Pictured: Participants in the anti-Israel Al-Quds Day march wave the flag of the Hezbollah terrorist group, on July 25, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
In June, the "Al Quds Day" march took place in Berlin. Al Quds Day, in the words of the late historian Robert S. Wistrich, is "The holiday proclaimed by Khomeini in 1979 to call for Israel's annihilation" which "has since been celebrated worldwide..."
In Germany, Al Quds Day marches have been taking place in the country's capital since the 1980s, first in Bonn and since 1996 in Berlin. On Al Quds Day in December 2000, more than 2,000 demonstrators in the Kurfürstendamm -- a central boulevard in Berlin -- called for "the liberation of Palestine and the holy city of Jerusalem". In November 2002, only one year after 9/11, the march featured slogans such as "Death to Israel" and "Death to the USA". At the march in 2016, the slogans were, among others, "Death to Israel", "Zionists kill children", and so on.
Despite nearly four decades of such rhetoric -- the kind that is arguably capable -- according to paragraph 130 of Germany's Criminal Code, which prohibits hate speech -- "of disturbing the public peace" by inciting "hatred against a national, racial, religious group or a group defined by their ethnic origins", German authorities have continually refused to ban the Al Quds Day march. The argument is, reportedly, that the Administrative Court would overrule such a ban. "A constitutional state must act in accordance with the rule of law," said the spokesperson for the interior administration of the city of Berlin, Martin Pallgen. "Freedom of assembly and expression also applies to those who reject the rule of law". Instead, German authorities have prohibited marchers from being overtly anti-Semitic and inciting hatred against Jews. The exercise is a bit like telling a neo-Nazi march please to cover up the swastikas to look more presentable.
It has not helped. In 2016, police issued specific instructions for the march's participants, banning them from expressing anti-Semitic views or inciting violence against Jews. That restriction, according to Benjamin Steinitz, the director of the Berlin-based Department for Research and Information on anti-Semitism (RIAS), curbed the undisguised hate speech somewhat, but led to the use of "coded messages", frequently in Arabic or Farsi, which most German police do not speak. "So," said Steinitz in 2017, "the police regulations have had some effect, but since the goal of this demonstration is the dismantling of the State of Israel, the anti-Semitic content is always there."
Indeed, according to Der Tagesspiegel, despite the specific police instructions of previous years, in the June 2018 march, the police had to issue the following instructions to the participants:
"It is forbidden to burn dolls. There must be no open calls for kidnapping or murder. The participants should not chant, 'Zionists into the gas' or 'Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come out and fight alone'".
According to Der Tagesspiegel, these were all incidents that happened in previous marches -- and all, presumably, violations of Germany's hate speech laws.
This year, according to a report by RIAS, "The Al Quds march did not lose any of its anti-Semitic character, despite attempts to deceive the public by the organizers". The report mentions, as an example, the presence of anti-Semitic posters and praising Hezbollah. Protesters wearing T-shirts with the name and slogans of the terrorist group Hamas -- which vows to eliminate Israel -- were also present.
The refusal of the authorities to ban the Al Quds march appears even more suspect in light of the fact that around the same time of the march, on June 6, German authorities launched nationwide coordinated police raids in 13 federal states against suspects who had posted hate speech online. In a total of 38 cases, apartments were searched and suspects interrogated, the Federal Criminal Police Office reported. The suspects were alleged to have posted hate comments, including "public calls for crimes, insults of officials or anti-Semitic verbal abuse." One of the largest operations reportedly took place in the city of Koblenz, where the apartments of 12 suspects were searched in connection to two far right-wing Facebook groups. The 12 suspects were between the ages of 45 and 68, and were believed to be responsible for the groups called "The Patriots," and "Our Germany patriotic & free." The groups were suspected of having made the following comment, among others, about refugee family reunification: "In my opinion all should be gassed". The nationwide action day to combat hate postings was established three years ago and has since been held once a year. The Federal Police claim that most of the hate speech is "from the right-wing extremist spectrum" (77%), 9% from the "extreme-left" and 14% "foreign or religious ideologies or no concrete political motivation".
While the Federal Criminal Police Office was searching the homes of middle-aged Germans posting racist comments in Facebook groups, a recent German intelligence report concluded that in 2018, the membership numbers in German for Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based Iranian proxy terrorist organization, rose to a total of 1050, up from 950 in 2017. "Hezbollah denies the right of existence of the State of Israel and fights it with terrorist means," the intelligence report noted. "In Germany, the followers of Hezbollah maintain organizational and ideological cohesion in local mosques associations that are financed primarily by donations." The report also mentioned the travel of functionaries between Lebanon and Germany for the purpose of connecting with Hezbollah and noted that "Hezbollah is against the idea of international understanding and the peaceful coexistence of peoples".
The presence of such a large number of Hezbollah operatives in the country does not appear to worry the German government. Although the "military arm" of Hezbollah is prohibited in the EU, the "political arm" is not, which means that Hezbollah is free to engage in "non-military" activities in Germany -- such as fundraising.
In March, the German government refused to ban the terrorist organization in its entirety, and in June, a majority of the Bundestag, including the Christian Social Union, the Social Democratic Party, the Left, the Greens, Free Democrats and Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) rejected a proposal by the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to ban or alternatively limit Hezbollah's operations in Germany, such as abolishing its non-profit status.
Thus, there seems to be in Germany a revealingly uneven application of hate speech laws.
On the one hand, the federal police conduct countrywide raids on middle-aged Germans who post their thoughts on Facebook. On the other hand, people who back openly lethal terrorist organizations that espouse nothing but hatred towards a specific ethnic group, the Jews, are free to organize, fundraise, and march in the heart of the German capital -- if they please just omit "Zionists to the gas" or "Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come out and fight alone".
Whatever one's opinion of hate speech laws, they, like all laws, have to be applied in an equal and consistent manner. That participants in the anti-Semitic Al Quds march have been allowed literally to parade their hatred for nearly four decades now, while middle-aged Germans are having their apartments searched for anti-Semitic and racist messages on Facebook, exposes a disturbing double standard in the application of the law.
It shows at the very least, that German authorities appear to harbor extremely selective views of what constitutes hate speech, based, it seems, on nothing more than the identity of the group that voices it.
 Arne Behrensen, AJC, "Antisemitism 'Made in Iran': The International Dimensions of Al Quds Day", p 25
John Richardson is a researcher based in the United States.