Germany’s Anti-Palestine Witch Hunt Is Targeting Jews Too

In Germany, tabloid Bild is leading a campaign to name and shame pro-Palestine activists. H. P. Loveshaft, a Jewish drag king and protester who faced a wave of abuse after a Bild hit piece, tells Jacobin how his identity has been weaponized against him.

Police confront pro-Palestine protesters on April 26, 2024, in Berlin, Germany. (Sean Gallup / Getty Images)

On February 12, Der Spiegel, one of the largest news magazines in Germany, published a video titled “Protests Against Jews.” Its focus was a pro-Palestine protest at the Free University (FU), Berlin’s largest such institution. The video opens with a rainbow-haired man throwing water from a beer bottle at the cameraman and shouting, “Bitte schön, f*** off!”

“The leader of the protest calls himself H. P. Loveshaft, identifies as trans, uses the pronouns he/it, and quote ‘came eye to eye with the cosmic anus,'” the narrator grimly intones, while photos of H. P. in drag taken from his Instagram and website scroll across the screen.

On May 21, Bild — a Berlin-based tabloid with a higher circulation than any other newspaper in Europe — printed an article identifying what it called “The Hard Core of Israel Haters.” In it appear the faces and names of various people who have attended pro-Palestine protests in Berlin. Bild identifies them as terrorist supporters and, implicitly, as antisemites. H. P. Loveshaft’s colorful hair appears halfway down the page, his face contorted as his hands are pulled behind him by the police. “H. P. Loveshaft behaves ever more aggressively at pro-Palestine protests,” writes Bild, “attacking journalists or screaming at the police.” It complains that his work is funded by a public performing arts fund — “our taxes.”

H. P. Loveshaft is a Russian-American drag king and student based in Berlin. He is also Jewish, a fact that both Spiegel and Bild neglected to mention, despite the kippah he wore to the Free University protest. He was not involved in organizing the FU event and only offered to moderate. “I’m a drag king, a professional full-time performer,” he explained to me. “I’m quite comfortable on a microphone.”

The Israel-Palestine conflict is a personal issue for H. P. His family moved from Moscow to Israel when he was two and lived there for five years before moving to the United States to escape the chaos of the First Intifada, the Palestinian popular uprising against Israeli occupation that lasted from 1987 until the signing of the first Oslo Accord in 1993. Many of H. P.’s relatives still live in Israel, and he describes his family background as avowedly Zionist.

While H. P. has long been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause as a result of his long involvement in leftist and queer scenes, he says it was the aggressively anti-Palestinian climate he has experienced in Germany since October 7 that made the issue front and center for him.

“The radicalizing effect has been entirely thanks to Germany,” he says.

H. P. lives in a Berlin neighborhood home to one of the largest Palestinian communities in Europe, which has been particularly subjected to brutal police crackdowns in recent months.

“I’m seeing these fleets and fleets of armed cops on my streets in my neighborhood at my train station,” he recalls. “They’re brutalizing women. They’re arresting people for standing by themselves alone, just holding a sign. [I even saw] a helmeted German police officer stomping out memorial candles.”

The historical parallels of German police brutalizing a minority population do not escape him. “If y’all are doing fascism, then I’ve got to be anti-fascist. I’m sorry, I’m Jewish and transsexual, it’s in my blood.”

All the more so as that brutalization is being deployed in the name of protecting Jews, he explains.

“And if the fascism is being deployed in my name, then I have no other choice than to scream as loudly as I can about it, do I?” he asks. “What other option is there?”

“Gay Commie Plot”

On the day of the Free University protest, it was the media and the Zionist counterprotesters who were being aggressive, not the pro-Palestine protesters, H. P. insists. Almost as many reporters showed up as demonstrators, he says, and they were crowding around the organizers and making it difficult for them to give their speeches. Some of the cameramen refused to move even after being repeatedly asked to make space for the demonstrators, a context that H. P. says Der Spiegel left out.

He says the pro-Israel counterprotesters, portrayed sympathetically in the Spiegel video despite one of them chanting “Listen up, terrorists, your villages could burn!” in Hebrew, also behaved aggressively. One of them came up to H. P. at the protest and, seeing his kippah, asked him if he was Jewish. He then asked him to recite a prayer to prove it, then asked which of his parents were Jewish. H. P. says the man then accused him of not being a “real Jew.”

Since the publication of the Spiegel video, H. P. has received a flood of online hate and threats. He has even had to request security for his regular drag events. When asked if he thinks that Der Spiegel was deliberately trying to stir up transphobia in their audience, he says: absolutely!

“It’s so clear. Right before it cuts to my Instagram, there’s one shot of the crowd and it’s all the communist flags. They’re like, ‘Look at this gay commie plot to radicalize all the Muslims and bring about a jihad against German Jews, German white civilization.'”

Nevertheless, H. P. has continued his pro-Palestinian activity in Berlin. In March, H. P. was grabbed and dragged out of a pro-Palestine protest in Berlin’s Central Station by the police. It is surely notable that a video of a kippah-wearing Jew being brutalized by armed German police has not caused a scandal or generated any sort of attention from national media.

The German political and media establishment prides itself in Germany’s “memory culture,” referring to the centrality that remembrance of and atonement for the Holocaust has in politics and society. The Stolpersteine, “stumbling stones” with the names of Holocaust victims that are embedded in sidewalks across the country, are a prominent example of Germany’s commitment to keeping the memory of Nazi crimes alive. But increasingly, official memory culture has become focused on combatting an alleged resurgence of antisemitism in the form of anti-Zionism and “imported antisemitism” brought by immigration.

Weaponizing Guilt

The narrative that Germany had eliminated antisemitism until immigrants brought it back has turned German guilt for the Holocaust into a cudgel to be wielded against Germany’s Muslim population. Unsurprisingly, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has been a major proponent of this narrative, but it has gained widespread support across the political establishment. This is despite the fact that virtually all of the recent violent attacks against the German Jewish community, such as the 2019 shooting of a synagogue in Halle that killed two, have been perpetrated by the far right.

Memory culture also entails the unwavering commitment of the German state and media to Israel. Since October 7, their obsession with shutting down any criticism of Israel’s actions has reached a fever pitch. The public witch hunt of anyone who says anything even mildly critical of Israel has led to accusations of antisemitism even against well-known Jewish figures.

Israeli-German sociologist Moshe Zuckermann and South African Jewish photographer Adam Broomberg have found themselves on the wrong side of the German anti-antisemitism crusade, as has Russian American Jewish writer Masha Gessen, who had a planned prize ceremony canceled after the government of Bremen and the Green Party–linked Heinrich Böll Foundation withdrew their participation over an article Gessen wrote comparing the invasion of Gaza to the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. Jewish American philosopher Nancy Fraser had a professorship canceled at the University of Cologne over a letter in solidarity with Gazans. Researcher Emily Dische-Becker has estimated that nearly one-third of those publicly canceled in Germany for alleged antisemitism have been Jewish.

H. P. emphasizes that despite the absurdity of Jews being smeared as Jew-haters, it is Palestinians and other Muslims who are suffering the most in Germany. Palestinian German activist Salah Said, who is also smeared in both the Spiegel video and the Bild article, has suffered repeated police harassment due to his involvement in the pro-Palestinian movement in Berlin, including three police raids of his home. Khaled Shehadeh, a pro-Palestinian activist that Bild identifies as a “role model and hero of Israel haters,” has been arrested almost twenty times. Many other Palestinians have suffered similarly at the hands of the Berlin police.

When H. P. moved from Los Angeles to Berlin in 2018, it was for what seemed like a more progressive country, with “public transportation, rent control, and really cheap education and money for art.” He also wanted to be in a country that he thought had dealt with its violent history better than the United States.

“In Germany, they’ve got monuments and there’s shrapnel sticking out of the walls. Their history stares them in the face. It’s not because they’re better people, but, you know, maybe because the rest of the world sort of forced it on them. But one way or another, I really did naively believe that Germany was better.”

He laments that the city he came to for its reputation as an artistic, queer, and cultural capital is burning that reputation, all in service of defending Israeli war crimes. He is even considering leaving the country he has called home for six years — and he says many of his friends are, too.

But most of all, H. P. says, “it breaks my heart for the Germans.” He sees few Germans out protesting with him and his fellow activists, and those who do are usually non-white, queer, or otherwise marginalized. The German mainstream, he says, is silent.

“In twenty, thirty years, we’re all going to be having conversations with kids, and they’re going to be asking us questions about what we did. And I don’t know what the Germans are going to tell them.”