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German lawmakers host 'Solidarity with Israel' rally

Kate Brady
May 21, 2021

Politicians reiterated the country's "special responsibility" at a Berlin demonstration, which aimed to show solidarity with Israel and reject antisemitism. For some onlookers, the government response was "one-sided."

Deutschland Demo in Berlin zum Nahost-Konflikt
Image: Kate Brady/DW

Just hours before Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire on Thursday evening, around a thousand people filled the square — Platz des 18. März — behind Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. While some donned Israeli flags like capes, or attached tiny flags to FFP2 face masks, others carried placards with slogans like "Israel has the right to defend itself" and "Free Gaza from Hamas."

"Solidarity with Israel — against all antisemitism" was the official motto of the demonstration. Organized by a group of Jewish and non-Jewish societies and associations, several prominent politicians also gave speeches — all of them reiterating Germany's "special responsibility" to protect Israel due to Germany's history.

A placard reading, "Israel must defend itself."
"Israel must defend itself" was just one of several slogan on display.Image: Kate Brady/DW

Germany's Vice-Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said ensuring the safety of the Jewish state was among Germany's national goals and ambitions.

"Nothing justifies the firing of thousands of rockets on the Israeli state by a terror organization whose stated goal is the killing of Jews and the annihilation of Israel," the Social Democrat politician went on to say.

Hamas' latest barage of rockets, which began 11 days ago, was in response to Israel's crackdown on Palestinian protests against the threat of forced evictions in East Jerusalem. Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be an official part of its territory, but the international community, including the EU and Germany, condemns Israeli settler expansion into the occupied Palestinian territories.

Antisemitic attacks

Thursday's demonstration follows an increase in antisemitic attacks and demonstrations in Germany in recent days.

"Anyone who burns Israeli flags in front of synagogues, throws stones, calls for rockets against Tel Aviv, isn't a so-called critic of Israel," senior Green Party politician Cem Özdemir told demonstrators, adding: "They're nothing more than a banal antisemite." 

Some people, however, argue the space for legitimate criticism of the Israeli government's actions has become restricted due to the extreme actions of antisemites.

Pro-Israeli rally held in Berlin - DW's Simon Young reports

Yusef, a young Berliner, was cycling by Brandenburg Gate when he stopped to see what the demo was about. The tassels of his red, black, green and white scarf stand out against the largely blue and white emblazoned crowd at the demo.

"I wear it in solidarity with Palestinians," he says. "It's sad to look up and see just the Israeli and German flag up there on the stage. I have the feeling that nobody cares about all of the children being killed on the other side. And it's difficult to voice legitimate criticism of the Israeli government."

Another young man who asks to remain anonymous, looks on alone. Sporting a white sweater with a triangular Palestine logo, he says he wanted to see for himself what politicians had to say.

A man wearing a Palestine sweater attends a pro-Israel demonstration.
This onlooker said the German government's response is "one-sided."Image: Kate Brady/DW

"I have family in Gaza," he says. "They're doing okay. But it's hard. Germany has this responsibility, but the government's response is woefully one-sided."

One member of the German-Israeli Society, Margreet Krikowski, however, said "now is not the time to be criticizing the politics of the Israeli government."

"Israel is trying to protect itself," she insisted.

Margreet Krikowski, a member of the German-Israeli Society
Margreet Krikowski, a member of the German-Israeli SocietyImage: Kate Brady/DW

Towards the end of the demonstration, a Palestinian man wearing a keffiyeh walks through the crowd. Demonstrators are distracted only momentarily, as he strolls by, his arms raised in the air, his fingers making V-shapes. No one interacts with him except for the police officers in high-visibility vests, who tail him from a distance.

Local Michael Kaiser is among the onlookers. He says he came to the demonstration to show "a different picture of Germany" in light of the recent antisemitic attacks. His hopes are set on dialogue for a peaceful solution.

"I'm just not sure what that solution is anymore," he says.