Berlin Falafel Wars: A Microcosm of Changing Sentiment Towards Jews in Germany?
JNS.org – A small protest in Germany’s capital city on August 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.
On that day, three Jewish 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 — presumably on vacation.
The falafel is supposed to represent a universal symbol of peace — a 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 is 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 at 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 free 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 essentially made Jews feel unwelcome. Some Facebook posters on the “Normal Israelis in Berlin” Facebook page, where this issue has been discussed, corroborated these accusations. (Some also accused Avrahami of simply being annoying, while others said that 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.”
Haim (whose last name is withheld upon request) confirmed that after he once revealed his Israeli identity to Mohammed, the price for falafel was jacked up from 3 euros to 5 euros. Mohammed is also reported to regularly shout “Palestinian falafel!”
The local protest in early August 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.”
Kolja Kawallik 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.
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 e-mail (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 used in the demonstration that read: “Those responsible for this market are against Jews.”
Avrahami said that he rejects mediation with Mohammad, claiming that he advocates for Jewish genocide.
Mohammed is on record accusing Avrahami of lying. Avrahami insists that the protest is not personal.
“First, I don’t sell falafel,” he said, adding that he frequents other Middle Eastern restaurants nearby.
For him, this is about the German moral conscience: “This is a place where Germans can’t hide anymore behind not knowing.”