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Facing Hate in Berlin

It is fascinating how quickly people I knew—even in the city’s open-minded queer scene—turned against me for supporting Israel

Daniel-Ryan Spaulding
March 19, 2024
A protester in Berlin, March 2024

Halil Sagirkaya/Anadolu via Getty Images

A protester in Berlin, March 2024

Halil Sagirkaya/Anadolu via Getty Images

Like many gay, liberal artists living a fabulous European lifestyle, my travels and adventures in my 30s led me to Berlin. Over the last few decades, Berlin has been famous for its nightlife, the sexy techno scene, the open-minded queer scene—so many opportunities to grow and learn and meet people from all around the world.

By autumn of last year, my time in Berlin was coming to an end. I had created an 18-month, three-step plan to get sober, lose weight, obtain an O-1 visa to be able to legally work in the United States, and move to New York City. I was going to launch my one man show Power Gay off-Broadway at a 100-seat gay cabaret in Hell’s Kitchen. My flight was booked for Oct. 16.

Leading up to my departure, I spent September doing a comedy tour of Germany and Europe with Power Gay, which is all about how I achieved sobriety and lost over 200 pounds. The last week of September I spent in one of my favorite cities: Tel Aviv. How did this non-Jewish gay guy from Canada end up spending so much time in Israel?

Living in Berlin for five years, I gradually became friends with Israelis. Tel Aviv and Berlin are (or, perhaps now, were) sister cities. Countless young Israelis shuffled back and forth between Tel Aviv and Berlin—whether they be DJs, artists, or young entrepreneurs, like my friend Chen Jakov, “the Hummus Dealer.” Chen built a massively successful hummus delivery service, serving 1-kilogram containers of authentic Israeli-style hummus that he made himself.

As my comedy and online content grew in popularity over the pandemic, I featured Chen in my videos. I would tease him about his brown, puppy-dog eyes, and charming smile. Berlin loved the Hummus Dealer, and his business exploded. I gradually became friends with more and more Israelis, and built up a fan following of gay men in Tel Aviv, referencing them in my videos.

Leading up to my first few visits to Tel Aviv, I had very little awareness of what life was like in Israel. I didn’t know much about it—and what I did know, I didn’t like. I was a university-educated, grown man from Vancouver who had traveled to over 50 countries. From watching liberal and mainstream news, the only conception I had of Israel was images of extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank—and the suffering of the Palestinians.

I knew that Tel Aviv was a gay city, and Israel participated in Eurovision. But I had always been told that Israel uses gay rights as a cover to excuse its human rights abuses of the Palestinians, so I remained hesitant. I didn’t want to be accused of that dreaded word: pinkwashing.

To be honest, only five years ago I believed that the State of Israel was an oppressor of the Palestinian people. I thought it was an apartheid country, and I questioned whether it was even ethical for me to visit. But because I had met so many wonderful Israelis in Berlin, I realized I shouldn’t judge a people based on its government. It’s like judging all Americans based on Donald Trump. I decided I should go, and learn more.

My first visit to Tel Aviv was in December 2019, right before the pandemic. Shai, another sweet Israeli guy with brown, puppy-dog eyes, was a fan of my comedy. Shai was a tour guide, and a party boy, and had discovered my comedy content from his frequent visits to Berlin.

He hosted me for a quick three-day, two-night visit. I experienced my first Shabbat dinner with Shai’s beautiful, kind, loving Ashkenazi family. I spent an evening in Jerusalem, visited the Western Wall and Mount of Olives, and on my final day, Shai took me to the West Bank.

Shai often guided tours to Bethlehem, and in my mind, I thought if people questioned my “morals” about going to an “apartheid country,” I could always say that I also went to the West Bank to learn about the conflict. Progressive virtue signaling cover: check!

We spent the afternoon in Bethlehem, and I went to the Banksy Hotel, and saw his exhibit about the plight of the Palestinians. It made me cry, and I was so sad. I said to Shai: I just don’t understand. Why can’t they just tear down this wall, and live together in peace?

And Shai said: Well, there’s a lot of terrorism. We need to protect ourselves from terrorists.

And I quietly thought to myself: Wow, he doesn’t get it. They’re terrorists because of how badly you treat them. They just want freedom and to build a nation.

I couldn’t even understand what he was saying. Terrorist? That’s pretty harsh. These people have no other choice to act out—they’ve been brutalized by your government for decades.

I shelved the conversation, and enjoyed my last few hours in Israel. Shai drove me to the airport, and I was heartbroken to leave. I loved it. I learned so much. I met the most amazing people in just three days.

I returned to Israel once the pandemic travel restrictions had eased up. My online content had become very popular in Tel Aviv over the summer of 2020. The Israelis really appreciated any positive reference made toward them in my comedy, and I couldn’t really understand why.

My first show in Tel Aviv was in December 2020. It was a hit and I sold out a 300-seat theater. I kept returning over the next three years, visiting five more times. I grew to love Tel Aviv, and built the most beautiful, supportive, loving friendships there.

Through many organic, long conversations, I learned more about the conflict. I learned many things I didn’t know. I didn’t know that when Israel became a country, the Palestinians were offered a nation as well—and turned it down. I didn’t know they had been offered peace deals multiple times and rejected them as recently as 2014. I didn’t know Gaza was occupied by Egypt and the West Bank was occupied by Jordan until 1967. I didn’t know 20% of Israel was Arab, and that minorities in Israel had full rights of citizenship. I didn’t know that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank don’t live in Israel so Israel can’t give them the rights of citizens, because they don’t live in Israel. I didn’t know Gaza had been fully given to the Palestinians in 2005, and wasn’t occupied; not a single Israeli had entered Gaza in 18 years.

It never occurred to me that the cause of Palestinian suffering was Palestinian leadership and radical jihadist terrorist ideology.

It never occurred to me that their leadership was a terrorist regime.

This conflict wasn’t about land and coexistence. It was about an ideology to commit genocide against the Jewish people, and have a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea” by destroying Israel—and that is their stated mission, written out in their charter.

Their narrative is based on a delusion, and their idea of humanitarianism is simply hypocrisy and moral narcissism.

And it never occurred to me that terrorists lie and manipulate the public for that stated mission of destroying Israel.

Once it clicked in my brain, it was like a light went on, and I could see what was so evident to Israelis, but so unclear to the world.

By autumn 2023, I had completely forgotten how I used to think about Israel. I had forgotten all the lies and misconceptions. I had a beautiful weeklong stay with my friends, and performed Power Gay at the Habima Theatre, Israel’s national theater.

A week after my show, Oct. 7 happened.

As I sat in shock and horror, I began to see the response from people I knew in Berlin (mostly international, since the Germans get a lot of Holocaust education as children and are mostly pro-Israel). From liberal, open-minded queer people—who were fans of mine, people I was friends with for years. Feminists, POC, trans people: The people Hamas would be most likely to savagely kill were their strongest supporters.

They saw Oct. 7 as an uprising against “settler colonialism.”

“How else do you expect them to defend themselves?” one friend wrote to me. “Israel does the same thing to them. You just don’t hear about it.”

“Maybe they shouldn’t have had a rave beside an open-air prison” was a pretty common DM I would receive.

And of course: “You support genocide.” I was told over and over and over again as early as my first video on Oct. 11.

I was inundated with hateful messages for showing love and support to my friends in Israel, and for challenging the idea that Hamas were terrorists, rather than resistance fighters. It was constant cyberbullying to which I said (and still say): Fuck off.

To this day, the reaction of people I knew in Berlin haunts me. What if I had been there? What if I had been kidnapped or murdered. Would all of these people who had known me for years think it was justifiable? Would they take to the streets, demanding a cease-fire—knowing that I was being held hostage? I think the answer is: Yes. Because the hatred of Jews is a mind-virus. Germans gave it a special name in the 1930s: Judenhass. It’s a special kind of hate. It is a roller coaster of hate to which society turns a blind eye.

And as months have passed, the more I’ve dug in my heels, and chosen to push back harder and harder, and I won’t stop. Their hatred of Israel is not stronger than my love for hot Israeli guys.

I cannot stop thinking about Chen and Shai. I see their brown, puppy-dog eyes in the eyes of all the male hostages. Why don’t my friends in Berlin want to acknowledge the hostages? Why does even mentioning the hostages bother them so much? I suppose it forces them to confront the truth: Their narrative is based on a delusion, and their idea of humanitarianism is simply hypocrisy and moral narcissism.

It is so clear to me how antisemitism has gripped our society. I see how these lies about Israel have poisoned an entire generation, and how it is escalating every day. It is an intentional ideological subversion of Western civilization. Terrorism isn’t just being normalized, it is being encouraged.

I recently put out a call for Berliners to share their stories of antisemitism in left-wing social circles. The stories were endless. From a drag queen putting out a statement that Israelis aren’t welcome at her shows, to a woman’s anti-fascist collective putting up posters to honor female Palestinian terrorists. Germany’s ban on public support for terrorism holds this raging antisemitism and anti-Zionism in check. A monthly queer techno party called Buttons recently issued an apology and a clarification that they didn’t support Hamas, after sharing a petition titled “DJs Against Apartheid” that called Oct. 7 “a natural reaction to Israeli occupation.”

I cannot believe this was a city where I once felt like I belonged. It is fascinating to witness how quickly so many people I knew in Berlin turned against me. They turned against me with so much hate for supporting Israel—saying I’m self-interested, heartless, attention-seeking, and obsessed with followers. They project all their own inadequacies and unhappiness about themselves onto me. Their minds refuse to take in new information. They cannot hold two thoughts at the same time, and they refuse to hold Hamas accountable for any aspect of this war.

Nearly every day I will get a message from a strung-out deadbeat Berlin hipster. Some girl with sweaty green hair. Her profile photo is her in a bra, with piercings and tattoos and black lipstick, licking a knife in her profile photo. And she’ll write me something like “Fuck off Zionist: you don’t speak for the queers of Berlin.”

And I’ll think to myself: You’re damn right I don’t!

If extremism and terrorism grip Western cities, I will happily move to Tel Aviv, and live out my days with sexy Israeli men, eating hummus, having hot gay sex, and playing volleyball on the beach until World War III ends life on planet Earth.

If that’s my future, so be it!

Daniel-Ryan Spaulding is a stand-up comedian, writer, activist, and Power Gay based in New York City.