German president pleads for harmony amid Israel-Gaza war

Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with Jewish and Muslim leaders after spate of anti-Semitic incidents

Rabbi Elias Dray and Imam Ender Cetin were among President Frank-Walter Steinmeier's guests at Bellevue Palace in Berlin. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the country’s Arab and Palestinian communities to “speak up for yourselves” and not be “stooges” of Hamas on Wednesday as he appealed for calm on the streets.

President Steinmeier met with Jewish and Muslim leaders in a show of harmony after a spate of anti-Semitic incidents linked to the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Addressing them at his Berlin residence, he said supporters of Palestine were free to “show your pain and your despair” and said there should be no “blanket veil of suspicion against Muslims”.

Germany’s head of state, whose role includes acting as a voice of moral conscience, said peaceful protest, solidarity and empathy were all “legitimate and an expression of constitutionally protected freedoms”.

However, he said “terrorism, incitement to hatred and calls to annihilate the state of Israel” were not covered by the constitutional rights to protest and free expression.

“I expect us to stand united against them,” he said, speaking the day before Germany marks 85 years since Kristallnacht, a night of Nazi terror against the Jews in 1938.

“I urge you, the people with Palestinian and Arab roots here in Germany – don’t let yourselves become stooges for Hamas. Speak up for yourselves.”

Germany last week announced a ban on Hamas activities and dissolved a pro-Palestinian organisation called Samidoun that had been involved in marches.

The bans came amid outrage after the Star of David was daubed on buildings, Israeli flags were burnt, a Jewish hospital had a window smashed and, Molotov cocktails were thrown at a synagogue in Berlin.

Mr Steinmeier said the Israel-Gaza conflict had triggered “heated discussions” in schools that left some teachers feeling challenged or overwhelmed. Addressing an audience including Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlander, 102, he said anyone living in Germany “needs to know about our past”.

His guests also included an imam and rabbi, a Palestinian community leader from Hannover, the managers of an Israeli-Palestinian restaurant in Berlin and a son of Turkish immigrants who works on tackling anti-Semitism.

“Peace and harmony within our country are not something we can take for granted,” Mr Steinmeier said.

“We have to work for them and defend them, wherever we see them endangered or harmed. Each and every one of us must now make peace within our country our own personal goal.”

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government has sided with Israel since Hamas’s surprise attack on October 7 while urging the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Speaking at G7 talks in Japan, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Wednesday that the group agreed there should be “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting.

Sketching out a possible postwar peace plan, she said Palestinians should not be driven from Gaza and the territory should not be occupied or reduced in size. However, she said there must be “no terrorist danger” for Israel arising from the strip.

“There can be no solution over the heads of the Palestinians and the whole thing must be thought through in recognition that people in Israel and Palestine have the right to finally live in peace and security,” she said.

Updated: November 08, 2023, 1:42 PM