October 22, 2019

Politics on the Berlin Dancefloor

This is the third article in a series for Fluter, a German political magazine for young adults sponsored by the German government. The following is the English original, modified slightly in the German version, which could be read here.

I was chatting in line at Ritter Butzke, one of my favorite Berlin nightclubs, when a pretty Berliner asked what should be a harmless question: “Where are you from?”

Usually, I don’t hesitate to say “Israel” or “the United States”, even though some dictatorships like to call them “Little Satan” and “Big Satan.” Most of the time, when I say “Israel,” Germans tell me how they want to go to Tel Aviv, although I’m not sure what they think deep down about the Jewish homeland.

I figured, this is a nightclub. We’re entering the universal dance collective where nationalities don’t matter.

“Israel,” I answered.

“Why does Israel oppress the Palestinians?” Maybe she had a pre-club cocktail. In vino veritas.

How do I even answer such a question standing in line at a nightclub?

“It’s not black and white,” I said, not keen on explaining the intricacies of Israeli geopolitics then and there. “You have to go and see for yourself.”

“Well, I don’t know if I want to go to Israel. Maybe to Palestine.”

Months later, at the Suss war Gestern dance bar in Friedrichshain, I was dancing with a German man who asked me the loaded question: “Where are you from?”

Too tipsy to think, I said: “Israel.”

“Oh, aren’t all Israelis rich?”

I stopped dancing and scratched my head. Was this the equivalent of “aren’t all Jews rich” but without the same bigoted ring to it?

Once, a man wrote to me on an online dating site that he’d be willing to go out with me as long as I don’t support the policies of the Netanyahu government. He wouldn’t have made it to the first date.

Speaking of dates, on a first date with a man I met at Ritter Butzke, he finally asked: “What’s going on in Pälestina?”

“Are you sure you want to discuss this?”

“Yes, it’s interesting to me.”

“Why don’t you tell me your view first.”

“Well, I don’t know why Israel is building in land that doesn’t belong to them. It’s causing wars.”

He was obviously referring to the Jewish communities built in the West Bank, also known as biblically as Judea and Samaria. At this point, I wanted to retaliate by asking: “And was your grandfather a Nazi?” because blaming my country for causing wars is more than just rude. When I first meet Germans, I rarely bring up the Holocaust or criticize German policies. I’d rather get to know the person.

Instead, I gave him a lesson he didn’t want. The “settlements” are built on disputed land, if not Israel’s; the existence of Jewish homes don’t justify terrorism (and Germans should know that); Israel’s Arab neighbors initiated wars against the Jewish state long before “settlements” existed.

“You’re getting aggressive,” he said.

I told him he wasn’t used to Israeli passion and left him with this: Unable to defeat Israel in a conventional war, Israel’s enemies took the battle to public opinion, cleverly making Israel look like a “colonialist” oppressor, hence our conversation. He said he must research the issue more to argue further.

“And by the way, was your grandfather a Nazi?”

Turns out, one fought in the East and the other had a Nazi desk job due to injury. He loved them both. There was never a second date.

I wondered if saying I’m from Israel forces Germans to confront their own national identity and what occurred on this soil 75 years ago. Attacking Israel deflects potential judgment Israelis may rightfully have of Germany and its past.

Recently, at Birgit & Bier, to avoid confrontation, I just told some guy I’m from the United States. Then I realized, it’s not just Israel. It’s even harder to explain Donald Trump on the dance floor.

Orit Arfa is a journalist based in Berlin and author of The Settler. Her upcoming novel is an Israeli-German love story. www.oritarfa.com