German authority says dossier compiled on German-Palestinian smear target was lawful

Dania Akkad

Middle East Eye  /  June 22, 2022

Data authority rules that state-funded body acted lawfully when it produced and shared report about a German-Palestinian academic that saw her disinvited from event.

State-funded organizations acted lawfully when they compiled and shared a dossier about a GermanPalestinian academic with a political party that disinvited her from speaking at an event, Berlin’s Data Protection Authority (DPA) has ruled.

RIAS Berlin, an antisemitism research centre, and MBR, an organization monitoring far-right extremism, had “a legitimate interest in collecting and passing on information from public sources if this is done in pursuit of its own political goals” or to influence people as part of their work, DPA wrote in a ruling.

That stated purpose, RIAS Berlin and MBR’s parent organization told the DPA last month, was to identify the positions of Anna-Esther Younes, the disinvited academic, on Israel and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The data authority, as part of its ruling, also upheld the right of Younes, a scholar of critical race theory, to access her own data, finding that the organizations were not covered by exemptions for journalism or scientific work that would have allowed them to refuse to give her a copy of the dossier as they had for the past two years.

As a result, the DPA said it has issued a warning to Society for a Democratic Culture in Berlin (VDK), the umbrella organization overseeing RIAS and MBR. The ruling, made late last month, has not yet been made public, but Middle East Eye has seen a copy of the decision.

It’s the latest episode in Younes’ two-year battle to obtain a copy of the dossier that she and her lawyers say painted her as antisemitic and a terrorist sympathizer, and the compilation of which, they argue, amounted to surveillance.

She had been scheduled to speak in November 2019 on a panel in Berlin focused on strategies against far-right extremism, organized by Die Linke, Germany’s far-left political party. But after the two-page dossier was shared with Katina Schubert, head of Die Linke in Berlin, she was told her involvement was no longer welcome.

On Wednesday, her lawyers welcomed some of the DPA’s latest ruling but said they planned to appeal the decision.

“It is a relief that the DPA held RIAS/MBR accountable and recognized that organizations whose conduct amounts to surveillance cannot rely on false pretenses of journalism or scientific activity,” Giovanni Fassina, director of the European Legal Support Center (ELSC) which is assisting Younes with her legal action, said in a statement.

“Nevertheless, we deeply disagree with the DPA that RIAS/MBR’s preparation and transmission of the dossier was legitimate, as this resulted in significant damage to Dr Younes’ reputation, for which she is still paying a high price. That is why we will appeal the decision.”

Her pursuit of the case comes as Palestinian supporters in Germany, including activists, academics, artists, and writers, face increasing challenges to speaking out, particularly since the Bundestag’s 2019 passage of an anti-BDS resolution.

Last month, a German court ordered VDK to release any data it had collected about her, a ruling in a civil suit her lawyers say they filed earlier this year after waiting nearly two years without a ruling from DPA.

Dania Akkad is a senior investigations editor, focused on human rights, energy and technology