Officials in the German capital of Berlin have brought about the cancellation of this year’s celebration of Al-Quds Day, an annual rally organized by Iranian proxies during which protesters demonize Israel and call for its destruction. Officials shut down the planned hate-fest scheduled to take place on April 15 by convincing rally organizers to withdraw their registration for the event, which traditionally takes place toward the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. To avoid public outbursts or media criticism, European authorities asked the organizers to cancel controversial events rather than ban them outright.
Iranian regime supporters who organize these rallies, meanwhile, are facing growing pushback from diaspora Iranians opposed to the Islamist regime in Teheran.
The voluntary cancellation elicited muted celebration from Joseph Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. “The cancellation of the Al-Quds demonstration by the organizers is a good thing,” he said. “But we must not delude ourselves by believing that the thought and the hatred that underlies it will disappear just like that.”
One factor that may have contributed to the willingness of organizers to cancel the rally is simple lack of interest. The rally may not be the draw it used to be in the early 2000s when thousands of protesters would show up to defame Israel. In 2019, the last year before the COVID outbreak, around 1,200 people participated in Berlin on June 1, down from 1,600 in 2018.
Al-Quds Day rallies — which take place in cities throughout the world with significant Shia populations — were initiated in 1979 by Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. These rallies give Hezbollah a pretext to raise its profile in Western democracies like Germany, with the organization’s yellow and green flags brazenly waived by protesters. In response to overt expressions of support for Hezbollah, the administrative authority in Berlin banned such flag-waving in 2016. Hezbollah was banned by the German government in 2020.
By the 2010s, Al-Quds rallies had become more than just a gathering point for Muslim supporters of Hezbollah. They had begun to attract also fellow travelers intent on demonizing Israel and its allies in the West. For example, Karin Brothers, a so-called peace activist from the United Church of Canada, regularly participated in Al-Quds rallies in Toronto during the previous decade. In 2015, she accused Israel of “slaughtering” Palestinians in Gaza. At another Al-Quds rally held two years later, she accused Israel of “apartheid” and declared that “Israelis have never been embarrassed by their terrorism.” Similar leftist participation in the Iranian-supported event was seen in Boston in 2014 with a radical leader from a local school bus drivers’ union denouncing American support for Israel and accusing Israel of perpetrating a “holocaust” against Palestinians.
Nevertheless, the enthusiasm for these rallies seemed to be in decline in the year prior to the COVID lockdowns. Al-Quds Day events were held in eight U.S. cities on Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1 in 2019, with only a few dozen people attending these events. There has been no news regarding Al-Quds Day rallies in previous sites for these events in South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya in 2023.
In 2023, the only Al-Quds Day event declared in the U.S. so far is by the Al-Quds Committee in Dearborn, Michigan. At a previous rally organized by this committee, one activist expressed his support for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and referred in adulatory terms to Iranian leader Ali Khamenei, calling him “our beloved leader.”
An Al-Quds Day march will be held in London on April 16, organized by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC). This organization is affiliated to an office in the judiciary branch of the Islamist regime in Iran (with the same name) and has a line in Iran’s state budget. Saeed Reza Ameli, ex-president of this commission, was the secretary of IRI’s Supreme Cultural Council. According to a 2019 report published by the Times of London, the organization’s chairman, Massoud Shadjareh, described Ayatollah Khomeini, as “a torch of light for the whole of mankind.”
There are signs that Iranian proxies who organize the rallies are now facing real opposition, not from pro-Israel activists in the West, but from dissidents in the Iranian diaspora who oppose the regime. These dissidents, who have been energized by the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests in Iran, have been very active against the Islamist regime in Iran and its proxies in the West. Anti-regime demonstrations and sit-ins have been held in front of Islamic centers run by the regime in Europe and Canada. For example, dissidents challenged Iranian diplomats celebrating Ramadan in a park outside of London, highlighting the abuse of women at the hands of the regime.
Another factor contributing to the apparent decline in the Al-Quds movement is the shrinking financial and human resources of the Islamist regime in Iran. The regime simply lacks the resources it needs to finance and organize these events. The government is not even able to pay the teachers on time and it needs all its oppression machine manpower to be inside the country and ready to fight Iranian youth on the streets. According to a document obtained by critics of the regime, the Iranian government used its Iraqi proxies to oppress the protesters in Khuzestan province (south-west of the country) in 2022.
A third factor is the decline of the Islamist movement in the globe in recent years after the demise of ISIS. The organizers may not want to be viewed as part of a declining movement, and as a result may prefer to keep a low profile.
A final reason for the decline is the fact that European governments show more security awareness after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, an invasion actively and materially supported by Iran. The European Parliament recently passed a resolution calling on the bloc to consider a “terrorist” designation for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The European Council has not yet followed this resolution with a proscription of the IRGC. But any organization that has ties to Tehran is now more vigilant and does not want to be in the news.
Whatever the cause, the declining popularity of Al-Quds rallies is good news for the West and Iranian dissidents.
Mohammadi is an Iranian-American sociologist and political analyst residing in the U.S., who contributes opinion and analysis to Persian, Arabic, and English news outlets. He has published dozens of books.