The Berlin State Senate has agreed to ban Hezbollah flags, with their image of an upraised assault weapon, from an anti-Israel Al Quds march, likening the symbol to a call for genocide.
The announcement came following a request by the American Jewish Committee in Berlin. The march is scheduled for Saturday.
Berlin state interior minister Frank Henkel, on the advice of the Berlin police, said that the flags would be added to the propaganda material that is not permitted to be displayed publicly.
A spokesperson for the Berlin police, Thomas Neuendorf, told JTA that not only are Hezbollah flags banned, but Hezbollah symbols themselves may not been shown at all – whether on flags or posters or clothing or any other manner.
This is due to the fact that “the display of these flags and symbols can be tantamount to incitement to hate, in that they prompt people to chant hate slogans against a part of the population, namely Jewish fellow citizens,” he wrote in a statement. “In addition, such actions represent an identification with and approval of Hezbollah and their acts that, in relation to the upcoming march, without current context, are not protected free speech.”
The AJC in Berlin greeted this as a step towards Germany recognizing that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. “We should not stop halfway,” Deidre Berger, head of the Berlin office, said in a statement. “Germany should make every effort to have Hezbollah put on the EU terror list.”
Germany joined with other European countries in 2013 in calling for the group to be put on that list. Hezbollah is also considered a terrorist group by the Arab League, Bahrain, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, among others.
In his statement, Henkel said that past experience at the annual Al-Quds event in Berlin had shown that it made sense to bar the display of the flag, along with other statements or chants that incite hate. “Anyone who calls for the destruction of an entire people and promotes war and violence is abusing the right” of free speech and assembly, Henkel wrote, in part.
Al Quds Day, a protest against Israel’s existence, was established in 1979 by Iran’s Islamic revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Since then, his followers have marked the day in cities around the world with large Muslim populations, during or shortly after Ramadan. Since 1996, Berlin’s annual demonstration has attracted between 300 and 1,000 Islamists. Men and women march separately.
In its petition to the Berlin Senate, AJC also had asked that the march be rerouted away from one of Berlin’s major synagogues, where Sabbath services will be just concluding around the time of the event. This request was not granted.
This year’s counter demonstration is organized by several pro-civil society organizations and will take place one street away from the synagogue.