May 4, 2015 | The Jerusalem Post

Why Are Germans so Quick to Remove Israeli Flags?

The police removal of an Israeli flag unfurled at a soccer match in Berlin last week to preempt Palestinian anger is part of a longstanding practice of shunning the Jewish state’s flag in Germany.

The pattern typically unfolds in three acts.

Act 1 involves German Muslims and leftists protesting against Israel for defending its territory against Hamas rocket attacks or other self-defense measures to blunt Islamic terrorism. Act 2 unfolds with the police seizing Israeli flags at solidarity protests to placate anti-Israeli activists. Act 3 results in the authorities issuing an apology for outlawing Israel’s flag from demonstrations.

Rewind to 2009. During an anti-Israeli demonstration organized by the Turkish Islamic group, Millî Görüş, and attended by 10,000 protesters, two police officers stormed the apartment of a pro-Israel activist and seized Israeli flags hanging on the balcony and inside a window. The Duisburg police chief justified the removal of the flags to “prevent an escalation.” Prior to the storming of the apartment, Islamists pelted the flags with objects.

Pro-Israeli activists, including one with a flag, were taken into police custody in the city of Düsseldorf during Operation Cast Lead against Hamas. The raw anger of members of the “Mainz initiative for peace in Gaza” compelled five young men holding an Israeli flag to flee into a department store in the city of Mainz.

According to a 2009 article in the Frankfurter Rundschau, Thilo Henke, a spokesman for the group Antifacism-AG Mainz, said the police “view only the Israel solidarity people as the problem.”

The complaint that the authorities align themselves with anti-Israel activists weaves itself through the scores of examples where there is a crackdown on Israeli flags. Anti-Israel bias is not happening in a vacuum.

Prof. Gerald Steinberg, the head of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, told The Jerusalem Post, “The campaign to make the Israeli flag disappear from public events in Germany is another stage in the demonization of the Jewish state. With many nongovernmental organizations, including those receiving government money, as well as powerful church groups such as Misereor, spreading anti-Israel propaganda through false claims of war crimes, the hate and intolerance of Israel in Germany, particularly among the Muslim population, is growing.”

In response to the memory of the Holocaust and pathological feelings of guilt accompanying the crimes of the Shoah, German leftists turned Israel’s flag into a punching bag. Israeli and American flags were burned in 1978 on the 40th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogroms. The elimination of Israel’s flag became a way to attack Jews via a non-bodily form of violence.

However, ballooning and acceptable anti-Israel hysteria has led to attempted violence on supporters of the Jewish state. A group of pro-Israel lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists participated in a demonstration to celebrate Christopher Street Day in 2003 – the annual celebration of LGBT rights. Enraged counter-protesters in the heavily populated German Muslim districts of Kreuzberg and Berlin-Neukölln called for the Israeli flag to be removed and labeled it a “shitty flag.” One left-wing protester attempted to burn the flag with cigarettes.

According to the German criminal law expert Wolfgang Mitsch, “whoever publicly burns [an Israeli flag] can be prosecuted for incitement to hate.”

Mitsch claims the burning of the flag will not be tolerated because of the Holocaust.

While flag burning could be prosecuted as a possible crime, the seizure of Israeli flags seems to get a free pass. Police officials have faced no disciplinary actions for trampling over free speech rights during their removal.

Steinberg said, “A few days ago, the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung held a public event in Berlin on Israel, in which they promised ‘critical solidarity.’ The critical dimension, not only for this organization, but many other German groups, is clear, but the solidarity exists only in words. The Israeli flag issue is an obvious example – the German mainstream political groups that promote values such as democracy and freedom of speech, and oppose antisemitism, only take the easy cases. Instead of silence, all of the Stiftungen, which have major operations in Israel, should unite and oppose this trend of demonizing Israel.”

Dr. Charles Asher Small, the director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy, told the Post that it is “shocking that Germans have not learned from their history. They need to confront it.”

This year’s celebration of 50 years of German-Israeli diplomatic relations will surely provide opportunities to grapple with the reflexive act to ban Israeli flag as anticipatory capitulation to anti-Israel forces.

Benjamin Weinthal reports on European affairs and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal