Malingerers in the shops on Kurfürstendamm Straße, one of West Berlin’s most chic boulevards, received a treat on Saturday afternoon when the pro-Palestinian (and very anti-Israel) Quds Day parade passed boisterously through. Out of the Hermès, Prada, Zegna, and the Hard Rock Café the tourists poured, visibly confused, at the sight of a political march and one counter-protest—separated by a heavy presence of German police trucks and officers (some in riot gear)—screaming at each other on the nicest day of the summer.
On one side were Quds Day marchers, numbering around 800-900 by some estimates, shouting the normal protest fare in unison: Freedom for Gaza, Freedom for Palestine, Intifada to victory, Zionism is fascism, Zionism is racism, Zionism is Nazism, Israelis are child-murderers.
Among the swell of Palestinian flags were also flags representing Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and Lebanon. Signs declaring love for both the Ayatollah and the German poet Günter Grass were visible among the graphic pictures from various Israeli-Palestinian battles. There was also some anti-Semitic cartoons and some posters decrying German support of Israel. While they’d been mostly furled up earlier, a number of Hezbollah flags were now out and being flown to taunt the counter-protest on the other side of the street.
The counter-protest was a consortium of about 100 people including some far-left activists, a number of anti-fascists, some German Social Democrats, a few Israeli members of the socialist Zionist group Hashomer Hatzair, some members of a German gay alliance dressed in drag, and some anti-Islamist and anti-Iran activists. The group would eventually converge with a larger stationary pro-Israel rally, but along the Quds Day route, they waved Israeli flags and shouted back: Lang Lebe Israel (Long Live Israel), Smash anti-Semitism, Free Gaza from Hamas, Free Syria from Assad, Down with Fascism, Down with Iran.
Quds Day, known in some places as Jerusalem Day, which initially started in Iran in 1979, takes place on the last Friday of Ramadan. This year both gatherings in Tehran and Lebanon were marked by controversy with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling again for Israel’s destruction and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatening to kill thousands of Israelis. In addition to Berlin, which has hosted a Quds Day rally annually since 1996, there are events yearly in cities like London, Paris, and Toronto.
I spoke to a number of participants on all sides: some pro-Israel activists of the far left, a member of Iran’s Green Party, a supporter of the Iranian regime, a pro-Assad neo-Nazi, a few Israelis living in Berlin, and a few German bystanders. All of them helped to give texture to the paradoxical/fascinating/worrisome picture of the German attitude toward Israel (which one could spend years studying) as well as the European tolerance with regard to Hezbollah and the fascinating anomaly that is a pro-Israel far-left.
In the coming days, I’ll have some posts from these conversations. Stay tuned.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.