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German taxpayer funding for Palestinians focal point of pro-Israel rally in Berlin 

“It is imperative that all funding from the German Foreign Office and the Ministry of Development be put to the test,” said German politician Christoph Meyer. “An immediate halt to German funding of E.U. and U.N. programs for Palestine must also not be taboo.”

A pro-Israel rally in Berlin on Oct. 8, 2023. Photo by Orit Arfa.
A pro-Israel rally in Berlin on Oct. 8, 2023. Photo by Orit Arfa.

Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate was lit up with an image of the Israeli flag on Saturday night in solidarity with the Jewish state after the unprecedented Hamas multi-pronged attack on Saturday that has left more than 800 Israelis dead and thousands wounded, with an estimated 163 hostages dragged across the border to Gaza.

On Sunday, three pro-Israel organizations organized a rally at the gate.

Some 2,000 people gathered in the heavily guarded plaza, as many observant Jews celebrated the Simchat Torah holiday in synagogue. Some Orthodox Jews may have been unaware of the extent of the attacks, although news often spreads even in communities that don’t use electronics on holidays.

“Israel has the unrestricted right to defend itself,” Kai Wegner, mayor of Berlin, said at the event. “There is no justification for this criminal terror.”

The mayor criticized Hamas sympathizers who handed sweets out on Saturday night in Neukölln, a district nicknamed Berlin’s “Gaza Strip” for its concentration of Palestinian supporters. The Berlin police is investigating that incident and dispersed a small, pro-Palestinian rally in the neighborhood on Saturday night.

“Hostility to Israel, Jew-hatred and antisemitism have no place on our streets,” Wegner said.

Pro-Hamas public expressions have alarmed many German Jews, who feel an increased sense of vulnerability. Some Jewish institutions in Berlin are increasing security, and Israel warned its diplomats abroad of heightened terrorist threats.

Pro-Israel rally in Berlin
A pro-Israel rally in Berlin on Oct. 8, 2023. Photo by Orit Arfa.

‘German taxpayer money flows into Gaza’

The Values Initiative, which co-organized the event with the Germany-Israel Society and the Jewish Student Union, held a similar rally in 2021 following an Israeli-Hamas ceasefire after 11 days of conflict. At the time, some attendees were skeptical of German officials’ expression of strong solidarity with Israel.

The same was true on Sunday, but the officials spoke with a different tone, acknowledging the watershed moment for Israel given the unprecedented brutality of the attacks. German officials referred to shocking images circulating on social media of women being publicly desecrated, Israelis of all ages taken captive, families holed up in their homes, and mostly younger celebrants at a “Nature Party” in southern Israel being wantonly executed.

“I’d like to say on behalf of the SpD, the people of Germany and democratic society, we’re shocked,” said Franziska Giffey, Berlin senator for economic affairs, energy and industry. (The SPD is Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party.)

Shouts of “No money for Hamas” came from the crowd as Giffey and fellow Berlin state parliamentarian Bettina Jarasch spoke.

“German taxpayer money flows into Gaza,” said Anna Staroselski, Values Initiative spokeswoman and event emcee. She called on Germany to sanction Iran, which the Biden administration has repeatedly declined to say was involved in the Hamas attacks.

Pro-Israel rally in Berlin
A pro-Israel rally in Berlin on Oct. 8, 2023. Photo by Orit Arfa.

Germany is a leading donor to the Palestinians and one of the top funders of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), having provided some $200 million to it last year. Pro-Israel groups have warned Germany that the U.N. agency promotes antisemitism, and some German politicians have called for reassessing German aid to Palestinians following the Hamas attacks, to protests from the German left.

Jarasch—of the environmentalist, left-wing party Alliance 90/The Greens—was met with some loud booing as she spoke. When the politician pledged security for Jews in Berlin, a lawyer in the crowd, Assia Lewin, shouted “liar.”

“They never look at where this money is used and where it’s going,” Lewin told JNS. “She said we don’t need to be afraid here, and we are afraid.”

Germany and Austria have temporarily suspended funding of Palestinian territories. Berlin said on Monday that the funding is on hold while it conducts a “comprehensive” analysis of how the aid is used, the Financial Times reported.

“The terror funding of Hamas, Hezbollah and other pro-Palestinian terror organizations must finally end,” Christoph Meyer, deputy group leader of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the German parliament, told JNS after the event. 

The Free Democrats are part of the governing “traffic light” coalition: SPD (red), the Greens and FDP (yellow).

“It is imperative that all funding from the German Foreign Office and the Ministry of Development be put to the test. An immediate halt to German funding of E.U. and U.N. programs for Palestine must also not be taboo,” Meyer said. “In addition, the German states must use all possible instruments to ban pro-Palestinian associations that support Hamas or Hezbollah.”

FDP also called in a statement on Monday for Germany to further sanction Iran and for the European Union to classify Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.

An E.U. official posted on social media on Monday afternoon in Brussels that the “scale of terror and brutality against Israel and its people is a turning point.”

“There can be no business as usual. As the biggest donor of the Palestinians, the European Commission is putting its full development portfolio under review, worth a total of 691 million Euro,” wrote Oliver Varhelyi, European commissioner for neighborhood and enlargement. (That amount is about $732 million.)

 “All payments immediately suspended. All projects put under review,” he added.

‘Don’t look away’

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann spoke at the event about the gravity of the attack and pledged unequivocal U.S. support for Israel. 

“Like it was yesterday, I remember the horrific attack when the Yom Kippur War began,” she said. (Gutmann spoke in English; all the other speakers spoke in German.)

Pro-Israel rally in Berlin
A pro-Israel rally in Berlin on Oct. 8, 2023. Photo by Orit Arfa.

“This is what terror looks like. Don’t look away,” Israeli Ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor said at the rally. 

Hamas has shown its true nature, he said: “They are not fighters or militants. They’re terrorists. Period.”

Representatives of the youth wings of most of Germany’s major political parties also spoke at the event, which ended with a moment of silence for Israel and a rendition of “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem.

Young professionals hope for a turning point in German public opinion, which tends to view Israel as the aggressor, especially during conflicts involving aerial military power.

Many young Germans felt special kinship this time with Israeli counterparts, given the massacre of young people at a music festival. 

Shani Louk, an Israeli native who lived in Germany, has been identified as one of those whom terrorists captured at the festival, and footage posted to social media appeared to show her motionless, unclothed body in the back of a Hamas pickup truck. Her fate is unknown, and her family told Der Spiegel that her credit card has been used in Gaza.

“You can definitely relate to it because there are so many young people and families; you can imagine it’s us or it’s you,” Cristina Turbatu, chair of the Free Democratic Party youth wing, told JNS. “It feels very close to home.”

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