German Greens MP Volker Beck heads the German-Israeli parliamentary group in the Bundestag. In an interview with DW, he said he condemns Quds Day because it denies Israel's right to exist.
DW: Mr. Beck, on Friday (25.07.2014), hundreds of people took to the streets in Berlin to protest against Israel's occupation of Jerusalem and the oppression of the Palestinians. This year the mood is particularly tense. Why did you go to a counter-demonstration that was taking place on this year's Quds Day?
Volker Beck: The counter-demonstration has been around for a long time. In fact, it happens every year. Quds Day was proclaimed by the Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini to liberate Jerusalem from the Jews. This is a hate event that we, as democrats, must oppose together.
Are you worried that the situation in Berlin might escalate?
I am mainly concerned that the current situation in the Middle East, and the mood that we've seen at demonstrations in the past few weeks, will result in a much larger turnout at this absurd event. It used to be quite an insignificant event.
We need to make it clear that you can be in favor of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas; that you can reject the escalation by Hamas; and can also criticize Israel's military action. But this campaign of destruction against Israel, which is being called for, needs to be rejected in the strongest possible terms.
Who is protesting against Israel on this year's Quds Day?
Whoever lets themselves ultimately be used as an instrument by religious leaders in Iran, and if they know the background, they need to take responsibility for the fact that they're demonstrating against international law and Israel's right to exist. This is an unacceptable position for which there is no justification.
The German Office for the Protection of the Constitution doesn't have any information to suggest that there are links between Iran and the organizers of Quds Day in Germany. What is your response to that?
Its origins are there. And so far none of the events that I've seen have really accepted that Jews live in Jerusalem, or that part of Jerusalem also belongs to Israel. That has never been the message at past events, so I'd be surprised if it were any different now.
Is the current radicalization of the debate even in Germany covered by the right to freedom of speech outlined in the constitution?
Freedom of speech has its limits - when the line to criminality is crossed. Those inciting violence against Jews and calling for the destruction of Israel cannot invoke freedom of speech. Just like those who deny the Holocaust or cheer on the Nazis at these events. A line is being crossed, and that has nothing to do with criticizing Israel's military actions in the region. This can be debated, and people are also allowed to express their opinions at rallies. But if there are anti-Semitic undertones then it's not legitimate and it may also be punishable by law.
Many Germans are now wondering how they should act on a personal level. Does one have to take a position on this conflict and be either for Israel or for the Palestinians?
We need to position ourselves on the side of Israel's right to exist, and also on the side of peace. We want there to be a Palestinian state in the region alongside a secure Israel. And that is the political perspective. It needs to be said that Hamas has contributed to the current escalation, and also that Israel has a responsibility, because it hasn't been very constructive in past peace negotiations and is continuing to build new settlements. There is responsibility, and so there's also ground for criticism.
Volker Beck is a member of the German Green Party and has been in the Bundestag since 1994. He is the home affairs spokesperson in the Green Party's Bundestag faction and head of the German-Israeli parliamentary group. He previously served as the spokesperson for human rights policy.