Middle East

German-Palestinian academic wins case against state-backed ‘profiling’ of Israel critics 

A Berlin court has ruled in favour of German-Palestinian academic Dr Anna-Esther Younes and ordered a state-funded body to release a secret dossier compiled by the pro-Israel group which painted the scholar of critical race theory as an anti-Semite. The Society for a Democratic Culture in Berlin (VDK) was ordered to disclose to Younes a dossier that it had complied about her, how it was processed and with whom it was shared, according to a 6 May judgement by the Berlin District Court.

In November 2019, the Berlin Department for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism (RIAS), a project run by the VDK, prepared a secret file that is alleged to have patched together distorted selections of Younes’s writings to defame her by distorting her scholarly work. The secret dossier painted Younes as anti-Semitic and a terrorist sympathiser. It was shared with the head of German’s far-left party, Die Linke, in Berlin and circulated to politicians and event organisers in order to exclude her from a public debate on racism and right-wing extremism in Germany and ultimately to damage her career. She was disinvited from a 2019 speaking engagement.

Over the past two years Younes has been seeking answers about the secret dossier, and filed a lawsuit against the pro-Israel group. Speaking to Middle East Eye (MEE), Younes said that it was “a shame” that she had to file a lawsuit to have her rights recognised. “At least it has now been confirmed by the court,” she said. “But I would like to stress again that RIAS/MBR denied me my right to information for more than two years — 26 months in total.”

READ: Berlin court upholds ban on Palestinian ‘Nakba Day’ demonstrations

She mentioned a second pro-Israel group involved in compiling the secret dossier, Mobile Counselling Against Right-Wing Extremism Berlin. RIAS Berlin and MBR, she said, have now given her access to the dossier that she and her lawyers already knew existed, but she stressed that it may reveal only some of the data that they have on her. “That means we will continue with our case from here and take it to the next level. It’s not over yet. We are trying to set a precedent here for something that has been going on way too long.”

The compilation of a secret dossier on Younes is not an isolated case, say her lawyers. They have warned that her case is just one example of the repressive atmosphere in Germany in recent years targeting pro-Palestinian activists and academics, especially since 2019 when the Bundestag passed a resolution condemning the popular, non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Germany’s adoption of the highly controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism is also said to have created a culture of hostility and given licence to pro-Israel groups to smear critics of the apartheid state.

“This is an important victory because organisations using the IHRA definition for the surveillance of Palestinian rights advocates will be required to provide access to the information they collect on individuals,” said Giovanni Fassina, the director of the Amsterdam-based European Legal Support Centre (ELSC) which is assisting Younes with her legal action. “We believe this is not an isolated case and that there is a structural issue of profiling Palestinians and Palestinian rights advocates in Germany. This is what we intend to challenge further in court because it has a dangerous potential to create a chilling effect and limit democratic participation in public debate.”

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