Thousands of people joined vigils in Berlin, London, and elsewhere on Sunday to oppose antisemitism, support Israel, and demand the release of hostages held by Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza.
Meanwhile, in Paris and other cities, thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators demanded a ceasefire and relief for people in Gaza.
Some of those who gathered in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate carried Israeli flags or posters with photos of some of the more than 200 people seized as hostages during Hamas’s murderous October 7 rampage in southern Israel.
“It is unbearable that Jews are living in fear again today — in our country of all places,” Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the crowd, estimated at 20,000 by organizers and at 10,000 by police. “Every single attack on Jews, on Jewish institutions, is a disgrace for Germany. Every single attack fills me with shame and anger.”
Earlier, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz inaugurated a new synagogue in the eastern city of Dessau and said he was “outraged” by the upsurge in antisemitism since the conflict began.
Several buildings in Berlin where Jews live have had the Star of David painted on doors and walls, and assailants threw two Molotov cocktails at a synagogue in Berlin last week.
“Here in Germany, of all places,” Scholz said, vowing that “our ‘never again’ must be unbreakable.”
At a vigil in London’s Trafalgar Square, some of the many thousands of participants held posters bearing pictures of hostages and the missing, and chanted, “Bring them home.”
Organizers said that there was a police presence as well as guards from the Community Security Trust (CST) at the rally.
Speakers from both the UK’s governing Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party addressed the crowd. Communities Secretary Michael Gove said Hamas’s massacre was an act of “unparalleled evil and barbarism.”
“We must stand together against it. We must stand for life. We must bring the hostages home,” he said.
“It’s at times such as this that we discover who our true friends are,” Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said at the rally. He thanked the royal family, the government and opposition parties for their support for Israel, and cast those who remained silent as supporting terror.
“Sometimes, we hear reference to both sides or two sides. But we ourselves know there are indeed two sides — one is good, and the other is evil. Israel uses her forces in order to protect its citizens, while Hamas uses its citizens to protect its forces,” he added.
War erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 2,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,400 people and seizing some 212 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.
The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — men and women, including the elderly, and children. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.
Also Sunday, hundreds of people rallied outside the United Nations offices in Geneva to demand the hostages’ release. Waving mostly Israeli, but also Swiss and German flags, the demonstrators held aloft signs that read “Children aren’t bargaining chips” or t-shirts with the words “#SetThemFree.”
Elsewhere in Switzerland, about 4,500 pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched in the city of Lausanne, police said.
The war has raised tensions worldwide, leaving Jewish and Muslim communities feeling vulnerable. London’s Metropolitan Police Force says it has seen a 13-fold upsurge in reports of antisemitic offenses in October compared to last year.
Reports of anti-Muslim crimes have more than doubled.
Sunday’s rallies came a day after tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators – 100,000 by police estimates – marched through the British capital to demand Israel stop its bombardment of Gaza, launched with the aim of toppling Hamas following its massacre of Israelis.
Israel says its offensive is aimed at destroying Hamas’s infrastructure, and it has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates while seeking to minimize civilian casualties.
The campaign in Gaza has killed more than 4,600 Palestinians, mainly civilians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, and reduced swaths of the densely populated territory to ruins. The Hamas-stated toll cannot be independently verified and is believed to include Hamas terrorists and gunmen, as well as victims of hundreds of misfired rockets that landed in the Strip, including a deadly blast at a Gaza City hospital on October 17 caused by an Islamic Jihad misfired missile aimed at Israel, which Hamas has blamed on Israel. Israel produced evidence showing the blast was caused by a Gazan rocket that fell short. The United States, citing its own data, as well as many top news outlets that looked into the matter, have endorsed the Israeli account.
In addition, Israel has said that its forces killed about 1,500 Palestinian terrorists in Israel, following the October 7 invasion.
In France, which has Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim communities, thousands of demonstrators gathered in Paris on Sunday to demand that Israel stop its strikes on Gaza. Police estimated 15,000 people took part.
Some waved red, green, and black Palestinian flags and clambered onto the Republique Plaza’s central statue. A banner read “Stop the massacre in Gaza. France must call for an immediate ceasefire.”
Organizers — including Palestinian and Muslim groups, peace associations, workers’ and students’ unions, and leftist political parties — condemned Hamas’s targeting of civilians, urged the terror group to release all hostages, and called for an end to Israel’s assault and a “total and immediate ceasefire” in Gaza.
Sarah Alaoui, a 23-year-old French student of Moroccan descent, said she came to “support the Palestinian people who have suffered too much for too long.”
“Humanitarian aid is not enough. Palestinians need to be able to live a decent life and have their own state,” she said.
Nicole Pomier, a 49-year-old Parisian and longtime activist, said she was relieved the protest had not been banned by authorities.
“We want to be able to support the Palestinian people without risking being arrested by the police,” she said.
France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin had ordered all pro-Palestinian demonstrations banned before authorities ruled permission for protests should be decided locally, on a case-by-case basis.
Jewish groups planned a gathering in Paris later Sunday to call for the release of Hamas’s hostages.
A pro-Palestinian crowd estimated at 12,000 by police gathered outside European Union institutions in Brussels for a rally organized by groups including trade unions, Christian organizations, and Arab solidarity movements.
Several thousand people took to the streets in Sarajevo, with some comparing the situation in Gaza with the suffering of Bosniaks, who are mainly Muslims, during the country’s 1992-95 war.
“What is happening in Gaza is simply human disaster. Collective punishment. War crimes. These things have to be named by their rightful name,” said Nabil Naser, a Palestinian doctor who worked in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war.
Hundreds also rallied in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, and in Podgorica, the capital of neighboring Montenegro.
More than 3,000 people attended a “Freedom for Palestine” rally on Sunday at a square in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Malaysia is a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause, and has no diplomatic ties with Israel. Muslims in the country have staged weekly rallies after Friday prayers outside the American embassy, slamming the US for its support of Israel. Many of the country’s leaders are openly antisemitic.
Retiree Munir Izwan urged neighbors of the Palestinians to step up efforts to help.
“Even in Islamic teachings, the closest neighbors should help the most in making peace between the two parties. But from what I see, the neighboring countries of Palestine, they are only talking, but no actions,” Munir said.