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rewrite this title European bans on pro-Palestinian protests and slogans test free speech

Summerize this News Article Comment on this storyCommentAdd to your saved storiesSaveBERLIN — In front of Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, 10,000 people rallied in solidarity with Israel. Major political parties backed the event. In a rousing speech, Germany’s president heralded a national responsibility to “protect Jewish life.”A few blocks away, officers in riot gear moved in on a much smaller gathering, where demonstrators defying a protest ban waved Palestinian flags. Some attendees were led away, their hands bound. Others scattered, venting in rage.“Everyone has the right to grieve,” said Rabea, a 28-year-old woman with family in the Gaza Strip who agreed to be identified only by her first name as the banned protest dispersed on Sunday. “Everyone has the right to tell their story.”On the streets of Europe, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is testing some of the Western world’s most basic tenets: the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech.National and local governments in major European countries have blocked pro-Palestinian protests and detained hundreds of protesters, citing an overriding interest in public order and safety. In the city of Berlin, schools have been given permission to ban traditional kaffiyeh scarves, maps of Israel in the colors of the Palestinian flag and stickers that say “Free Palestine.”In Israel, Macron proposes using anti-ISIS coalition against HamasThe moves come amid a flurry of bomb threats called into schools, cultural sites and transportation hubs and skyrocketing reports of antisemitism. Two fatal terrorist attacks this month — the stabbing of a teacher in France and the shooting of Swedish nationals in Brussels — have not been directly linked to the Israel-Hamas conflict but heightened threat-level assessments in Europe all the same.Critical voices, though, question whether the protest restrictions are grounded in valid safety concerns or reflect government overreach and bias — sustained even as universal revulsion of the horrific Hamas attack on Oct. 7 gives way to alarm over the soaring body count from Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.European leaders have expressed concern for civilian causalities. “The fight must be merciless, but not without rules,” French President Emmanuel Macron said during a visit to Israel this week.But Germany, France, Italy and Britain, along with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, have offered overwhelming support for Israel.That diplomatic backing has been accompanied by nods to an unpayable debt still owed to Judaism. The government of hard right Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, for instance, backed funding for a new Holocaust museum, potentially in the Rome villa once used by the country’s fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.“It’s our duty to make it so that the evil of the criminal Nazi-Fascist design, and the shameful racial laws, aren’t forgotten,” Italy’s culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, said in a statement. “That is even more relevant today … as we witness Hamas’ massacres in Israel.”Tensions over the Middle East conflict are also simmering in the United States, especially online, in the corporate world and on college campuses. But limits on free speech and assembly are more far-reaching in Europe. In more than a dozen European countries, denial of the Holocaust is a punishable offense.“There is no question that First Amendment protections [in the United States] are much stronger than in Europe,” said Dima Khalidi, director of Palestine Legal, a U.S.-based pro-Palestinian advocacy group. “That means public institutions and officials are more constrained in what they can censor. We aren’t seeing bans on people wearing a kaffiyeh or carrying the Palestinian flag or the canceling of demonstrations in the same way we are seeing in Europe.”France tries to impose a blanket ban on protestsFrance — with the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe — sought to impose one of the broadest bans. As in Germany, French officials supported a show of solidarity with Israel after the Hamas attacks. The Eiffel Tower was lit up with the Star of David while marchers sang the Israeli national anthem. But Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin issued instructions that all pro-Palestinian protests should be prohibited, “because they are likely to generate public order disturbances.”The Eiffel Tower on Oct. 9 lit up in blue and white as thousands marched in Paris in solidarity with Israel following a surprise Hamas attack. (Video: Reuters)“It is outrageous, it is shocking, it is unacceptable not being able to express yourself when there is a live-streamed massacre,” said Walid Atallah, 61, president of a regional association of Palestinians that was barred from holding an Oct. 14 protest in Paris. Police cited the risk of violence and the group’s failure to condemn Hamas.France’s top administrative court has since ruled against a blanket ban on demonstrations that support Palestinians, but it granted that local authorities could block protests on a case-by-case basis, and that “in the current context, marked by strong international tensions and the resurgence of anti-Semitic acts in France,” demonstrations in support of Hamas or attacks on Israel raised legitimate public order concerns.Fanny Gallois, head of liberties program at Amnesty International France, said the court intervention reduced “the risk of arbitrarily banning these demonstrations,” but authorities could still review past statements by organizations and find vague reasons to prevent them from holding rallies.At a Sunday afternoon demonstration in Paris that was allowed to proceed, thousands of people gathered in the Place de la République. Protesters clambered up the towering statue of Marianne, the personification of the French Republic, waving Palestinian flags and chanting, “Israel! Criminal!” while the crowd below cheered.The protest remained largely peaceful, but police made 10 arrests, including for antisemitic remarks and spray painting the statue, Le Monde reported, citing local authorities.Flag-waving comes under scrutiny in BritainGovernment officials in Britain haven’t moved to ban pro-Palestinian protests, but they have been similarly accused of overstepping on the question of what sort of demonstrations should be allowed. Home Secretary Suella Braverman wrote to chief constables in England and Wales that concern should extend beyond explicitly pro-Hamas symbols and slogans.“I would encourage police to consider whether chants such as: ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ should be understood as an expression of a violent desire to see Israel erased from the world,” Braverman wrote. Waving the Palestinian flag, in certain contexts, may glorify terrorism, she added.British officials have been particularly worried about a spike in antisemitic incidents this month. London’s Metropolitan Police reported a 1,353 percent rise in antisemitic offenses, along with a 140 percent increase in Islamophobic offenses, compared to the same period last year.But activists have balked at the idea that flag waving could lead to arrests. (Video: Karla Adam/The Washington Post)Ben Jamal, director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, called Braverman’s instructions “deeply concerning.”“Such comments threaten civil liberties and normalize the dehumanization of Palestinians,” he said.Met Police Deputy Commissioner Lynne Owens has warned against an overbroad interpretation of support for Hamas. “An expression of support for the Palestinian people more broadly, including flying the Palestinian flag, does not, alone, constitute a criminal offence,” she wrote.London police have detained nearly 30 demonstrators.A slogan is debated in AustriaIn Vienna, police banned a pro-Palestinian protest only hours before its official start because organizers used the “from the River to Sea” slogan in online invitations.That slogan has been interpreted in multiple ways. Mikel Oleaga, an organizer of Austria’s BDS movement — which promotes boycotts of, divestment from and sanctions against Israel — contested the idea that it was a cry to push Jews into the sea and instead described it as a call to end what critics see as an apartheidlike system in Israel.Austrian authorities, he said, had gone too far. “They are looking for any dog-whistle,” he said. “There is nothing Austrian society hates more than being called antisemitic, even though it’s full of antisemitic far-right people.”Vienna police later determined, according to a subsequent release, that the phrase “does not constitute incitement to hatred.”Germany cracks down on public protestsPerhaps nowhere is the issue of slogans and demonstrations more sensitive than in Germany, home to Europe’s largest Palestinian population, but also where the shadow of the Holocaust continues to inform so much thinking.Freedom of expression, opinion and assembly are protected in Germany’s constitution. But authorities in the country’s 16 federal states have the power to limit assembly. In Berlin, officials have rejected most pro-Palestinian protests this month. When banning last Sunday’s “Peace in the Middle East” demonstration, police said it posed an immediate danger of “seditious, antisemitic exclamations, glorification of violence, conveying a willingness to use violence and thereby intimidation, as well violent…

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