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Berlin police on alert for antisemitism at rallies

May 22, 2021

Around 3,000 officers are on duty for multiple large demonstrations in the German capital. Politicians denounced antisemitic acts at pro-Palestinian protests earlier this month.

Police officers stand guard in front of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
German politicians have demanded tougher action against antisemitismImage: Christian Mang/REUTERS

German authorities were ordered to be on the lookout for antisemitic acts at pro-Palestinian rallies on Saturday.

In Berlin, hundreds of people gathered for the first protest in the late afternoon, many waving Palestinian flags and carrying posters that read "Free Palestine," according to the German DPA news agency. 

One banner, carried by members of the Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East association, said, "Against attacks on synagogues and mosques in Berlin or Gaza," DPA reported.

Another rally was originally scheduled for Saturday evening at Berlin's Potsdamer Platz, with the organizers describing it as a "rally against Israeli aggression in Palestine."

Just hours ahead of the event, however, organizers announced that the new slogan would be "Welcoming the cease-fire" and that the Potsdamer Platz event would be much smaller, with only 400 participants.

Opponents of Germany's coronavirus policy were also planning to hold protests in Berlin on Saturday, parallel to the pro-Palestinian rallies. However, German police banned and prevented such gatherings at various locations throughout the city.

Rallies held in other German cities

In Leipzig, 200 people gathered, with some carrying signs that read "Freedom for Palestine," "Stop Israeli terror" and "Jerusalem is and remains the capital of Palestine," according to DPA. 

Nearly 1,000 people gathered in Frankfurt's city center at a pro-Palestinian rally. 

Frankfurt police said the protest went off peacefully and lasted just over three hours.

Earlier protests drew criticism

As the fighting between Hamas militants and Israel intensified earlier this month, Germany saw several demonstrations, including protests outside of synagogues, where an Israeli flag was burned, Hamas flags flown and antisemitic slogans shouted.

In response, German politicians demanded tougher measures against acts seen as antisemitic.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her weekly video message on Saturday that Germany's constitution, or Basic Law, "guarantees the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly."

But she said it leaves no room "for attacks against people of other faiths, no room for violence, racism and agitation."

"Anyone who brings hatred of Jews onto our streets, who expresses seditious insults, is outside of our Basic Law. Such acts must be punished consistently and have noticeable consequences for the perpetrators," Merkel added.

'The topic is not settled'

Meanwhile, the Berlin police's antisemitism representative Wolfram Pemp said the issue has been underestimated by politicians and society for too long.

"Not just Muslim antisemitism, but antisemitism as a whole has for far too long not been perceived in the way it should have been perceived," Pemp told Tagesspiegel newspaper on Saturday.

Some have assumed that "the topic has settled for us, but it has not settled," he said.

He added that this is evident not only in the context of pro-Palestinian demonstrations, but also through the anti-coronavirus rallies, which saw many people spread antisemitic conspiracy theories.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomes Israel-Hamas ceasefire

Pemp said that the police department was also working to raise awareness of antisemitism among police officers.

Hamas and Israeli forces called a ceasefire on Friday, after ending 11 days of fighting. Palestinian officials placed reconstruction costs at tens of millions of dollars, while economists said the fighting could curb Israel's economic recovery from the pandemic.

The fighting has claimed the lives of at least 243 people in Gaza, while Israel reported that 12 people in the country were killed. Both sides have claimed victory. 

dj, lc/mm (dpa, epd, Reuters)