BERLIN — An angry mob gathered on Berlin’s famed Kurfürstendamm avenue Thursday. Draped in Palestinian flags and shaking their fists in rage, they chanted in German, “Jude, Jude feiges Schwein! Komm heraus und kämpf allein!” (“Jew, Jew, cowardly swine, come out and fight on your own!”)
Earlier last week in Dortmund and Frankfurt anti-Israel protester chanted, “Hamas Hamas Juden ins gas!” (“Hamas Hamas Jews to the gas!”). On Friday, a 200-strong mob in Essen chimed in, “Scheiss Juden!” (“Jewish shit”)
This week, similar mobs gathered in Kassel, Nuremberg, Mainz, and other cities throughout Germany. The crowds are largely young, with both immigrants and native Germans, many of Middle Eastern origin. Politically they span the spectrum, from German neo-Nazis to Marxist anti-Imperialists, from secular Palestinian nationalists to Islamic fundamentalists.
On Monday, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, condemned the rallies and attendant violence.
“We are currently experiencing in this country an explosion of evil and violent hatred of Jews, which shocks and dismays all of us,” he said in a statement. “We would never in our lives have thought it possible anymore that anti-Semitic views of the nastiest and most primitive kind can be chanted on German streets.”
“Jews are once again openly threatened in Germany and sometimes attacked, synagogues are being defaced and declared as targets,” he added.
In Berlin, Thursday and Friday’s marches of some combined 1,700 protesters were in the heart of Charlottenberg, a neighborhood which was historically and still is a center of Berlin’s Jewish community. Here one finds most of the city’s Jewish schools, synagogues, and other social and religious institutions.
On Friday, Rabbi Shmuel Segal, 36, program director of Berlin’s Chabad Center, rushed to Berlin’s Adenauerplatz, where the latest angry throng was marching. He came to comfort the counselors of Chabad’s summer camp who were housed in a building above the rally.
Segal is unfazed by the latest demonstrations. “We will have to have a bit more security… but at least for tomorrow we are not afraid. However, in ten years from now, we are uncertain [about the security situation],” Segal said in a phone conversation.
Segal is intimately familiar with Charlottenberg’s Jewish heritage. “I know what happened 70 years ago, and [the marching mobs today] connect me to previous bad times,” he said.
Yet he notices a fundamental difference in the character of these anti-Semitic marches. “My feeling is that this is not the regular anti-Semitism that we have in Europe… this comes much more from the Muslim side,” said Segal.
Indeed, shouts of “Allahu Akbar” were perhaps the most common refrain throughout the German rallies. It may be precisely because of the Islamic nature of the rallies that unlike the robust counter-presence to neo-Nazi rallies from anti-fascists, most of the recent demonstrations, despite their openly anti-Semitic chants, faced little opposition.
On Friday, the Iranian-sponsored Al Quds Day March is likely to be the most extreme of the demonstrations. Even hardened anti-Israel activists like Svenja, 20, from Workers’ Power, a self-described Trotskyist organization, are hesitant about attending the Al Quds Day March. Al Quds is the Arabic term for Jersualem.
“We oppose the Israeli state, and anti-Zionism is important to us, but we have not decided yet if we will attend the Al Quds Day March because of certain extreme elements,” said Svenja.
However, not all leftists in Germany oppose Israel or are ambivalent about the Al Quds Day March. The No Al Quds Day Alliance is made up of left-wing and anti-Fascist groups and individuals including youth movements and pro-Israel chapters from the Left Party, the Greens, the Social Democrats, and other progressive organizations.
The alliance’s spokesperson, who, in line with the group’s policy, declined to give his name, made it clear that it is unequivocally opposed to Al Quds Day. “Al Quds Day is anti-Semitic and needs to be stopped… [these marches] are beyond the borders of legitimate expression because they create an atmosphere where people fear for their safety.”
The alliance intends to hold a counter demonstration on Friday separate from the Jewish community’s in order to emphasize that it is opposing the Al Quds Day March from a progressive perspective.
“Israel is threatened by reactionary and totalitarian enemies that are homophobic, misogynist, and human rights violators,” he said. “We are not only supporters of Israel, but also supporters of progressive elements in Iran, Arab countries, and even in Gaza.”
On Friday, the alliance expects 200 counter demonstrators to join them at Adenauerplatz, a small turnout compared to other anti-Fascist counter rallies against neo-Nazis, and even smaller compared to the over 1,000 marchers expected to come from all over Germany for the march.
“Other anti-fascists may not come, despite the anti-Semitic nature of the march for two reasons. Firstly, out of fear of being labeled Islamophobic. And secondly, many are more anti-West than they are pro-human rights. Hence their support for Palestinian nationalism, Venezuela, and other problematic causes associated with Third World Liberation movements,” said the alliance spokesman.
Florian Lorenz, 24, an activist and member of the Young Socialists in the SDP (Social Democratic Party), will be attending Friday’s counter-demonstration. Even without the openly anti-Semitic chants, Lorenz sees an anti-Semitic element in the anti-Zionist and anti-Israel movement.
“The chants of ‘Israel child murderer’ and blaming everything on Israel follows an anti-Semitic tradition. We can see that the values and structures of Nazism isn’t over,” said Lorenz.
Lorenz notes that the German left has gone through a significant change in its outlook since the fall of Communism and the advent of a new western world order.
“Since the 90s, many left-wing people in Germany realized that they needed to reexamine the theoretical and practical stances of the left. They realized that anti-Zionism and an almost naive affirmation of national liberation movements like the Palestinians is not possible any more. As leftists, it is a duty to fight an anti-Semitic, misogynist, and homophobic worldview. You have to stand up to this,” said Lorenz.
One person who never expected to see another Al Quds Day March again is Reza Dayeenavi, 44, owner of Charlottenberg’s popular Espresso Bar a block from its expected route.
Dayeenavi fled Iran for Germany in 1984. In 1979, Islamic fundamentalist dictator Ayatollah Khomeini instituted Al Quds Day as a day dedicated to hatred of Israel and support of the Palestinian people. In Iran, Al Quds Day is a day of mass marches with chants of “Death to Israel!” and speeches attacking the Jewish state. During the presidency of Ahmedinejad, Al Quds Day provided the Iranian president with a platform to make his notorious calls for Israel’s annihilation and his denials of the Holocaust.
“Al Quds Day is an instrument for extremists to show their presence,” said Dayeenavi.
Like Rabbi Segal, Dayeenavi feels secure now but is cautious about the long-term effects concerning the new generation of extremists in Germany.
“While I’m not scared because I’m living in a strong democracy, we should still have our eyes open. There could be danger in the future,” said Dayeenavi.
That danger is already being felt in Berlin where on July 10, a Jewish man was attacked in Berlin for wearing a Star of David. A similar episode occurred in April when six youths surrounded an Israeli and his wife as they left their apartment building and physically assaulted the Israeli in the face.
How will German Jews deal with this seeming resurgence of anti-Semitism?
“We must continue in our own way. If we change our plans, it will be much worse,” said Segal, who remembers how he hesitated to move to Berlin nine years ago from Israel. Segal’s grandfather’s family in Czechoslovakia was murdered by Germans in the Holocaust and his wife’s grandfather fled Germany to Israel shortly before World War II.
While debating his move, Segal approached his wife’s grandfather and asked him if he should relocate to Berlin.
The grandfather answered, “Yes, if you go there and build Yiddishkeit [Judaism] I’m happy for you to go. In the same place where there is darkness, if you bring light, this is the greatest victory over the Nazis.”
AFP contributed to this report.