Germany struggles to contain anti-Semitism slurs at Israel protests

Jewish organisations say they are facing a wave of hate speech and physical attacks

 Protesters face riot police as they march  to demonstrate for the rights of Palestinians in Neukoelln district, Berlin on Saturday. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Protesters face riot police as they march to demonstrate for the rights of Palestinians in Neukoelln district, Berlin on Saturday. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 

German police in all major cities are on high alert as each evening brings renewed anti-Israel demonstrations that, over the weekend, tipped over into riots peppered with anti-Semitic slogans.

There have been scenes of protest in other European cities, but the stand-offs in Germany carry extra weight given the country’s Holocaust legacy and post-war priority to defend Israel and counter anti-Jewish sentiment.

German Jews and a leading Jewish organisation have sounded the alarm, warning that they are facing an unprecedented wave of hate speech and physical attacks.

The high point of the radicalised anti-Israel sentiment came on Saturday in Berlin when a demonstration that began with 1,200 marchers tripled in size and descended into a full-scale street battle.

Police detain a man during a march by protesters to demonstrate for the rights of Palestinians on Saturday in Berlin. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Police detain a man during a march by protesters to demonstrate for the rights of Palestinians on Saturday in Berlin. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Police say 93 officers were injured and 59 marchers arrested after bottles, bangers and stones flew. Police used pepper spray and then broke up the march – not because of audible anti-Jewish chants but because demonstrators flouted pandemic restrictions on public gatherings.

On Monday the Central Council of Jews in Germany took the unusual step of publishing a selection of the hate speech it has received, in many cases likening Israel to Nazi Germany.

“You whinge about what Germany did to you then but you’re not a bit better,” wrote one named Instagram user. “The devil will dance when you land with him, be ashamed you honourless, landless filthy Judas.” Another wrote: “Go to the gas chamber now.”

Call for protection

Council president Josef Schuster blamed Hamas for the escalating conflict in Israel and Gaza and called for extra protection for Jewish institutions as tensions in Germany continued to rise.

“Israel and Jews as a whole are subjected to hatred and incitement, particularly on social media,” he said. “The threat to the Jewish community is growing.”

The Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany (ORD) said: “One may not always agree with Israeli policies, but Jews living here in Germany and Europe are definitely the wrong people at which to direct criticism of the state of Israel.”  

Participants of a vigil against anti-Semitism gather in front of the synagogue in Kreuzberg, Berlin on Sunday. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA
Participants of a vigil against anti-Semitism gather in front of the synagogue in Kreuzberg, Berlin on Sunday. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA

Anti-Semitic crimes have risen steadily in Germany in recent years, with 2,032 offences recorded in 2020, up 13 per cent on the previous year, according to government figures.

The violent demonstrations – often with large numbers of young men from the German-Arab community – have triggered smaller pro-Israel demonstrations around the country. 

Last week synagogues in Düsseldorf, Münster and Bonn were vandalised and Israeli flags burned in their vicinity.

The attacks prompted 30 Bonn locals to launch a permanent “citizen watch”, starting last Friday with local man Rolf Rau. Though not religious, the 59-year-old felt he couldn’t stand idly by.

“I’d like to do what politicians have demanded from us,” he said. “I’d like to show my solidarity with people of Jewish faith in our city.”