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Germany: Berlin women's centre closed over staff members' pro-Palestine activism

A Berlin district council cracks down on queer-feminist association Frieda, citing Israel's 'right to self-defence'
Police officers guard the entrance to a Palestine conference in Berlin on 12 April 2024 (AFP)
By Pauline Ertel in Berlin

Germany has terminated the contracts of a Berlin-based women's centre, citing pro-Palestine solidarity among its board members and Israel's "right to self-defence", amid a growing crackdown on civil society support for Palestine.

Founded in 1990, the Frieda Frauenzentrum identifies as a queer-feminist organisation, and as a space to provide support for women in difficult life circumstances.

Its services include free counselling, sports events and activities such as reading circles, cooking events and discussion rounds. 

Last week, the board members of Frieda received a letter from the district councillor of Berlin's Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Max Kindler, informing them of the "extraordinary termination with immediate effect" of the service contracts for the organisation's two centres, Alia and Phantalisa, in Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, by the youth welfare office.

Frieda is financed by Berlin's Senate Department for Labour, Social Affairs, Equality, Integration, Diversity and Anti-Discrimination, the district office, and the youth welfare office. The youth welfare office was not informed of the decision to shutter it in advance.

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In the letter, Kindler, who worked as an investigator at the State Office of Criminal Investigation prior to assuming office as district councillor, provided three reasons for the closure of Frieda's facilities.

First, two board members were allegedly seen at Palestine solidarity vigils in October last year, "seeking a targeted confrontation with the police forces as representatives of the state", according to the letter. 

The second reason alleges that Shokoofeh Montazeri, one of Frieda's board members, had shared antisemitic content on social media.

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"As a result of the Hamas attack on Israel and the resulting exercise by Israel of its right of self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter against the Palestinian territories controlled by Hamas, Ms. Montazeri has since posted various pro-Palestinian statements on her Instagram account, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist statements against Israel," the letter reads. 

The third reason pertains to Montazeri's participation as a speaker at Berlin's Palestine Congress, which was scheduled to be held last week.

Two hours into the conference - which had been branded by German media as an antisemitic "hate summit", a "congress of Jew haters" and a "shame" for Berlin - the police shut it down.

Germany even denied prominent British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu Sittah, who was scheduled to speak at the congress, entry into the country.

Middle East Eye reached out to Frieda Frauenzentrum for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Outrage from all sides

The incident has sparked a wave of outrage among Frieda's members and supporters, as well as Berlin's district councils. 

"We find the fact that our employees are being monitored on their private social media profiles and that the exercise of fundamental rights outside of their working hours, e.g. participation in demonstrations, is being profiled and apparently criminalized, worrying and calls into question the very democratic values to which we are committed in our work both as an association and as social workers", said a statement released by Frieda in response to the closure.

Various district council politicians have called into question the validity of Kindler's unilateral decision.

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"Kindler should have at least informed the youth welfare committee," Rene Jokisch, the parliamentary group leader of the Left Party in the district council, told the Berlin-based news outlet Taz

Jokisch said the accusations listed in the letter were "too vague" and the accused should have been spoken to and heard by a committee. 

"We are shocked: On the one hand, about the spying on employees' private Instagram accounts. On the other hand, the responsible district councillor only needs defamatory press reports to end years of cooperation with the youth welfare office from one day to the next without prior notice and to order the closure of the two facilities," Frieda's statement continues. 

The closure of facilities is the latest incident in a series of repressive measures by the German state against acts of solidarity with Palestine. Last month, a state-owned bank in Germany froze the bank account of a Jewish anti-Zionist organisation. 

Last week, the Berlin resident Udi Raz, an Israeli who helped organise the Palestine Congress, lost his job for referring to Israeli "apartheid" and has since been branded an antisemite. 

Since Israel's onslaught on Gaza, more than 34,262 Palestinians have been killed, with at least 77,229 wounded and an estimated 7,000 missing. 

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