I’D BEEN BOOKED to speak at a conference in Berlin entitled ‘In the time of the slanderers’. Berlin is unusual for a German city - diverse and rough at the edges. I have never been so reminded of Europe’s Nazi past. How can you look through the Brandenburg Gate and not see the spectre of Hitler driving triumphantly past? And Berlin makes no attempt to hide its awful history. The Memorial of Jews Murdered in Europe sits at the heart of the city.
The day before the conference I’m asked to speak at a meeting sponsored by the international branch of Die Linke in a local cafe. The cafe receives its share of abuse and threats. “Jackie Walker is an antisemite”, they are told. The owners are shaken but the organisers reassure, precautions are taken and the meeting proceeds.
As I begin the atmosphere in the room becomes intense. The audience is well briefed, politically astute and there’s the age profile - much younger than in Britain. Questions range from the Labour Party, Corbyn and antisemitism, to the state of the British left and Brexit.
[To watch the meeting, follow this link.]
Later I join activists at a restaurant and food project run by, and for, a large refugee collective. This project was initially formed as a response to the death of a refugee of colour who died, cold and starving, after being forced to queue, day after night, in freezing temperatures, patiently waiting his turn.
We are warned of protests at the conference but nothing appears. Originally planned for 140, organisers increased capacity to 200 only to be inundated by over 400 requests for places. From Britain Ken Loach sends greetings. Moshe Machover, via video link, gives a razor sharp analysis of the antisemitism witch-hunt and its political purpose. My session presents a political and methodological context for producing and performing my one woman show.
All three UK contributors have been denounced that day in the German national media as antisemites. Loach’s work is well known and admired in Germany. These accusations make the supporters of the ‘New Antisemitism’ look ridiculous.
Next evening, hosted by Jewish Antifa Berlin, The Lynching goes in front of its first German audience. I’m told the 150 or so mostly young activists, who sit on window ledges and watch crossed legged from the floor after all seats are filled, are the core of Berlin’s young left.
A Syrian rap group kicks off proceedings, a Palestinian woman poet is next and then the audience laughs; it’s a joke in Hebrew, told by an Israeli performance artist, recently labelled an antisemite. Her crime? To dare to speak ‘intifada’ and ‘liberation’ in one poetic sentence. Having received regular commissions, will she ever get paid work again?
So to The Lynching and the audience gets it - the jokes, the songs, the references, and they rise to applause as we share a moment of exhilaration and political solidarity. A woman approaches and whispers her story. Her mother is Jewish, her father Romany. She works on commemorating the Holocaust. She came to the show because she read about me and identified with what she’d heard me say. Her dual heritage, her experience of having references to the genocide of her father’s people barely acknowledged, has become almost unbearable. We embrace.
Prague was not planned, but, once asked, I was convinced I should go. The audience for The Lynching was smaller than Berlin but even so the room is packed. Many in this audience are the people political activists are always trying to reach - they don’t come to meetings and know only enough to know they want to know more. The present Czech President may be a well-known, far-right racist but racist politics do not get in the way of close relations with Israel in the Czech Republic or anywhere else, it seems. Arms deals, co-operation between security forces, cultural events, go on unhindered.
A scandal has been brewing for years around the site of a concentration camp. Romany people, mostly children, died there. The site is now a pig farm. Only in the last few weeks, after years of lobbying, has the government taken action to buy the land and commemorate the crimes against humanity that occurred there. Along with Jews the Romany people were the only group singled out by Hitler for total annihilation. I’m told of a number of other Romany sites of the Nazi genocide, in the Czech Republic and across Europe, that remain unacknowledged.
Later I debate with an Israeli arms dealer, David. It is depressing and distressing. He treats the woman chair with disdain, avoids questions on settlements, says nothing about racism or Zionism and responds, when he gets into difficulties (which was often), with one word, “Hamas”, as if this excuses all the crimes against international law and human rights Israel continues to perpetrate.
David shouts, “Who killed Jesus?”, to prove no Palestinians were in the place that was called Palestine. Someone shouts back “Hamas” and the audience dissolves into laughter. Finally we are asked, “What does the Holocaust mean to you?” David replies - it has taught him that Jews must never again act as sheep, they must always be armed and ready. For me, the message is clear; Nazi bestiality could happen again, today, tomorrow, to any people, anywhere, unless we understand the real lessons of fascism and racism. It was a trip, and one that I’m still processing. Now Luton, Frome and on!
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is on the Editorial Board of Labour Briefing and was until recently Vice chair of Momentum