Prague (JTA) — As thousands of protesters condemned Israel’s blockade of Gaza in cities across Europe, reactions within Jewish communities ranged from mild concern to alarm.
On Saturday, June 5, 6,000 protesters marched in Germany, 20,000 in France and 2,000 in London against Israel’s actions in the May 31 confrontation with a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists dead.
In Brussels, protesters in front of the Israeli Embassy shouted their support for Hezbollah, jihad and Hamas, with some calling witnesses who tried to take pictures “dirty Jews,” according to Dan Levy, vice president of the Union of Jewish Students from Belgium.
European Jewish community representatives said the protests were mild and much smaller than the massive demonstrations in January 2009 that greeted Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.
“There were only a few thousand people protesting in London, not 50,000 as the organizers, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, predicted,” said Alan Aziz, executive director of the London-based Zionist Federation.
The federation, like the Brussels student group, held a pro-Israel rally earlier this month with about 800 participants. Belgians carried signs saying “Two people, two states, one peace.” In Britain, pro-Israel demonstrators sang the British and Israeli national anthems, holding banners with slogans such as “End Hamas rockets = End Blockade.”
Other pro-Israel rallies of modest size were staged in or scheduled for several Western European cities.
Chaim Musicant, director of the CRIF French Jewish umbrella organization, described the protests in Paris against Israel’s actions as very quiet.
“There was no shouting-down of Jews,” he said.
In some countries with large numbers of ethnic Turks, Jews expressed concern that the tensions between Turkey and Israel would translate into tensions between local ethnic Turks and Jews.
In Vienna, Raimund Fastenbauer, the Austrian Jewish community’s general secretary for Jewish affairs, said four ultra-Orthodox Jews, or haredim, in the city reported either being pushed or verbally slurred by ethnic Turks since the flotilla incident.
“This is a very bad sign,” Fastenbauer said. “We have had good relations for a long time with Turkish institutions. We always said we didn’t have problems with Muslims here. But I think the mood has changed with the policy of the current Turkish government, which has been very vocal against Israel.”
There are some 400,000 Muslims, mostly with Turkish roots, in Austria and about 10,000 Jews. Fastenbauer said he was alarmed as well that the Vienna assembly unanimously signed a resolution against Israel initiated by a Muslim representative of the Social Democrat Party.
“This is the first time in many years I can recall all of the parities — extreme left to extreme right — agreeing on a single issue,” Fastenbauer said.
Aaron Buck, a member of the Jewish community in Munich, said he believed it was a “dangerous time,” as he saw Germans critical of Israel not making a distinction between Israeli policies and Jews.
Buck acknowledged that the current outrage over Israel’s actions had specific ramifications in Germany.
“For those with a migrant background, the biggest difference is that unlike native Germans, they have little education about the Holocaust and have a very different attitude towards Jews,” he said.
In Western Europe, Germany has the largest number of residents with Turkish roots.
In Stockholm, a city where both extreme leftists and Muslims have protested frequently against Israel, the leader of the Swedish Jewish community said the community’s headquarters had received bomb and murder threats.
“We’re accustomed at this point to the bashing and the hatred,” said Lena Posner, who noted that the presence of about a dozen Swedes in the six-ship, Gaza-bound flotilla made the reaction in Sweden against Israel all the more severe.
Meanwhile, Swedish dockworkers have announced a plan to launch a blockade of Israeli ships and goods in protest of the Israeli crackdown on the flotilla.
Like other Jewish figures interviewed by JTA, Posner emphasized that while some Swedish Jews thought Israel’s handling of the flotilla incident could have been better, they supported Israel’s right to defend itself and understood its reasons for the blockade of Gaza.
At the same time, Posner said Swedish Jews “should not get involved.”
“I don’t see the point in us doing anything,” Posner said. “It is an Israeli political issue. The embassy is handling it.”