Pro-Israel group barred from displaying flags

BERLIN (JTA) — The German city of Kassel barred a pro-Israel group from displaying Israeli flags at an information stand, allegedly because it might upset passersby.

A member of the interfaith group Bündnis gegen Antisemitismus, the Association Against Anti-Semitism, told the Nordhessische.de news service that when she applied for official permission at the Public Order office to set up the stand over the weekend, she was asked for further details. The member, whose name was given as Dorothee H., told the officer that the group would be distributing flyers and might display flags.

She was then told that Israeli flags would not be permitted, as passersby could "feel threatened." In January 2009, people displaying Israeli flags in several German cities, including Kassel, were attacked by anti-Israel demonstrators during Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

"I told him that I could not understand this, and that we were not at all dangerous," Dorothee H. said, according to the report. The officer then "made clear to me that my application would only be accepted if we adhered to this requirement."

Jonas Dörge, a spokesperson for the pro-Israel group, said he could not understand how the display of an Israeli flag could be seen as a disturbance of the peace.

Hans-Jürgen Schweinsberg, a spokesperson for the city of Kassel, told the news agency that if someone in the office of Public Order said the flag could be threatening, this was a personal opinion and bore no legal weight. Flags are routinely barred from information stands but allowed at gatherings, he said.

Critics had noted that demonstrators for the Iranian pro-democracy movement had no trouble displaying a large Iranian flag recently in Kassel.

Last year, the police chief in the city of  Duisburg  apologized for removing Israeli flags from an apartment window overlooking a massive anti-Israel demonstration. In his statement, Rolf Cebin said he "deeply regret[ted] that feelings were hurt, particularly those of our Jewish fellow citizens."

Efraim Zuroff, Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called the police act "a clear violation of free expression" and a potential encouragement to "aggressive and violent behavior by those opposing Israeli policies."
 

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