At the height of this summer’s Israel-Hamas conflict, Europe erupted with anti-Israel sentiment. From London to Paris, large-scale violent demonstrations were seen in most European capitals and throughout Germany.
Speaking at a special meeting at the Knesset in the end of July, describing demonstrations at home in which they heard regular shouts of “Death to the Jews,” “Jews are pigs,” prominent German Jews said the atmosphere in the country felt like shades of 1933.
“Why aren’t the German police taking the details of these people shouting in an aggressive way ‘Death to the Jews’?” asked Nathan Norman Gelbart, the head of Germany’s Keren Hayesod (United Jewish Appeal).
The wheels of justice move slowly, but they are inching forward in Germany. In a unprecedented case heard half a year after these violent anti-Israel demonstrations, last week in Essen, German Judge Gauri Sastry convicted 24-year-old Taylan Can for incitement against an ethnic minority for events at a July 18, 2014, anti-Israel demonstration in the town.
Eyewitness accounts report hostile anti-Israel chants and stones thrown from the anti-Israel camp to the smaller group of Israel supporters. According to the Anti-Defamation League, a breakaway group headed toward a local synagogue, intending to attack it.
A YouTube video of the demonstration shows fields of Palestinian flags and Turkish flags, and a motley group of young men running and chanting “Adolf Hitler” and “Death to the Jews.” In the video, popular Essen Muslim rapper Sinan-G speaks to the camera explaining this is a counter-demonstration against the Jews. “The Jews insulted us, man, this is crazy stuff,” he said.
Despite the large police presence, the crowd was clearly out of control. According to Die Welt, police arrested 49 protesters. Forty-five cases were dismissed in December.
Born in Germany to a Turkish family, Can is well-known for his anti-Israel activism. According to Die Welt, at a Copenhagen protest Can shouted virulent anti-Israel slogans into a borrowed police megaphone. Elsewhere, at a demonstration he organized in his German hometown, anti-Israel protesters shouted, “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas chamber.”
At his Essen hearing this winter Can was prosecuted for his use of the term “Zionist” as incitement against a minority.
During the hearing, Can claimed he was not an anti-Semite and had nothing against the Jewish people but only against the Zionist state. In response, Judge Sastry is quoted by Die Welt saying, “‘Zionist’ is the language of anti-Semites, the code for ‘Jew.'”
Sastry’s judgment, which does not form a binding precedent in German law, essentially semantically equates anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
Can was sentenced to three months’ probation and a fine of 200 euros. He has until Friday to appeal.
On his Facebook page this week, Can reiterated he that he is not against Jews and stated his intention of appealing to both the district and federal courts.
Reached Monday by The Times of Israel, Gelbart, who was recently part of a delegation of European leaders to Jerusalem for the funerals of those murdered in the Paris HyperCacher terrorist attack, is not optimistic the verdict will be upheld on appeal.
“It’s a very brave verdict… The court has said clearly what our political scientists have known for decades,” said Gelbart.
“It will cause a lot of attention, especially among those who claim they’re not against Jews, but only against Zionists,” he said. Gelbart, who is a lawyer, explained there are many politicians from across the political spectrum, including parties in the German parliament, who use the word “Zionist” to express hatred against Jews while avoiding prosecution.
He doubts the case will stand on appeal since the defendant can be acquitted if there is even a shadow of doubt that he did not intend to incite against the Jewish minority.
“We have an anti-Zionist industry across Europe who are living off this legitimacy to spread hatred through using the word ‘Zionist,'” said Gelbart.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.