The attack is documented on video. "Free Palestine" is shouted from a crowd. A crowd then forms around a man and woman holding a flag of Israel. The man is the former SPD member of parliament Michael Höntsch; he has a cane and an oxygen machine with him.
A man wearing sunglasses and a Palestinian scarf aggressively approaches him. Then a fist can be seen in Höntsch's face, he falls to the ground and faints for a short time.
The incident happened on April 23 of this year in downtown Hanover. The group "Palestine Speaks" had called its "comrades, brothers, sisters and freedom fighters" to a rally for "solidarity with Palestine". It is now clear: the attack by the pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the politician, who describes himself as a friend of Israel, will go unpunished.
The police had taken the personal details of a Palestinian on the spot and initiated an investigation on suspicion of bodily harm. But a spokesman for the public prosecutor's office in Hanover has now told WELT: "The proceedings against the stateless 55-year-old man were discontinued due to a lack of sufficient suspicion because intentional bodily harm could not be proven."
In fact, it is not clear from the video to which person the fist that hit Höntsch's face belongs. After multiple viewings in slow motion, it can be seen that the original suspect is aggressively approaching the severely disabled politician. The punch can also be attributed to another person. However, this person was not identified on site. The police used pepper spray after the attack; the pro-Palestinian demonstrators then withdrew and remained unmolested.
Höntsch's daughter-in-law Rebecca Seidler was present at the incident and was fined 128.50 euros at the beginning of September. She is accused of holding an unreported meeting in the open air and thus committing an administrative offence.
Seidler is the managing director of the Liberal Jewish Community in Hanover. According to her own statements, she came to the rally with Höntsch in order to be able to observe and document possible anti-Semitic incidents and violations of conditions.
Höntsch did not bring the Israel flag himself, but spontaneously held it out of silent protest together with a woman who had it with her.
"It is difficult to understand that the physical attack against me has no consequences while my daughter-in-law is being punished for watching a demonstration," says Höntsch. At the time, the former domestic politician decided against an ad himself – out of concern that he would become even more the focus of those who behaved so aggressively at the rally.
"Out of consideration for my family, I had deliberately decided not to report it. I was directly exposed to the demonstrators' willingness to use violence and I was concerned that I might be threatened again," said the 68-year-old. Concerns about personal data also played a role. "I don't want to face the gentlemen who attacked me again alone."
Höntsch learned from WELT that the case against the suspect from the pro-Palestinian demonstration had been dropped. "I'm resigned and wish the attack on me had resulted in a conviction for assault," he says. “The anti-Semitism from the right is recognized. But there is a strange shyness when he comes from the Arab or Turkish population.”
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A spokesman for the public prosecutor's office said that a "decision of the injured party" will be refrained from if it can be assumed that the injured party has no interest in the outcome of the proceedings. This lack of interest is assumed, for example, if the injured party does not file a criminal complaint. Höntsch says that he had good reason not to file a complaint and would of course have liked to be informed about the outcome of the case.
The topics of willingness to report and the termination of investigations play a role in anti-Semitic attacks again and again. The annual reports by Claudia Vanoni, the anti-Semitism commissioner at the Berlin Public Prosecutor’s Office, show that in 2019 and 2020 only 13 percent of the hundreds of cases with an anti-Semitic background in the capital resulted in charges being brought or penal orders issued.
A 2018 study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights among Jewish EU citizens showed that 79 percent of respondents who had experienced anti-Semitic harassment in the five years prior to the survey did not report it to the police. When asked about the reasons, they stated, for example, that an ad would not change anything or that an ad would have caused too much inconvenience.
The sociologist Julia Bernstein told WELT that some of those affected hesitated to report attacks and insults due to bad experiences. "For example, in the case of propaganda crimes, the prosecution rate is low from the perspective of those affected," says the professor for discrimination and inclusion in the immigration society at the Frankfurt University of Applied Science. "In some cases, Jews are not taken seriously by the police."
In recent years, several general public prosecutor's offices and police forces have appointed anti-Semitism officers to provide basic and advanced training measures in the field of anti-Semitism and to increase confidence in the work of the law enforcement authorities in combating relevant crimes. The increase in such crimes is often attributed to an increased willingness to report and thus a reduction in the number of unreported cases.
A spokeswoman for Lower Saxony's interior ministry said the state government regretted that "a former member of the state parliament fell to the ground, apparently as a result of the impact of a Palestinian activist." In the video put online by WELT, the “strong verbal and, in one case, physical aggressiveness on the part of the pro-Palestinian assembly can be clearly seen”.
The initiation of the administrative offense proceedings against Rebecca Seidler could be "regretted against the background of the overall events," the spokeswoman continued. The State Police Headquarters is now examining whether a fine can be waived.
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