German police remove pro-Palestinian students from campus meeting

The main building of the University of Münster (Wikimedia)

Hebh Jamal

Mondoweiss  /  December 15, 2021

German police removed a campus Palestinian advocacy group from a student government meeting after the pro-Palestinian students staged a protest over a bill that prevented students who support BDS from renting rooms at the university.

On November 22, German police removed a campus Palestinian advocacy group, Palästina Antikolonial, from a student government meeting after the pro-Palestinian students staged a protest over a bill that prevented students who support the BDS movement from renting rooms at the university. The showdown at the University of Münster’s student parliament, or StuPa, session centered around an event that was scheduled to take place this week, “The BDS Debate and the German Left.” 

The measure to block room rentals for Palästina Antikolonial, ended up passing by a vote of 20 to 2. Yet what has sparked the most controversy is that the vote happened after the pro-Palestinian students were pulled out of the room. Following a delay in discussing the room rental bill, not wanting to wait, the pro-Palestinian students interrupted the meeting by reading from the statements they prepared to share had the motion been brought to the agenda. A member of StuPa then called the police.

“We decided against waiting and instead we read our prepared statement which was an open letter from 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars to the federal government, warning against equating BDS with antisemitism,”  Palästina Antikolonial told Mondoweiss. “Respect for fellow students obviously ends when it comes to students that are in solidarity with Palestine.”

“Of course they have their rules and regulations, but that’s exactly the point. Our institutions and student bodies use these rules to disrespect and discriminate against us” said Palästina Antikolonial.

Notes of the meeting released by StuPa referred to Palastina Antikolonial as a “threat to the Jewish students at the University of Münster,” and asked the university to disallow them from hosting events. StuPa President Leonie Bronkalla said after the event that as the head of the student government, she is allowed “to exclude people from the meeting if the meeting is disrupted – so much so that it can no longer be held,” reported Radio Q, the campus radio station. First, Bronkalla said “we called the caretaker and he couldn’t kick four or five people out on his own,” and next she “asked for police help.” 

In response, an executive body in the student government, AStA, told Mondoweiss that although the police came, the students “were not thrown out aggressively.” Radio Q reported no one was arrested and no crime had occurred. 

“We can understand that the situation was triggering for BIPoC but in this certain case, there was no violence coming from the police or racism from the parliament” AStA said.

Yet Palästina Antikolonial countered, “To say there was no violence coming from the police is pure ignorance of what police institutions embody.” 

“It is either we leave on our own accord, or the alternative is they make us leave,” he added. That is what police exist for: committing violence or threatening you with violence to enforce the demands of structurally racist institutions.”

Since the creation of Palästina Antikolonial in 2020, the University of Münster’s student-run executive and legislative bodies set forth multiple motions and resolutions that lobbied the university administration to prohibit pro-Palestinian advocacy on campus.

A blanket anti-BDS resolution was passed earlier this year, which barred pro-Palestinian student groups from official recognition and prevents them from receiving any funding from the university. As a student run body StuPa cannot control what events students have on campus, but the parliament passed a measure in July to pressure the university to prevent room rental. The parliament has since affirmed the measure every term, and November’s meeting was the latest instance 

A similar resolution from July 2021  reads:

“Groups or individuals who demonstrably support or positively refer to the BDS movement, who position themselves against Israel’s right to exist or defend itself, who stand in solidarity with or are part of the Palästina Antikolonial’ group, or who advocate terrorist violence against Israel may not receive any honoraria, expense allowances, project funding, or other funds from the budget of the constituted student body. Likewise, the Constituted Student Body shall not provide rooms to, or make room reservations for, those groups or individuals or events in which those groups or individuals participate.” 

The November 22nd agenda item was therefore just a part of the consistent application and reaffirmation of the anti-Palestinian rules and regulations that exist among German universities. “The move to specifically name us and continuously try to take rooms away from us is simply an effort to defame us as antisemites” said Palästina Antikolonial. 

Days after the vote, the group Studis gegen rechte Hetze from another German university, the Goethe Univeristy Frankfurt, were denied a room for a screening of “Zur Zeit der Verleumder” (“At a Time of Slanderers”), a film about the discussion of Palestine in Germany. The reasoning, the university student council claimed, was purely bureaucratic- the group, however, believes the move to be political and intentional. 

“The university council consistently holds racist events against postcolonial studies, Black Lives Matter and against Islam” Studis gegen rechte Hetze said in a statement. “We are outraged that we as students have to not only see that university spaces are used for racist purposes but now we are also deprived of student spaces focused on Palestinian solidarity and anti-racism.” 

In June 2019, German student unions and groups consisting of broad political factions such as the Green Party, Social Democrats, and Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, came together and passed their own resolution condemning the BDS movement and stating that they would not engage in any sort of cooperation with BDS supporters. The resolution called BDS “a particularly aggressive expression of antisemitism for which there can be no room at German universities.” 

A month earlier, the German Bundestag with a broad majority adopted the “Resisting the BDS Movement with Determination-Combating Antisemitism” motion that condemns the BDS movement as antisemitic and demands that governmental bodies and municipalities neither support nor grant public space to any organization that adopts BDS. 

Shortly after, the German Rectors’ Conference- the association of public and government-recognized universities in Germany supported the resolution and adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s controversial working definition of antisemitism, which conflates criticism of Israel for antisemitism.

“Student parliaments reinforce the mainstream decisions that universities as an institution are already taking,” Palästina Antikolonial said. “The highest level of governance says BDS is antisemitic, therefore these students are simply taking their orders from the top and refuse to discuss it with the entire student body.” 

“There are many faculty members, professors, and students within the university that want to show their solidarity with us, but because of the immense censorship that exists within our institutions, they are simply afraid of outwardly expressing their support,” they added. 

An example is when the same student parliament and AStA targeted an empowerment workshop for BIPOC students due to the participation of sociologist Dr. Natasha Kelly. AStA sent Kelly a questionnaire, that activists have denounced as “inquisitorial and authoritarian” to determine whether she is antisemitic upon learning that she signed an open letter last May calling for Israel to be investigated by the ICC for events in Gaza. 

They asked Kelly to instead distance herself from pro-Palestinian organizations such as Palestine Speaks or Jewish Voice for Peace if she wanted the hold the workshop as planned. Kelly refused.

The anti-Zionist Jewish organization, Juedische Stimme, in a statement claimed that these actions by the University of Münster’s AStA were an attempt “by a group from the white majority society to drive a wedge between groups of minorities in order to be able to maintain their rule in a time of increasing solidarity between BLM, Palestine solidarity and Jewish emancipation movements.” 

Although prevented from hosting events on campus, students with Palästina Antikolonial are not giving up. “We still have no choice but to go to the StuPa meetings again and again when attempts are made to pass inhuman, unconstitutional, and defamatory decisions about us or about BDS and the Palestinian human rights and resistance movement,” Palästina Antikolonial said. “We do this not only for the rights of our group but for any student or student group that wants to show solidarity with the Palestinian cause,” they said.

Hebh Jamal is a writer who advocates against education inequality, Islamophobia, and the occupation of Palestinians