A Conversation With Ronnie Barkan


Dissidence from Within

[August 3 Update: The ‘Humboldt Three’ (Ronnie Barkan, Stavit Sinai and Majed Abusalama) won their day in court today. The presiding judge in Room 571 at Berlin’s Moabit Criminal Court cleared Ronnie and Majed of all charges.  Stavit was fined 400 Euros for ‘assault’, a minor, technical conviction Stavit disputes and may decline to pay. Read more here].

While fierce criticism of the State of Israel and its founding ideology, Zionism, are routinely declared “antisemitic” by Israel’s defenders, no one is more outspoken in their condemnation than Jewish Israelis themselves.

Ronnie Barkan is a case in point.

The Berlin-based Jewish-Israeli activist and “serial disrupter to [Israeli] apartheid’s representatives” takes no prisoners. On Monday, August 3, Barkan and two fellow activists will be arraigned in a Berlin court on charges arising from a noisy protest of theirs at a public talk by an Israeli parliamentarian, back on June 20, 2017, at Berlin’s Humboldt University.

The other two activists are Stavit Sinai, Jewish-Israeli dissident, anti-apartheid activist and sociologist, and Majed Abusalama, a Gaza-born journalist and human rights activist.

The object of the three activists’ ire at that Berlin talk, three years ago: Israeli parliamentarian Aliza Lavie. At the time of her Berlin talk, Lavie was a member of Israel’s centre-right Yesh Atid party, the head of Israel’s campaign against the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and the chair of the Knesset “Caucus for the Struggle Against the Delegitimization of the State of Israel.” Lavie was an MK between 2013 and 2019. She is currently a lecturer at the School of Communication at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.

Ronnie Barkan

In the course of Lavie’s June 2017 talk — hosted by the German-Israeli Society — Barkan, Sinai and Abusalama stood up in turn, accusing Lavie of war crimes committed in the course of Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza in the Summer of 2014. Each then walked out of the room.

According to the Independent Commission of Inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council in the wake of Operation Protective Edge, between 7 July and 26 August 2014, 2251 Gazans were killed by Israeli forces. Of these, 1,462 were civilians and 551 were children. Eighty-nine families were wiped out in their entirety, and 11,231 Gazans were injured, of whom 3,540 were women and 3,436 children. Gaza was left in rubble.

“Potential violations of international humanitarian law” were committed by Israeli authorities, “which may amount to war crimes,” the UN report concluded.

The actions of the Israeli military and Gaza militants in the course of Operation Protective Edge may soon be the subject of further inquiry by the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague. The ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber is now considering whether the court’s Chief Prosecutor can proceed on a full investigation, following a preliminary stage that began in 2015. It is expected to rule shortly.

Although the Humboldt Three are charged with trespassing and assault, Lavie’s 2017 talk at Humboldt University was public, and the three activists were peaceful. Stavit Sinai was punched and manhandled before being led out.

Suspended by the judge following several hearings in March 2019, the case continues to be pursued by the German justice department. The Humboldt Three are happy to oblige.

“We, as people of conscience, were morally obligated to perform our civil responsibility and speak up against those very horrendous crimes that were, and still are, being carried out in our name,” the group’s website states.

The GPM reached out to Ronnie Barkan for his thoughts on the case. Listen to our conversation here:


Says Barkan: “If Germany has learned anything from its past, then it would be not to support another state which is based on the ethnic/racial differentiation between populations, which is based on, basically seven decades of ethnic cleansing and the practice of the crime of apartheid, which is defined as a ‘crime against humanity’. If Germany is to this day supportive of the State of Israel, it means that it has learned absolutely nothing from its horrid past.”

Of the European Union’s 27 member states, none are more steadfastly opposed to trenchant criticism of Israel than Germany. The BDS movement, initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005, is effectively illegal in Germany, and actions such as those of the Humboldt Three are deemed “antisemitic.”

Paradoxically, Ronnie Barkan feels freer to speak out and be heard in Berlin than in Israel.

Barkan wants the EU to “live up to their own agreements with Israel” by cancelling the EU-Israel Association Agreement and other trade activities. Article 2 of the Association Agreement states: “Relations between the parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.”

Barkan is hopeful about the court case, and is pleased with the support he and his comrades have received. Just prior to their first court encounter, in February 2019, the Humboldt Three were awarded the Copenhagen Courage Award by Ninna Hedeager Olsen, Copenhagen’s Mayor for Technical and Environmental Affairs.

“Mr. Barkan and his colleagues have worked tirelessly to reveal the Apartheid-like nature of the Israeli regime and its systematic violation of international law,” the award stated. “By doing so, the Copenhagen Courageous laureates have sown the seeds for a peaceful settlement between Israelis and Palestinians based on truth and justice.”

Ronnie Barkan, Stavit Sinai and Majed Abusalama will be arraigned at Berlin’s Moabit Court at 9 a.m. on Monday, 3 August.