Jewish groups concerned over Palestinian gathering in Berlin

Marcy Oster

BERLIN (JTA) — A major gathering of Palestinians in Europe, set for this weekend in Berlin, has drawn concern of Jewish and other pro-Israel groups over alleged ties of the event to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.

Several groups are planning to protest on April 25 outside the Arena Berlin, where the 13th Conference of Palestinians in Europe is to be held. More than 3,000 people are expected at the pro-Palestinian event, which is co-organized by the Palestinian Community of Germany and the British-based Palestinian Return Center.

Fearing a resurgence of the hate speech and violence that marked last summer’s anti-Israel protests in Germany, a coalition of groups under the name “Berlin Against Hamas” have planned a protest rally on Saturday morning near the venue.

Politicians from all parties represented in the Berlin legislature have added their support, the Berlin office of the
American Jewish Committee said in a statement.

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“If political and legal means are not enough to stop this kind of event, then it’s time for the democratic civil society to show their true colors,” Deidre Berger, director of AJC in Berlin, said in the statement accompanying the protest call.

Sebastian Mohr, spokesperson for the “Berlin Against Hamas” initiative, applauded the readiness of politicians and NGOs to take a stand “against the hate of the terrorist Islamist group Hamas.”

It’s not enough to take to the streets against Nazis, said Timo Reinfrank, managing director of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which co-organized the rally: One has to protest against “other anti-democratic organizations” as well.

According to the Berlin Department for Constitutional Protection, the Palestinian conference has become “the most important activity of Hamas-supporters” in Berlin.

Volker Beck, Green Party legislator and chair of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Group in the German Bundestag, said in the joint statement that the conference “does not further either peace in the Mideast or the legitimate interests in peace and security for Palestinians or Israelis. Just the opposite: it’s a place where
prejudices are stoked and, even worse, Hamas’ terror and violence is legitimized or even glorified.”

The managing director of  Arena Berlin, Jana Seifert, told the German press agency dpa that government authorities had investigated but not found any connections between the conference organizers and Hamas.

Nevertheless, Seifert said the venue insisted on contractual assurances from the organizers that the program would not break the law. It is illegal in Germany to incite violence or hatred against based on such categories as religion, ethnic or racial origin or sexual orientation.

It would also be illegal to incite hate against Israel: Earlier this year, a court in Essen set a legal precedent by finding a defendant guilty of incitement to anti-Semitism by calling for “death and hate to Zionists.”

Meanwhile, Berlin police said there also will be a demonstration in central Berlin on April 25, the “Day of Palestinian Prisoners.” Organizers registered some 3,000 participants.