One of Germany’s largest pro-Israel demonstrations in recent memory took place here Saturday — with no support from German Jewish groups.
The demonstrators, waving Israeli flags and marching under the slogan “Germany on Israel’s Side,” were mainly fundamentalist Christians who oppose a Palestinian state and believe Jewish control of the biblical Land of Israel is one of the preconditions for Jesus’ return.
While the event, which police said drew 4,000 participants, received publicity and informational material from the Israeli Embassy here, the Union of Jewish Students in Germany “distanced itself completely” from the idea that Jews must accept Jesus as their savior. The group also distanced itself from the anti-Muslim beliefs of some the organizers, according to a statement distributed by a handful of Jewish students at the march.
Their protest attracted the attention of German media and underscored the question being asked elsewhere: Just how far should Israel supporters go in accepting support during troubled times?
In the United States, Jewish groups and Israeli diplomats have grown less reluctant to accept evangelical Christian support for Israel during the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian violence — and there is a Christian rally for Israel slated for October.
But in Germany, evangelical Christians are fewer in number — and much less accepted — even by mainstream Protestants.
And for the Jewish students at the rally, there is no compromise. Many fundamentalist groups “do not recognize the right of Jews to exist if they do not believe in Jesus, that is, take on the Christian faith,” read the students’ flier in part. “We sharply condemn this goal.”
“At the same time, we distance ourselves from the political orientation of the demonstration,” whose main speaker, Ludwig Schneider, has in the past said Israel should “wage a ‘Holy War’ against those who hate you, oh God.” Said the students: “We completely reject this incitement against Muslims.”
Gunter Keil, head of The Bridge Berlin-Jerusalem, the fundamentalist Christian umbrella organization that organized the demonstration, denied both points.
While he said Judaism is “completed” through acceptance of Jesus, he stressed that his group does not have a “division devoted to a mission to the Jews.”
Keil also told the JTA that “We have nothing against the Palestinian people, but for us the Palestinians are Arabs. The word ‘Palestinian’ is made up . . . so there can’t be a Palestinian state in Israel.”
Keil, who says his group has 500 prayer circles across Germany, said a Saturday was chosen for the demonstration to make it clear that it had been planned by non-Jewish groups and not by the Israeli Embassy.
But the Israeli Embassy publicized the demonstration in its electronic newsletter, and Ambassador Shimon Stein accepted a statement of support from the group, with more than 6,000 signatures gathered through the Web site “Jerusalem — Shalom,” in a ceremony last Friday at the embassy in Berlin.
The tacit endorsement troubled some observers.
“I share the goal to show solidarity with Israel, but I see certain problems here,” said Martin Kloke, a scholar on Israeli-German relations and an editor at a textbook publishing company in Berlin. “Some of these groups only support Israel because they think Israel and the Jews have a certain role in the apocalyptic times, in which they think we now live.”
“If someone is demonstrating for Israel, for a just cause, shall I tell him please don’t demonstrate?” asked Mordechay Lewy, deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy here. “It is a free country, and I cannot prevent them,” he told the JTA.
The demonstrators marched from the Foreign Ministry to the Reichstag, the seat of the German Parliament, where they heard several speeches, punctuated by Israeli and Jewish music.
Many demonstrators waved Israeli flags and some wore yarmulkes and Stars of David, though they said they were not Jewish.
Signs bore messages such as “We stand by Israel,” “God will bless you” and “Christians on the side of Israel.” One woman carried a large, hand-painted poster with a cross against a yellow background. On the cross was a large heart with a Star of David in it.
Someone blew a shofar on stage, and a few demonstrators who had brought their own rams’ horns blew them as well. The Shema was chanted in Hebrew, with many in the crowd joining in. A group blessing was aimed at German politicians, with many demonstrators raising both arms and turning toward the Reichstag building behind them.
“People didn’t know who these demonstrators are,” said Uriel Kashi, member of the Union of Jewish Students in Germany, who handed out the protest leaflets. “When Ludwig Schneider talked, people were really shocked and getting a really strange attitude toward Israel solidarity,” he added.
Schneider, a journalist who has lived in Israel for more than 25 years, told the crowd “Whoever hates Israel hates God.”
There was especially loud applause when Schneider said the “bloodthirsty” enemies of Israel “should turn to our God.”
“We work on a purely biblical basis,” explained Keil of The Bridge Berlin-Jerusalem. “We don’t talk of occupied zones or the West Bank. We talk of Samaria and Judea. And in our view, they belong to Israel.”
Kloke said this view is so extreme among some groups that they have indirectly hinted that the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was a punishment from God, to prevent Israel from giving away land. Kloke has documented this in an essay in the German publication Israel and Palestine.
Cathy Palmer, a demonstrator from Florida, came to the demonstration to voice her objection to the idea that Israel should trade land for peace.
“Catastrophic dictates from God are the result — floods and fires,” she said.
When asked if Rabin was an example of someone who had received a judgment, she said, “Yes.”
Even so, “the Israeli government has welcomed this kind of solidarity for years,” said Kloke, who observed the demonstration. “They argue that Israel is lonely and doesn’t have so many friends so we can’t be too choosy.”
The view was echoed at the event, where informational material from the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish National Fund was provided alongside fundamentalist Christian material on the Holy Land and the New Testament.
“We have so few friends in Germany in this horrible time in Israel,” said Sara Rozenbaum, who represents the JNF in Germany. “Our Christian friends are always with us together on the front for Israel.”
“I try not to think about” the missionary aspect, said Rozenbaum, “because I come from a very religious family and I love my family and I love my religion.”
Lewy said those who justify the assassination of Rabin are “lunatics.” But “there should not be a witch hunt against people who are ready to do something for Israel,” he said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.