A small protest in Germany’s capital city on Aug. 11 revealed a cross-section of national attitudes towards Jews and Israel, and perhaps a symbolic stance on a much larger problem throughout Western Europe.
Three protesters stood directly across from a falafel stand. They had successfully appealed a police demand that they move to a side street, citing their right to assembly. The owner of the stand was not present.
Falafel is supposed to represent a universal symbol of peace — the oily bond between Muslims and Jews, even as the Middle East fries in violence. But in Berlin, it has become a cause for concern.
The tree-lined Kollwitzplatz that’s home to a Saturday market has become an unexpected pressure-cooker for Jewish-Muslim-German relations ever since Zeev Avrahami, an Israeli journalist and restaurateur based in Berlin, started a demonstration two months ago against the “1001 Falafel” stand belonging to a Palestinian immigrant named Mohammed (whose last name has been concealed in the German press), who left the West Bank 30 years ago.
Avrahami, 49, accuses Mohammed, 42, of serving falafel with a side of antisemitism, starting with his own encounter three years ago when Mohammad told him: “Israelis have blood on their hands.” Other alleged remarks to customers include: “Hitler should have finished the job” and “dirty Jew.”
“This person should not be able to run a public space in Germany,” Avrahami said in a phone interview while on vacation in Israel.
Avrahami claims that Mohammad has made Jews feel unwelcome. Some Facebook posters on the “Normal Israelis in Berlin” Facebook page have corroborated these accusations. (Some also accused Avrahami of being annoying while others said they encountered discriminating attitudes at other Middle Eastern restaurants in the city.)
“I walked pass [Mohammed] with clients on a tour,” said tour guide Raz Tadmour. “It was hard for me to appraise the level of aggression that he showed us when he found out we were Israeli because of the Arabic, but it just ruined the fun vibe that I built on the tour.”
The local protest last week involved a number of different posters, including one that read: “No tolerance for antisemitism” and “Price for everyone: 3 Euro; Price for Jews/Israelis: 5 Euro.”
Haim (last name withheld upon request) confirmed that after he once revealed his Israeli identity to Mohammed, the price for falafel was jacked from 3 euros to 5 euros. Mohammed is also reported to regularly shout “Palestinian falafel!”
During the protest, a disheveled blond on his bike blurted out that “Jews are the Nazis of today” before riding off. Other market-goers made critical comments about Israeli policies. But just as many were supportive.
“I find it awful,” said Kolja Kawallik. “Germany is an open place.”
He blames rising antisemitism on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, which saw more than a million migrants from the Middle East enter Germany since 2015. “They came and we tried to integrate them, but now Jewish culture is oppressed,” said Kawallik.
“They bring the problems they have there over here,” said Klaus, another passerby.
About the German moral conscience
Avrahami has spoken with the market manager, Philipp Strube, who once suspended Mohammed for a month over the issue. But for Avrahami, that’s not enough. He accuses Strube of passivity in the face of proven antisemitism.
In response, a clearly exasperated Strube wrote in an email (in German): “Since I have already said everything on this subject and Mr. Avrahami claims that Jewish people are not welcome at the market, an infuriating insinuation that offends me personally, I am no longer ready to comment on this subject. Mr. Avrahami refuses any effort to speak with me to defuse the situation, especially since I have also asked a Jewish friend to mediate. Furthermore, the conflict has escalated to such an extent that Mr. Avrahami is putting things on paper which are not true, and which have been subject to a police libel complaint.”
Strube included a photo of himself from the demonstration that read: “Those responsible for this market are against Jews.”
Avrahami said he rejects mediation with Mohammad for allegedly advocating Jewish genocide.
Some reporters have couched the spat as a battle of the falafel stands. Mohammed is on record accusing Avrahami of lying. Avrahami owns a Middle East restaurant named Sababa a few blocks away. Avrahami insists the protest is not personal.
“First, I don’t sell falafel,” he said, adding that he frequents other Middle Eastern restaurants nearby.
He’d rather spend Shabbat with his family than protest every Saturday. For him, this is not only about “1001 Falafel,” but about the German moral conscience. And so, he plans to run the protest a little longer.
“Then I’ll fold everything, and tell Jews and Israelis what’s going on and advise them to avoid the place,” said Avrahami. “Because this is a place where Germans can’t hide anymore behind not knowing.”