Berlin criminalizes slogan 'From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free'

Benjamin WeinthalWriting Fellow for the Middle East Forum
6 min read
Demonstrators carry a giant Palestinian flag during a protest in support of Palestinians under the slogan 'Free Palestine' in Berlin, Germany.
ODD ANDERSEN / AFPDemonstrators carry a giant Palestinian flag during a protest in support of Palestinians under the slogan 'Free Palestine' in Berlin, Germany.

The decision to outlaw the chant, which is often heard at anti-Israel rallies, violators face jail time or a fine

The prosecutor’s office for the German city-state of Berlin announced last month that the anti-Israel slogan "From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” is a form of incitement to hate and subject to criminal penalties.

According to a German Press Agency report, the slogan violates Paragraph 130 of German law because it negates Israel’s existence. The anti-incitement law bans hatred “against a national, racial, religious group, or a group defined by their ethnic origins.” The prosecutor’s office says the anti-Israel slogan meets this criteria.

The anti-Semitic slogan “Death to the Jews” is currently banned. Berlin appears to be the only one of the 16 German federal states to outlaw the chant ”From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free,” which has often been heard at mass rallies in the capital city. The criminal penalty for incitement to hate can be a prison term or a fine.

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The slogan has been widely interpreted to have a genocidal aim because it is a reference to the land between the Jordan River, which borders eastern Israel, and the Mediterranean Sea that is Israel’s western border. The replacement of Israel with a Muslim Palestinian state would mean the abolition of the Jewish state.

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to censure Palestinian-American Representative Rashida Tlaib for her comments regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict. The resolution specifically cites Tlaib for "promoting false narratives" about the October 7 massacre, pointing to public statements she has made and a social media video in which she accuses U.S. President Biden of supporting a "genocide"  of Palestinians. In the video, a crowd can be heard chanting "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," a phrase the resolution characterizes as a "genocidal call to violence to destroy the state of Israel." Tlaib had previously explained this phrase on X as an "aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate."

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In late October, the British Labour party suspended MP Andy McDonald for stating “We won’t rest until we have justice, until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea can live in peaceful liberty.” He uttered the phrase at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign protest. The British home secretary Suella Braverman had commented on X after a thousands-strong demonstration that the slogan was “widely understood as a demand for the destruction of Israel. Attempts to pretend otherwise are disingenuous.”

When asked if the slogan calling for the eradication of Israel, according to Berlin’s prosecutor, will be outlawed in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, where mass anti-Semitic demonstrations have unfolded against Israel, the state’s antisemitism commissioner Michael Blume declined to comment. 

David Cliff / AP
David Cliff / APPolice motorcyclists try to get through the crowd of protesters during a pro Palestinian demonstration in London, United Kingdom.

Natan Sharansky, a former Israeli minister and former chair of the Jewish Agency, told i24NEWS earlier this year that Blume has stoked an anti-Jewish conspiracy theory on X (then-Twitter) against Israel and the Jewish people. Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg, currently posts information for an anti-Semitic group called Palestine Committee Stuttgart on its website that is friendly toward Hamas, according to critics. Brigadier General (res.) Amir Avivi urged Stuttgart’s mayor Frank Nopper to delete the posting because “Terrorists use it” and “This is a tool of war and a tool of terror.”

Nopper has refused to expunge the notice. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, expressed outrage about Nopper's reticence and the local Germany-Israel Friendship Association for their inaction. "What more needs to be said that one month after the most barbaric mass murder, rape kidnapping and hostage taking of Jews since the Holocaust, Mayor Nopper and his  associates allow pro-Hamas postings on the city’s website while 30 Jewish children are held as hostages, It is despicable antisemitism and proves some in Germany have not and will never learn the basic lessons and historic responsibilities from the Nazi Holocaust for Germans."

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Press queries from i24NEWS to Nopper and Oliver Vrankovic, the chairman of the German-Israel Friendship Association, were not immediately returned.

The Stuttgart German-Israel Friendship Association claims to be pro-Israel, but receives its funding from the German Foreign Ministry. The lack of independence, critics argue, has turned German-Israel Friendship associations into paper tigers who won’t assertively confront their local, state and federal governments about hardcore pro-Iran and anti-Israel policies.

i24NEWS also sent a press query to Felix Klein, the federal commissioner tasked with antisemitism, about a ban of the allegedly anti-Semitic slogan ”From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.” Klein decided not to included Palestinian lethal antisemitism in his national strategy report to combat antisemitism in late 2022, sparking intense criticism from the Wiesenthal Center and Avivi.

The origin of the slogan seems to go back to the 1960’s. In 1966, the former Syrian strongman Hafez al-Assad, the father of the country’s current dictator, declared: “We shall only accept war and the restoration of the usurped land … to oust you, aggressors, and throw you into the sea for good.”

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