On October 21, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Angela Merkel in Berlin. There was a protest, protestors were arrested – almost routine. Except a number of the people who were arrested were Israeli and Jewish people. And at least one was charged with anti-Semitic hate speech.
What was the offending message? “Netanyahu: Hitler Didn’t Want to Exterminate the Jews”. The slogan on a protest sign was taken from the Israeli daily Haaretz, as just the day before, Netanyahu had claimed at the Zionist World Congress that the idea for the Holocaust came not from Hitler, but rather from the Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini.
Netanyahu’s comments were condemned around the world. The German government also of course replied: “We’re Responsible for Holocaust”. Numerous Israeli scholars have said Netanyahu’s comments are wind in the sails of Holocaust deniers. And so about 100 people, mostly Palestinians but also Israelis, Iranians, Americans and Germans, protested against Netanyahu in front of the Bundeskanzleramt.
But the Berlin police weren’t having any of it. Dror Dayan, a film student originally from Jerusalem who has lived in Berlin for 10 years, was one of half a dozen people arrested last Wednesday. We asked him to tell his side of the story.
Dror: “The night before the demonstration, I had returned from Jerusalem. For two weeks, I had to experience the right-wing hysteria and the Palestinian’s fear of the police. That’s why I made a sign in German: “Netanyahu: War Criminal and Holocaust Denier.” I’d never heard this claim that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem had been responsible for the Holocaust – well, I’d only heard it from so-called “Antideutsche” youth here in Germany. This is clearly historical revisionism – I don’t think Netanyahu has made claims like this before. For him, foreign policy is always directed to his voters at home. I doubt he wanted to make such waves internationally. He was only talking to his base in Israel and his lobby groups in other countries.
After 20 minutes, two police officers came up to me. They pointed at my sign and, confusingly, told me they had “potential suspicion” of a crime. They wanted me to go over to a police van with them. But I wasn’t going to censor myself – I was going to stay there with my sign. So they led me away. At that moment another Israeli yelled out: “The German police is arresting Jews for antisemitism!” Yes, and in the same city from which my grandfather had to flee to escape the Nazis.
I was accused of a violation of paragraph 103 of the legal code: “Insulting a foreign head of state or member of a foreign government.” This can be punished by up to three years in prison – in the case of “defamation”, with up to five years. Unfortunately, they didn’t tell me whether the crime was calling Netanyahu a “war criminal” or a “holocaust denier”.
So my sign was confiscated, but after an hour I was released and could go back to the rally. I really hope they press charges against me. Then they would have to prove that these signs are not accurate.
In the police van, an officer asked me what the demonstrators were chanting in Arabic – I think they hadn’t realised until this moment that I wasn’t an Arab. At every protest, I see how the police treat people who they consider Muslim much worse than us Israelis. German society is very racist – the voices of white Jews are much more likely to be heard than the voices of Palestinians. I always find that painful. But we Israelis need to be the ones who demand a boycott of the state of Israel. If the victims of the occupation raise this demand, they are accused of anti-Semitism. This hypocrisy of the German government means that the people who are most directly affected are simply not heard.
People here need to understand that anti-Zionism is not the same as antisemitism. We Israelis can explain this. So the role of Israelis here is incredibly important. In France, England or any other European state, tens of thousands of left-wing people go out on the streets to show solidarity with the Palestinians. In England, even the leader of the opposition expresses solidarity. That is unthinkable here.”