Why I confronted Gregor Gysi

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In the last week, the German media has been replete with articles accusing me and my fellow journalist Max Blumenthal of spreading hatred of Jews. These baseless accusations are not only defamatory, but also amount to a real physical threat to myself, as I live in Israel, where dissidents are branded as “destroyers of Israel” and are often subject to rape threats and violent physical attacks.

Despite the orchestrated attempt to smear our names and get our Berlin speaking gigs cancelled, we testified at the Bundestag – the German Parliament – about the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza and incitement to racist violence by top Israeli leaders. After giving our testimonies, we confronted one of the leading legislators who had publicly endorsed the smear campaign against us. In the wake of that debacle, Max and I might very well be banned from the Bundestag in the future.

I may not list potentially being banned from the Bundestag on my curriculum vitae as an accomplishment I am especially proud of, but I am certainly not ashamed of it, or of my actions that led to it. I trailed a 66-year-old parliamentarian down his office hallway, following him into a random room which turned out to be a restroom, and did not retreat when he sandwiched me into the door jamb. All the while, I called upon him to engage me and answer for his actions of the previous days.

I understand why some people without any knowledge of the events that preceded this incident might find it uncomfortable to watch the video of me in pursuit of a 66-year-old man in a business suit who clearly is not interested in exchanging words with me, in any language. But for the sake of my reputation, for the sake of my safety and the safety of my family, for the sake of other Jews who dare to criticize the rampant racism in Israeli society, and for the sake of Palestinian people and others who do the same – I felt I had to confront this man to his face, even if for only a moment.

The sequence of events that led to the confrontation began when Blumenthal and myself were invited by left-wing German lawmakers to come to Berlin to speak about the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza and incitement to racist violence by top Israeli leaders.

Of course, I understand well that these left-wing legislators did not offer to host Max and myself at the Bundestag because we are the only journalists in the world to report on these issues. Many Palestinian journalists have long written extensively on these topics and could have presented at least as competently as we did, if not much more so. No, let’s be honest – Max and I were specifically selected at least in part because we are Jews.

Non-Jewish critics of Israel are often accused of being motivated by a hatred of Jews, whether or not there is any substance to such slurs. By inviting a Jewish critic of Israel – or even better, a Jewish Israeli critic of Israel – to speak about Israeli crimes, non-Jewish critics of Israel may hope to shield themselves from these damaging accusations.

I do not believe that all non-Jewish critics of Israel are motivated by Jew-hatred. Also, I want people outside of Israel to know about the horrific racism that pervades Israeli society, so that we might combat it – because it is clearly not going to end on its own. So while I do not advertise my Jewishness or Israeliness in order to get invitations to speak, I will accept such invitations, even if I suspect they are in part motivated by identity politics.

But what I will not do is agree to be a soft target for baseless accusations of anti-semitism by opportunistic politicians who court favor with the Israeli government and its supporters. Nor will I agree to play a “Jew-shield” or “Israeli-shield”, and defend from attack opportunistic politicians from the Left who want me to speak publicly about Israel’s crimes on their home turf, but refuse to publicly support me when I endure the poisonous slings that they themselves had hoped to avoid.

On the eve of my flight to Germany, a Sheldon-Adelson-funded publicist orchestrated a campaign to have my and Max’s speaking engagements in Berlin cancelled. Jerusalem Post contributor Ben Weinthal successfully convinced German lawmakers Volker Beck and Petra Pau to denounce Max and myself, saying that with our work, we spread anti-semitism. Senior leftist lawmaker Gregor Gysi joined the public pile-on, announcing that we would not be allowed to speak in the Bundestag.

As one German newspaper after another repeated these vile accusations from Weinthal’s hasbara hit-piece, I waited for days for the parliamentarians who invited us to the Bundestag, Inge Hoger and Annette Groth, to repudiate these scandalous slurs. I implored them repeatedly to issue a press release publicly defending me and Max. After several days, they finally agreed to do so – but only after Max and I spoke at the Bundestag. Despite my reservations, Max and I delivered our presentations to the parliament, but no press release was issued afterwards, as promised.

Under these circumstances, I felt I had no choice but to confront my accusers.

At the end of our presentations, Max called upon those assembled to join us and confront Gregor Gysi, and this call was applauded by many in the audience. A group of us then walked to his office, prepared to talk to him politely and explain the consequences of his cavalier political ploy. However, he refused to come out of his office and meet with us, even for a minute. When he finally emerged, he strode right past us at a brisk pace, and – well, you probably saw the rest – I followed him and demanded that he acknowledge responsibility for the repercussions that I would have to face as a result of his actions.

[ I later uploaded the footage to YouTube, so that there would be a public record of the event and I could not be accused of something I did not do. ]

As I explained to a local journalist who filmed the entire episode, this is not about my ego being bruised. Because I have exposed Israeli state-sponsored racism, particularly towards African refugees, for years, I am defamed as a “destroyer of Israel” and physically attacked on the streets of Tel Aviv. On occasions too numerous to count, angry Jewish Israelis have called upon me and members of my family to be raped, gang-raped, mutilated and murdered. As this happens, average Israelis stand aside and police officers look on. Sadly, I am used to accusations of anti-semitism and the threats and assaults that follow.

It is contemptible that any person, let alone a German, would baselessly slander a critic of Israel as “spreading anti-semitism”, especially when that person is Jewish or even Israeli. But in the current climate, when Israelis are losing their jobs and are beaten in the streets when they dare to oppose army’s assaults on Gaza and the regime of racial and religious separation, labeling someone as such is akin to calling for them to be physically attacked. More than this, it is a reprehensible attempt to silence dissent and condemn the Palestinian people and other non-Jews in areas controlled by Israel to perpetual servitude and suffering.

For the sake of my self, my family, my friends, and my fellow human beings in Israel and Palestine – I will not be silent, not now, not ever.

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David, that video displays the classic retreat of a powerful individual who is not used to being confronted. How appropriate that he cowers in a dark, bathroom closet.

I hope you remain safe and applaud your inspired journalism.

I also hope that you and Max might find your way to Capitol Hill soon and send a couple of hundred similar cowards scurrying to their bathroom redoubts. We’re bankrolling this madness, after all.

Mr. Sheen, I admire your courage and I wish you and your family safety and peace.

Like all bullies, the man turned out to be a coward when confronted by one of his victims. When he was found alone (with no fellow zionist to prop him up) he shows his true colors. He obviously was saying those things, because he was trying to please the mothership, and doing what a good servant does -attack anyone who criticizes zionist policies, or bring attention to their on going crimes. It was wonderful to… Read more »

I admire you for confronting that asshole.
Everyone who has the opportunity to should be confronting and cutting these politicians down to size.

Keep up the courageous work. Hopefully your actions will inspire other Israelis to stand up against an unjust system. I still cannot believe that the German media had the audacity to label you as an anti-Semite. Seems like this is the de facto response to anyone criticizing Israel.