Camp set up in the Hofgarten in Bonn Pro-Palestinian group protests against university event

Bonn · Due to security concerns, the German-Israeli Society had to change the venue for a lecture by an Israeli historian at short notice. The "Students for Palestine”, who are camping in the Hofgarten, reacted by changing the route for their protest rally. Despite the venue change, there were a few sporadic disruptions during the lecture.

 Participants protesting the event organized by the German-Israeli Society with Uriel Kashi.

Participants protesting the event organized by the German-Israeli Society with Uriel Kashi.

Foto: Benjamin Westhoff

Historian and tour guide from Israel, Uriel Kashi was scheduled to give a talk in the main building of the University of Bonn, but it was moved to the Poppelsdorf campus for security reasons. He visited the University of Bonn at the invitation of the German-Israeli Society (DIG) and the Jewish University Group. Kashi's lecture was titled “Torn between inner turmoil and new dangers: Israel's challenges after October 7”.

On October 7 of 2023, Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, crossed the Israeli border and killed more than 1,000 people and took several hundred hostages during their raids. The attack was the trigger for the invasion of the Gaza Strip by Israeli troops, which in turn has left many civilians dead.

The change of venue for the lecture was due to the protest rally "No Lobby for Genocide", which had been registered with police to take place in the city center at the same time as the lecture. Behind the protest rally were the organizers of the tent camp at the edge of the Hofgarten. When they found out about the lecture being moved, they relocated from the city center to the Poppelsdorf campus during the lecture, where they arrived at around 8:30 pm. The police secured the lecture hall there. The protest was peaceful as of the GA editorial deadline.

Uni Bonn: Sporadic disturbances in the lecture hall

In the lecture hall, Kashi had just spoken his first words after introductory remarks by university rector Michael Hoch when an audience member stood up and read out a statement of solidarity with the Palestinians. Security forces quickly led her out of the hall. On her way out, she shouted "Freiheit für Palästina” (“Freedom for Palestine”). During the rest of the event, there were three further disturbances of a similar nature.

Protestors have been camping in the Hofgarten since last Tuesday after the police approved the rally called “Hofgarten gegen Besatzung“ (“Hofgarten against occupation”). The pro-Palestinian group called "Students for Palestine Bonn" sees the University of Bonn as an extension of the German government and is calling for the supply of weapons to Israel to be stopped. They believe the university should stop cooperating with the German-Israeli Society and not allow lectures by lecturers who, in the view of the protesters, are too close to the state of Israel. The university rejects these demands.

It is hard to tell who is behind the local Students for Palestine group. The organizers have not provided any further information. The 1,488 "followers" on Instagram include various groups that have attracted attention in the past for their anti-Israeli statements and proximity to Palestinian terrorist organizations. These include the feminist Berlin network Zora and the youth organization Young Struggle with an offshoot in Cologne.

Message of solidarity sent to Berlin and Leipzig

A video with a message of solidarity from the Bonn camp can be found on Instagram. It shows several people wearing masks with Palestinian scarves, who could be associated with the Zora and Young Struggle groups, as indicated by the tagging commonly used in the social network. One of the masked men reads out a message of "solidarity" with those in the camps in Leipzig and Berlin. The police have cleared the camps there and are investigating some of the participants for trespassing and incitement to hatred.

According to the student union, the campers in Bonn tried to spread their message in the canteen on Friday, but the canteen manager stopped them. A video published on Instagram shows an attempt to declare a political stance during a lecture. The lecturer and audience rebuked the attempt. Another video shows a group of campers from the Hofgarten (one with a flag) apparently being turned away by the university building superintendent at the entrance. They were complaining because they wanted to get in to use the restrooms. University spokesman Andreas Archut explained that the reason they were not allowed inside was because portable toilets had been set up at the camp. The university restrooms were intended for use by students and staff.

Authorities say that so far, police are not aware of any serious incidents at the camp. In recent days, however, a banner reading "From the sea to the river" is said to have been seen there. As this phrase - albeit usually with a slightly different wording - indirectly questions the right of the state of Israel to exist, it is strictly forbidden at demonstrations and rallies. The university has reported the incident to police. As things stand, the tent camp plans to be in place until Thursday.

(Orig. text: Philipp Königs; Translation: ck)