BERLIN (Nov. 15)
What is anti-Semitism? Two young Muslim girls marching in Berlin’s Al-Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, parade didn’t know, even though they were holding up signs opposing “occupation, racism and anti-Semitism.” Then they marched, together with some 1,000 others, through the German capital on Sunday.
The Shi’ite Islamist parade was one of several held around the world to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The event was begun in 1979 by Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini to condemn Israel’s existence.
Since then, Iran has held its annual demonstration in Teheran; Hezbollah has held military parades in Beirut; and demonstrators around the world — including in London, Berlin and Toronto — have demanded the destruction of Israel.
In Berlin this year, those demands were veiled. There were posters condemning “all forms of terrorism” and proclaiming the equal value of the three major faiths, which one day hopefully would live together in a “liberated Palestine.”
To some extent, the moderate appearance of Sunday’s Islamist parade was a result of the attention drawn to the event by a coalition of pro-democracy groups.
“We succeeded in getting them to be more reserved” in their slogans, said Anette Kahane, founder of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, a watch-dog against racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, who helped organize a pro-Israel counter-demonstration.
The pro-Israel group included many Iranian exiles who protested human rights abuses in their homeland. About 150 people stood on a street blocked off by a phalanx of green-and-white police vans.
Though there were Jewish participants in the counter-demonstration, no Jewish communal organization was involved. That was in keeping with organizers’ goals, said Arne Behrensen, a member of the Berlin Alliance Against Anti-Semitism.
“We wanted to build a coalition of the left, anti-racist groups and immigrant organizations who see it as their own job to do something against anti-Semitism, radical Islamism and racism, and not to leave it to the Jews,” Behrensen said in a telephone interview. “And we don’t want to leave it to the Iranians to protest against Islamism and Al-Quds Day.”
Mehdi K., holding a pre-revolution Iranian flag, said he had not seen his wife and child in Iran for three years.
“We are against terrorists, we are against people who kill,” said Mehdi, 37, who is Muslim. “We stand next to the Israeli flag. For us it is the same as the German flag. Terrorists are destroying Islam.”
Kahane, who is a member of Berlin’s Jewish community, participated in a Nov. 7 conference to inform the public about the history and goals of Al Quds Day.
The conference aimed to “make it so that fewer people participate in the Al Quds demonstration,” said Claudia Dantschke of the Center for Democratic Culture, a co-organizer of Sunday’s counter-demonstration. She said this year’s Al Quds parade in Berlin was markedly smaller than in previous years.
Similarly, the Nov. 6 Al Quds Day parade in London met with protests by Iranian dissidents who handed out leaflets stating that Iran, as a repressive regime, “is no friend of Palestinians or any other nation.”
One left-wing British group reportedly dropped out of the Al Quds Day march after talking to the pro-democracy groups.
In Berlin, Dantschke was not surprised that some of the Islamist marchers did not understand the words on the posters they carried. The slogans were “meant for the German public” to ensure that the Islamic group can march again next year, Dantschke said.
“The idea is to get the public on their side, through dissembling,” she said.
“Al Quds Day stands for the destruction of Israel,” said Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, a lecturer and journalist in Berlin who translates Iranian publications for the Middle East Media Research Institute. “It is the anti-Semitic symbol in the national ideology of Iran.”
At the Islamic march, many participants carried images of Arafat or Khomeini. There also were photos of American soldiers smiling over humiliated Iraqi prisoners of war.
“We are protesting the oppression by Israel,” said Armin, a high school student who carried a sign on his backpack that said “Freedom for Jews, Freedom for Christians, Freedom for Muslims.” “We want a peaceful state where all religious groups can live together.”
He was under the mistaken impression that Muslims could not vote in Israel, and seemed surprised to hear that Arabs sit in Israel’s Parliament.
Salima, 11, said she didn’t know what anti-Semitism or occupation meant.
“We are here because of the war in Palestine,” she said.
Nadir, 17, said anti-Semitism meant that “the Israelis want the land for themselves.” Asked again about the meaning of anti-Semitism, she said “I have not heard about it.”
In the background, Yavuz Ozoguz proclaimed on his loudspeaker that “we are against every form of anti-Semitism.”
“We know that Israeli civilians are suffering under the situation and they have the right to complain,” he said. “But peace without justice is impossible.”
“We have respect for Judaism,” said Ali, 23, before adding, “But a Jew is not necessarily a Jew.”
“After Moses, Judaism has been turned around into something else,” he said.
At a press conference after the demonstrations, Dantschke said that “hard-liners are tougher to reach than the children and youth. There have to be discussions in schools. We have to build knowledge.”
And Germans should not be fooled by the posters and banners of today’s Al Quds Day, she added. The demand for a “greater Palestine is just a nicer way of saying that Israel has to be destroyed.”