheid. We continue to work together in the workplace despite the differences that have come to light here, and we appreciate each other for the good cooperation.
Nevertheless: Our criticism of the BDS campaign to isolate Israel economically, culturally and politically, which we formulated back in 2018, still stands. We reject calls for boycotts against Israel because we do not see them as a helpful measure to support Palestinians, and we consider the BDS campaign to be structurally antisemitic. By structurally antisemitic, we mean that the logic of the campaign and its goals are capable of conveying and reinforcing antisemitic stereotypes and worldviews. This explicitly does not mean that we consider all supporters of the campaign to be antisemitic. However, especially in a German context, calls for a boycott against Israel promote the entire spectrum of modern antisemitism (FAQ 7 + 8).
The BDS movement depicts Israel as an overpowering, hostile entity: on the one hand, through an extremely one-sided historical interpretation of the founding of the state, and on the other hand, through a demonizing portrayal of its policies towards the Palestinians. Israel is portrayed as an expansive colonial state, branded as an apartheid state comparable to South Africa before 1994, and accused of ethnic cleansing. The core demands of the BDS movement are deliberately open to interpretation and can be connected to anti-Jewish agitation; there is no demarcation from the open antisemitism of Hamas, for example. At the end of the day, their aim is to end Israel as a Jewish state and they consider the entire territory of the state to be unjustly occupied. Accordingly, BDS supporters often show maps on which the entire Israeli territory is depicted as the land of the Palestinians to be liberated and shout the slogan "From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free". Parts of the BDS movement openly deny Israel's right to exist.
The BDS movement's actions against figures in the cultural scene have followed the same pattern for several years, using the means of deliberate provocation, scandalization, false allegations, and the targeting of individual institutions and the structures or individuals associated with them. In this way, those approaches to cultural policy that attempt to bring people together from various factions, to bring differing perspectives closer together, and to overcome mutual enemy stereotypes, are also repeatedly attacked.
A constructive, open and respectful dialogue is not possible with many BDS supporters. The effect this has on the cultural scene as well as on affected individuals, is a destructive, intimidating and anti-emancipatory one.
In September 2018, the BDS-affiliated #djsforpalestine campaign was launched on social media calling for a boycott of Israel. The queer feminist collective Room 4 Resistance, which previously hosted parties at ://about blank for several years, publicly supported and shared this campaign a few days before their next event with us. We were very surprised by this decision, as it was a departure from the previous practice of not speaking out about the Israel-Palestine conflict in the context of ://about blank.
A meeting with Room 4 Resistance on the day of the campaign launch to clarify the issue sadly failed to materialize. Our demand to withdraw support for the campaign was rejected by Room 4 Resistance. Because calls for a boycott of Israel, especially within a German context, were and are unacceptable to us, and because we felt strongly pressured by the escalating dynamics of the campaign to take a stand, we decided to cancel the Room 4 Resistance event that was to take place three days later at ://about blank. We gave detailed public reasons for our cancellation, triggering a broad and very divided response. The hurtful and polarizing dynamics of the following shitstorm shocked both Room 4 Resistance and us so much that we tried to defuse the situation with a joint statement.
Internally and externally, our decision to cancel at short notice triggered a lot of encouragement for our consistent behavior on the one hand. On the other hand, however, we also caused great anger, dismay and uncertainty. Afterwards, we had several conversations with the Room 4 Resistance collective and some of the artists affected by the cancellation in order to come to terms with what happened, to understand each other's positions and to reflect on what happened. Our offer to Room 4 Resistance to cover the artists' fees was not responded to. Unfortunately, we were not able to bridge the rift and the gap regarding our different positions in the course of these talks and to convince Room 4 Resistance to stay with their event series at ://about blank. With the departure to a new location, the Room 4 Resistance collective ended the talks with us until further notice.
With a panel discussion titled "the amplified kitchen - BDS & club culture" we tried in 2019 to shed light on the conflict that triggered this split and the positions and perspectives behind it from different angles.
We have repeatedly discussed and reflected on the cancellation decision in internal discussions as well as in numerous personal conversations over the past years. Within the collective, from the crew and on the part of our organizers there was staunch criticism of canceling the event of a queer-feminist party collective only because of their support for the #djsforpalestine campaign. Although many shared the substantive critique of the boycott campaign, our last-minute cancellation was perceived as too confrontational and polarizing from their point of view. The escalating spiral of boycott and counter-boycott or canceling was thus not broken, but continued.
We would not repeat our actions from 2018 in a comparable situation today.
We see today that we should not have let ourselves be driven by the polarizing dynamics of the campaign, but should have remained calm and taken our time to weigh up our further actions with all those affected, with our crew and also with our organizers - and especially with the Room 4 Resistance crew.
We did not see or consider the consequences that our rash actions could have for our staff, for the Room 4 Resistance crew and the artists involved in their event, for our organizers, and for the queer community. We did not reflect on the power imbalance that exists between us and the Room 4 Resistance collective and factor it into the decision.
Our findings also include that with our decision at the time we provided the campaign with the desired public scandal - and thereby also contributed to an escalation of the dispute. Ultimately, we brought massive attention to the #djsforpalestine campaign in the intended target group.
On the other hand, our criticism of the #djsforpalestine campaign and of the structurally antisemitic character of the BDS movement, formulated at that time, was widely received within the club scene and thus perceptibly contradicted BDS’ argumentation. On a substantial level, we stand by this view and continue to consider the approach of BDS to be incompatible with the positions of ://about blank.
In our collaboration with Room 4 Resistance and Buttons, we were always aware that we sometimes take very different and contradictory stances in our assessment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, at no point was this a reason for us to end our collaboration. It was always more important to focus on the common political and cultural overlaps. Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the unspoken agreement with Buttons and Room 4 Resistance was that neither we nor they would make any public unilateral statements about it. The compromise "We agree to disagree" seemed to us to be the most sensible and only possible way to prevent this charged debate from burdening our productive collaboration or making it impossible.
No. Until the summer of 2015, we asked our guests to leave their kufiya at the door for the duration of their visit. However, they were not denied entry to the club as a matter of principle.
The background of this policy was the importance that the so-called “Palituch” had in the early days of ://about blank in the German leftist scene. At that time, the kufiya was a very polarizing piece of clothing, perceived by some as an expression of the Palestinian liberation struggle and by others as an expression of aggressive hostility towards Israel. The latter was also justified at the time by the sometimes physically violent attacks by German anti-imperialist leftists, for example on the fringes of demonstrations at which the Israeli flag was displayed. Last but not least, since the 1990s the kufiya has also been increasingly worn by Nazis, who have used it to express their rejection of Israel and the Jewish population in Israel and in Germany. Against this background, we had decided against wearing the kufiya within our premises.
We rescinded this policy more than six years ago after a process of joint reflection. The decisive factor for this change was that, on the one hand, the kufiya was often worn purely as a fashion accessory and had thus lost its political charge. Through a broader internationalization of our guests over the years, who are not part of the German inner-left conflict, our perspective on the kufiya has broadened. We have since recognized that there are very different individual reasons for wearing it. These can be biographically based or also convey a political stance without the person wanting to make a provocative statement against Israel. It seems important to us to keep the space for debate open, to further develop our positions, and we also trust our guests to engage in respectful political debate with each other and with us.
In our view, criticism of Israel is not automatically antisemitic. Inside and outside Israel, there are numerous progressive Jewish and non-Jewish voices that rightly criticize Netanyahu's right-wing conservative, religious government, the Israeli occupation and settlement policy, the shift to the right in Israeli society, and racism within Israeli society. And criticizing Israel-related antisemitism does not, of course, preclude recognizing and standing up for the human rights and legitimate interests of Muslims and/or the Palestinian people.
However, we consider it problematic that criticism of Israel's policies is often used to legitimize antisemitic positions, to question Israel's right to exist, and that there is a danger of this criticism turning into blind hatred against Israelis and/or Jews.
Worldwide, including in Germany, Jewish communities hold the view that attacks on the national right of self-determination of Jews or on Israel's right to exist are antisemitic. The state of Israel is understood as a consequence of the antisemitic history of persecution and extermination, and as the central place of contemporary Jewish life on earth. In comparison with other collectives and states, Israel is to receive equal treatment and not to be measured with double standards.
The attitudes of many Germans toward Israel continue to be characterized by the denial of guilt and antisemitism. Numerous studies on antisemitism in Germany show, on the one hand, that classic, open hatred of Jews is still shared by only about 10% of the population. On the other hand, so-called secondary and Israel-related antisemitism are widespread within the dominant German society. For example, Israel's policies are repeatedly used to justify violence and hatred against Jews, and Israel's treatment of Palestinians is compared to the Holocaust. (See, for example, the so-called Mitte Studies of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation).
Criticism of Israel in the German public sphere always also has an exonerating function for the dominant society in Germany: German Nazi crimes are partly relativized and partly rationalized through a rhetorical perpetrator-victim reversal, in order to no longer stand in the way of the Germans' need for a positive, normalized German identity. For the same motives, large sections of the German right attack the ongoing discussion of the crimes of National Socialism as a "cult of guilt" and welcome any questioning of the singularity of the Holocaust because it helps them pursue their nationalist agenda.
In our view, the state's politics of remembrance, the ceremonial speeches against antisemitism and on the state of German-Israeli friendship also serve primarily to exonerate the Germans: The German "theater of memory" (Michal Bodemann) is primarily intended to demonstrate the reparation of the Germans; Jews must thereby serve as witnesses for the purification process of German perpetrators and their descendants. Accordingly, there is an increasing number of occasions on which extremists of the so-called center instrumentalize accusations of antisemitism.
At the same time, racist attitudes in dominant German society continue to increase and become more and more acceptable in the political discourse. The ostensible condemnation of anti-Jewish acts is combined with racist projections, especially those directed against Muslims, such as talk of the allegedly "imported" antisemitism of migrants.
Here, antisemitism is outsourced and presented as a problem of the supposed "others", the "strangers" who are seen as not belonging to the German, white dominant culture. This not only trivializes or even completely denies the antisemitism of the dominant German society, but at the same time stirs up anti-Muslim resentment and racism against immigrants.
It is and remains important to us to name and fight antisemitism as well as racism within a German context, and to think about the specifics of this context. Antisemitism and racism must not be played off against each other, but must be understood and fought as different relations of oppression in their respective specificity and in their interconnections.
The left is not free of antisemitism either. Rather, it has a long tradition of antisemitism, which is expressed in certain forms of anti-Zionism, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism and hostility toward Israel.
Against the background of the Shoah, the majority of the German left initially supported the establishment of a Jewish state. In the context of the Six-Day War in 1967, however, this changed and the majority of the left now opposed the "Zionist occupying state", which was seen as the highest form of U.S. imperialism and colonialism. In combination with a truncated critique of capitalism, parts of the left were also receptive to antisemitic conspiracy narratives, such as that of "Zionist world domination" or "Jewish finance."
To this day, these ideas continue to shape parts of the left. Israel is demonized as a racist colonial state, which is often used as a projection screen for all evil. For Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, leftists also repeatedly draw comparisons to the Holocaust, which is thereby relativized.
Violence by Palestinian actors, for example in the context of the Intifada, is glorified as revolutionary, anti-colonial resistance, while murders and assassinations are de-thematized. Antisemitism and the permanent threat to Jewish life all over the world are also not sufficiently mentioned. Left-wing anti-racist and/or queer-feminist groups claim to be against antisemitism in their statements and calls for demonstrations. However, on closer inspection, it does not go beyond this mere declaration of intent. Antisemitism is neither named more concretely nor defined more precisely. It is often presented as a sub-form of racism, whereby the specific conspiracy character of the antisemitic worldview is lost. Zionism, on the other hand, is equated with racism, so that only those who take a clear anti-Zionist position are recognized as anti-racist and leftist.
The reference to Jewish activists in their own ranks often serves to deflect criticism of antisemitism. In this way, individual Jewish activists are made into key witnesses for a certain political orientation, which is firstly presented as the only legitimate one and which secondly cannot be antisemitic at all, since it is, after all, supported by Jews.
The basis of this activism is often a simplified worldview that follows a binary “friend-foe” logic and divides the world into “oppressors” and “oppressed”. Anyone who does not clearly side with the “oppressed” and takes a stand against Israel as the “oppressor” is denounced as racist and fascist. Criticism and discussion of content are fended off and not infrequently discredited as “silencing” supposedly progressive Jewish and Palestinian voices.
Against this background, we criticize when activists use highly charged buzzwords such as "genocide", "apartheid" or "ethnic cleansing" to characterize Israel's policy towards the Palestinians. We see this as a defamatory, relativizing application of analytical terms from other contexts, which are not only wrongly chosen because they ignore the mutual experiences of flight and expulsion during the founding of the state of Israel and the situation of the Palestinians in the Arab states, but also do not do justice to existing discrimination and inequalities. Israel is stigmatized with these analytically untenable but morally powerful labels and thus constructed as an “enemy”.
This hostile image of Israel brings about otherwise unimaginable alliances, when left-wing or queer groups march together with Turkish Grey Wolves, Erdogan supporters and Hamas fans on demonstrations. Here, groups with an emancipatory goal gather together with reactionary to fascist groups under the common concern of supposed “criticism of Israel” - a concern that turns into open antisemitism in the chanted demo slogans of “child murderer Israel”.
When journalists present at the Internationalist Queer Pride for Liberation in 2021, organized among others by BDS-Berlin, are insulted, threatened and in one case physically attacked as “Zionist press”, this shows how this hostile image also turns against critical journalists.
The fact that Jews are only allowed to feel welcome in some queer, intersectional spaces if they make a clear commitment against the state of Israel, and that this compulsion is not critically questioned, is a bitter result of this construction of the hostile image.
Furthermore, we also criticize that despite all justified criticism of the Israeli government, the role and responsibility of Hamas in Gaza or Fatah in the West Bank for the suffering of the Palestinian population is usually not addressed to the same extent or not at all, even by left-wing, queer activists, but rather is often hushed up or at least played down - not to mention the situation of Palestinians in the neighboring Arab states.
Against the simplifications and simplistic images of the perceived enemy Israel, we hold on to the idea that it is possible to understand antisemitism and racism as independent power relations and to fight them without playing them off against each other. It is necessary to see, reflect and criticize racism as well as antisemitism within left contexts. And it is possible to show solidarity and empathy with Palestinians and Israelis affected by the situation, with Muslim and Jewish people at the same time, i.e. not to be obliged to adopt a “pro” or “anti” position.
We have sorted the following texts thematically, although there are sometimes overlaps in content.