German Gaza protests turn violent, raising anti-Semitism fears

Demonstrators gather in Berlin to protest heightened Israeli attacks on Gaza. July 2014 [Montecruz Foto/Flickr]

Demonstrators gather in Berlin to protest heightened Israeli attacks on Gaza. July 2014. [Montecruz Foto/Flickr]

Violence, hate speech, self-immolation: the Middle East conflict has reached Germany, with observers worrying that riots during recent Gaza demonstrations are an expression of deeply rooted anti-Semitism. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In several German cities, thousands of people have taken to the streets to demonstrate against Israel’s military action on the Gaza Strip.

In Hannover, Göttingen and Essen, protestors attacked pro-Israeli counter demonstrators and anti-Semitic slogans were chanted at rallies.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany was “shocked” at the “explosion of angry and potentially violent anti-Semitism”.

One would “never have considered it possible that anti-Semitic shouts would be heard on German streets and chanted in a most primitive way”, said the Central Council’s president Dieter Graumann.

Particularly in the capital city, such occurrences are quite frequent these days. 

Demonstrators, primarily young people with a history of migration, chanted in front of the Israeli Embassy in Berlin on numerous occasions: “Jew, Jew, cowardly pig – come out and fight alone.”

German police did not ban the chant until Tuesday (22 July). Police will intervene if this condition is violated, a police spokesman said in Berlin.

On Monday (21 July) night, a man attempted to light himself on fire in front of the Israeli Embassy.

An Imam in the Al-Nur Mosque in Berlin’s Neukölln district called Jews “butchers of the prophet” last weekend.

On Berlin’s main boulevard Unter den Linden, a man wearing a Jewish Kippa was attacked by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Individual demonstrators shouted, “f—ing Jews, we will get you”.

The man was able to escape his attackers, reaching the protection of security guards and police.

German government: Hate speech is “absolutely intolerable”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced the anti-Semitic statements, demonstrations and attacks, which have taken place over the last few days. They are an “attack on freedom and tolerance”, Georg Streiter, a spokesman for Merkel, said on Wednesday (23 July) in Berlin.

“Nothing, including the dramatic military confrontation in Gaza, justifies such activities here in Europe”, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a joint statement with his colleagues, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas also rebuked the recent riots. “Anti-Semitic hate speech is absolutely intolerable and is not excused by anything”, Maas said in Berlin.

Such aggressive and open hate towards Jews has not existed on German streets since the Third Reich, explained Micha Brumlik, Senior Professor at the Center for Jewish Studies, in a statement for

“These anti-Semitic outbreaks were not caused by the Gaza war. More and more young migrants from primarily Muslim countries are living in France as well as in Germany. Often they are not completely integrated into society and now they are expressing their general anger”, said Brumlik.

“Justifiable opportunity to express anti-Semitism”

But by saying this, the historian does not want to belittle hate against Jews in Germany, he said.

“Anti-Semitic attitudes are deeply anchored in Germany. The current Gaza conflict is only a justifiable opportunity to express animosity toward Jews,” Brumlik argued, pointing out surveys indicating that 20% of Germans have anti-Semitic feelings.

Even right-wing extremists and radical left groups are using the Gaza conflict as an opportunity to mobilise anti-Semitic attitudes, Brumlik said.

That includes Germany’s Left Party, he added. Its youth group in North Rhine-Westphalia organised a peace demonstration in Essen.

Around 1,000 people protested, initially peacefully, against Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip. But afterwards a group of around 200 demonstrators attacked counter-protesters, in opposition of anti-Semitism. According to police reports, bottles and other objects were thrown during the struggle.

“Security at Jewish sites had to be reinforced ahead of an event partially initiated by leftists. Anti-Semitic slogans were chanted during and after such a demonstration. The Essen Synagogue was a proclaimed target of anti-Israeli participants at this demonstration. Bottles and stones were thrown at pro-Israeli demonstrators. I am deeply ashamed because of all of this”, explained federal managing director of the Left Party Matthias Höhn.

Criticism of German rule of law

Brumlik also criticised the way German police forces handled the Gaza protests.

“Many policemen have acted foolishly so far.” Apparently they themselves were surprised at the turn taken by demonstrations, said Brumlik.

The judiciary also seems overwhelmed, he indicated. The Berlin prosecutor’s office failed to categorise the expression “Jewish pig”, shouted at demonstrations last week, an incitement against the Jewish population. Instead, the slur was simply considered an insult.

“That shows how unfamiliar many lawyers are with the context”, said Brumlik.

And the professor at the Center for Jewish Studies said the anti-Semitic aggressions could continue to intensify. A demonstration which will take place this Friday (25 July) on the Iranian “al-Quds Day” is just another example, he said.

Worldwide, demonstrators gather annually on this day to call for the liberation of Jerusalem from Israel.

In recent years, anti-Semitic expressions have cropped up again and again in Germany, Brumlik said. “Now it is very likely that counter demonstrations will be added. I am concerned about this.”

In a guest essay for the Berliner Zeitung, Israeli Ambassador to Germany Yakov Hadas-Handelsman warned that Jews are being hunted down like in 1938. “If things continue as they have,” the ambassador said, “I fear it will only be a matter of time until innocent blood is spilt.”

Some German Jews, however, worry that such fears are driven by issues other than Judeophobia. In a radio-interview for Deutschlandfunk, Rolf Verleger, a former member of the Central Council of Jews, criticised community representatives for declaring every criticism of Israel as ‘anti-Semitic’.

“When politicians and media all justify Israel’s doings; when Jewish representatives in Germany and France say, (he) who is against Israeli measures is also against Jews, you provoke anti-Semitic speech. It is an absurdity, this violence, this state-religious hatred in Israel’s society. We don’t need to take part in every nonsense that Israel is doing there.”

“I share the view of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that in Europe, there should be a right to demonstrate, but (there) no place for anti-Semitism,“ Raed Saleh, floor leader for the Social Democrats, in Berlin’s city-state parliament said on Wednesday (23 July) to the Deutsche Presse Agentur (dpa).

“That also accounts for demonstrations in Berlin,” the Palestinian-born politician said. “We as Germans should especially stand up against anti-Semitism.”

On 16 July European Union leaders called on Israelis and Palestinians to end violence and said they welcomed efforts, particularly from Egypt, to broker a cease-fire following more than a week of warfare.

The leaders, meeting in Brussels, urged both sides to "de-escalate the situation, to end the violence, to end the suffering of the civilian populations notably by allowing access to humanitarian assistance, and return to calm".

In a statement, the EU leaders welcomed Egypt's efforts to mediate and called on the Islamic Hamas, which rules Gaza, to agree to a cease-fire.

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