Smadar Pery: The Most Persistent Activist Against Antisemitism
There are quite a few activists in Germany who fight racism and similar forms of hatred, but hardly anyone is quite as diligent and persistent as Smadar Pery. The Berlin-based Israeli, who has been living in Germany for decades, is often the one who registers protests against antisemitic groups and who makes sure important news get to the right partners in the big fight against ignorance and hatred. Smadar Pery fights antisemitic streets vendors, terrorists and ignorance by spreading the reality about Israel online, and by talking to people on the streets of Berlin.
The Berlin Spectator: You organize protests against antisemitism. In some cases your events are reactions to BDS activities. You monitor German media in this regard and you discuss the dangers of hatred both offline and online. Do you even have enough time and quietude to enjoy successes? For instance, Berlin took action against the Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh after you demanded action in a protest you staged.
Smadar Pery: Regarding Rasmea Odeh, I was glad Germany banned her from talking at political events and prepared to deport her, but I could not really relax until she actually left the country. Just days ago, she got a three-year ban on entering the Schengen states. Back then, the Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Antisemitism (JFDA) heard about her invitation to talk in front of supporters of the BDS movement, which by the way was recently labelled as antisemitic by the Berlin Bundestag. I published the information all over Facebook and contacted the right people. The Israeli Ambassador and politicians like Volker Beck took the case to the Ministry of the Interior, which subsequently became active.
‘It is embarrassing not to take part.’
The Berlin Spectator: Sometimes the response to your invitations to protests against antisemitic organizations is rather modest. Just the other day, in front of the Reichstag, the BDS supporters outnumbered the participants of your counter protest by far. Why do you think opponents of antisemitism and fighters for democracy sometimes can not be motivated to stand on the street with signs and make their voices heard?
Smadar Pery: Well, you will have to ask those who do not show up at some of our rallies. I have been asked whether I felt embarrassed to be part of a rally with very few people. My answer usually is that it should be embarrassing not to take part in events during which we call for solidarity with Israel, which is constantly under attack. By the way: Most BDS events take place on Fridays or Saturdays, during Shabbath. I wonder whether this is part of their strategy. But there are many occasions at which we outnumber them. During the travel trade fair ITB, when those anti-Semites rallied against the participation of Israel, our counter protest was bigger.
The Berlin Spectator: There are different varieties of antisemitism in Germany. To try to discuss things with Nazis or radical Muslims does not lead to anything because they just won’t throw their hatred overboard. But what about left-wing antisemites? Is it possible to talk to them, and even turn them around?
Smadar Pery: I have been living in Germany for 30 years now. When I was in Freiburg at first, I often talked to left-wingers with antisemitic views who were members of certain organizations and a certain left-wing party. My attempts did not lead to anything much. Most people of this kind I talked to were rather stubborn, stuck to their ‘views’, and they just did not want to know about reality in Israel.
‘Editors are doing this on purpose.’
The Berlin Spectator: There are media in Germany which seem to be accusing Israel of being responsible for the conflict with the Palestinians, even while the country is being forced to react to constant missile attacks from Gaza. Where does this tendency come from? Is this about a lack of knowledge? Or is there more?
Smadar Pery: To my opinion many editors are doing this on purpose. They are part of a smear campaign against Israel. Many former participants of the 1968 student revolution are writing for dailies and other media in Germany, people who internalized the conspiracy theories about the young Jewish state in the left spectrum, five decades ago. Also the newspapers hope they will have more readers or ‘clicks’ for biased stories of that kind. Israel-related antisemitism is wide-spread among certain media. Complaints in countless letters to the editors have not really changed things. On the other hand, the dailies printed by the ‘Springer Verlag’ do a good job explaining the reality in and around Israel.
The Berlin Spectator: A week ago, the ‚Spiegel‘ news magazine spread old conspiracy theories about Jews who supposedly control German politics. This was pretty much the peak of the tendencies we talked about, at least so far. How would you explain this approach by a magazine which used to be pro-democratic?
Smadar Pery: The article attacked three pro-Israel and pro-democratic lobbyists, as if there were no other individuals with the same profession. Even Iran has its lobbyists in Berlin, and nobody complains. The same applies to organizations representing the unions, environmentalist NGOs and the industry, including the car manufacturers. I believe that article is a message to pro-Israel activists. It tells us to shut up or we will be in trouble.
‘They did not seem to know about antisemitism at all.‘
The Berlin Spectator: In German politics, a lot is being done to save the so-called Iran Deal. In spite of its terror throughout the Middle East, its Human Rights violations and its threats against Israel, the Teheran regime is being paid court to. When it comes to the relations with Israel, on the other hand, Berlin demands things which are out of Israel’s control. This includes the Two-State Solution which the Palestinian leadership could have had decades ago, had it wanted peace. Does Germany even understand the conflict?
Smadar Pery: The Berlin government works against President Trump. On the other hand, things were not so different during Obama’s term. Everyone wanted the Two-State Solution, including Olmert, Scharon, Barak and even Netanyahu. At the Berlin Foreign Ministry, officials who are not being elected, many of whom have been there for a long time, are responsible for guidelines. Foreign Minister Maas, who used to be Pro-Israel, has incorporated those guidelines by now. This goes back several decades.
The Berlin Spectator: You organize information booths about Israel and antisemitism as well, at a market in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg borough. You started this activity after Jewish and Israeli passersby were affronted over there. What kind of reactions have you gotten since you started with that booth?
Smadar Pery: My colleague Martin and I decided to go ahead with the information booth at ‘Kollwitzmarkt’ after we noticed, during rallies we had organized there, that many visitors did not seem to know about antisemitism at all. For instance, a man told us there had not been antisemitism since 1945. So we started informing people on site, about hatred and the BDS movement, using material provided to us by several NGOs and the Israeli embassy, and by just talking to them. The reaction has generally been very positive. On the other hand, there has been hostility too. For instance, a man spat on our booth. But many visitors are glad we are there. And we have had useful discussions. Our intention is to take the booth to other locations as well.
‘The option of leaving is on the table.’
The Berlin Spectator: There are discussions within the small Jewish community in Germany too. One of the subjects is the ‘AfD’, a far-right party, and a group called ‘Jews in the AfD’. Israel does not talk to AfD representatives because of scandalous statements they made about German history. Why does the AfD seem to be interesting to a handful of Jews anyway?
Pery Smadar: As far as I know, there seem to be some Jews who voted for the AfD, unfortunately, or intend to do so in future, because of their fear of Islamists. The discussions I have had with AfD supporters have not been successful, at least so far. I have been trying to show these people that party’s antisemitic tendencies, but was not able to convince them. This is similar to what I said earlier, about discussion with left-wingers who have antisemitic views, in the sense that the people in question just do not want to know.
The Berlin Spectator: You have been living in Germany for 30 years, and for the last 12 years Berlin has been your home. If you had to summarize your stay, on the basis of the question how you were treated as an Israeli Jew, what would you say?
Pery Smadar: In the mid-1990s, when I lived in Freiburg, I came to the conclusion that there are many antisemites in Germany. It started when I became part of a movement which rallied for a sister-city arrangement between Freiburg and Tel Aviv, which by the way was finally signed much later, in 2012. I was forced to leave the clinic where I had worked, after being bullied. Generally speaking I have become rather pessimistic related to the question of how welcome and safe Jews are in Germany. The option of leaving this country, after three decades, is on the table.