Since the hostilities between Israel and Hamas began, and especially once Israel launched its ground attack on Gaza on July 17, pro-Hamas and anti-Israel demonstrations have taken place in many cities around the world. While these events are similar in their political aim, they have played out in a variety of ways that reflect the unique political, social and cultural realities of the communities involved. What has occurred in three large and important countries, France, Germany and Turkey, requires special attention.
France has the largest Jewish community in Europe, some 600,000; it is also home to the continent's largest Muslim community, estimated at some 6 million. Pro-Hamas and anti-Israel demonstrations have occurred in Paris and other cities, with banners, signs and shouted slogans too often displaying blatant anti-Semitism; a firebomb was hurled at a synagogue outside Paris, and more than 100 congregants were besieged for hours in a central Paris synagogue by an angry mob. The latest developments must be understood in the context of rising threats from violent Islamist extremists in France in recent years, including the murder of three Jewish students and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, the earlier murder of three French Muslim soldiers in and near Toulouse, and the torture and murder of a kidnapped Jewish man near Paris in 2006. A sense of insecurity has led to a significant increase of French aliyah to Israel. To prevent violence in the recent anti-Israel manifestations, French authorities banned further pro-Hamas rallies, declaring them threats to public order. Despite the ban, anti-Semitic rallies have continued to take place, prompting Prime Minister Manuel Valls to declare: "The fight against anti-Semitism is not the problem of the Jews, it is the problem of the Republic, of all of France.... It is a national concern." Valls also asked the Jewish community "to have trust in their country."
Numerous pro-Hamas and anti-Israel rallies in recent weeks featuring anti-Semitic chants and signs equating Israel with the Nazis have taken place in Germany, a country that for many decades has established itself as a friend and partner of Israel. Participants at demonstrations include large numbers of Muslims, but also representatives of far left-wing groups and even neo-Nazis. Some of the demonstrations have ended in violence, including an attack against a member of the German parliament who was speaking out for Israel. At a recent Berlin demonstration, an Israeli couple narrowly escaped an attack. Although anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi slogans often contravene the law, police have been criticized for insufficient intervention to stop such rhetoric. A legal complaint filed by AJC Berlin prompted the Berlin police to ban some anti-Semitic phrases and to monitor chants more carefully at anti-Israel demonstrations. AJC Berlin advocacy also prompted leading German politicians to condemn publicly the spate of anti-Semitic incidents.
The situation in Turkey differs sharply from that in France and Germany. Unlike the governments in Paris and Berlin that recognize Israel's right to protect its citizens from Hamas rockets, the Turkish government, at odds with Israel for years, has denounced Israeli policies as "genocidal." In fact, anti-Israel sentiment is so politically popular in the country that Prime Minister Erdogan and the leaders of the parliamentary opposition have accused each other of being too soft on Israel. The intense provocation coming from the country's leaders triggered mob attacks on Israel's embassy in Ankara and its Istanbul consulate, with members of the ruling Justice and Development Party taking part, and a break-in was attempted at the residence of the Israeli ambassador. Israel ordered the evacuation of the families of its diplomats in Turkey - and called on the government to assure the security of its diplomatic outposts and personnel. Amid rising tensions, Turkey's small Jewish population of some 20,000 is attempting to maintain a low profile. In recent days the head of IHH, an extremist Turkish NGO, threatened that "Turkish Jews will pay dearly" for Israel's actions.
The Response from European Leaders
After these violent rallies, AJC welcomed a powerful statement on European anti-Semitism by the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Italy. The three foreign ministers denounced “the ugly anti-Semitic statements, demonstrations and attacks of the last few days,” and stressed that “nothing, including the dramatic military confrontation in Gaza, justifies such actions in Europe.” Read more here.