ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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A German state mandates the recognition of Israel in citizenship application

Saxony-Anhalt introduces requirement for applicants to affirm in writing that they back Jewish state’s ‘right to exist and condemn any efforts directed against’ its existence

A view of the entrance to the state administration office in Halle, the largest city in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, November 23, 2023. (Hendrik Schmidt/picture alliance via Getty Images via JTA)
A view of the entrance to the state administration office in Halle, the largest city in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, November 23, 2023. (Hendrik Schmidt/picture alliance via Getty Images via JTA)

BERLIN (JTA) — Recognizing Israel’s right to exist is now mandatory for those who want to become German citizens in the former East German state of Saxony-Anhalt.

Applicants living in the state will have to confirm in writing “that they recognize Israel’s right to exist and condemn any efforts directed against the existence of the State of Israel.” Saxony-Anhalt’s interior minister, Tamara Zieschang, a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union party, said Tuesday that the rule went into effect at the end of November.

The new state law is fueled by concerns over antisemitism, which has spiked across Germany and the rest of Western Europe following the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7.

In its decree, reportedly shared internally at the end of November, Saxony-Anhalt also requires naturalization agents to be on the lookout for antisemitic and anti-democratic attitudes among applicants.

The state regulation comes as the Bundestag, or German parliament, is about to pick up debate again on a new law originally intended to speed up and ease the process of naturalization. The law might have even allowed new citizens to hold on to their original passports.

But that debate was put off in November, with some politicians arguing that a rise in domestic antisemitism after October 7 did not allow for relaxed citizenship laws. Debate is due to resume this month.

“Without a doubt, the new law will have some words about antisemitism, whereby an application for citizenship could be denied not only because of violence or a violation of the law, but if there is some information about antisemitic attitudes,” Bundestag member Helge Lindh told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a telephone interview.

German biometric passport from November 2006. (Public domain, Wikimedia commons)

But it is not yet clear whether a national law will also require a signed statement of acceptance of Israel, said Lindh, who is rapporteur for migration and asylum policies for the Social Democratic Party, the center-left party led by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Such a statement was reportedly proposed after October 7, but critics have argued that it would target people of Arabic or Muslim background and that it would be a safer bet legally to focus on the antisemitism litmus test.

“People have to sign their support of the constitution already,” Lindh continued, adding that “many specialists say that just to confirm you are not antisemitic does not mean you are not antisemitic.”

The new law in Saxony-Anhalt “is a quite strange development,” he added, “because citizenship law is a federal law. In the end, it does not make sense if you have different rules for citizenship in the different German states.”

Some Israel advocates are still celebrating the new state law.

“I think it is amazing, and it is something I would expect from every state,” said Sacha Stawski, president and founder of the Frankfurt-based pro-Israel initiative Honestly Concerned. Although there are legal grounds for denying citizenship, “Germany has been extremely lenient in all states regarding this issue,” he said. “We don’t need any more antisemites in this country, we really don’t.”

According to news reports, Zieschang expressed solidarity with Israel immediately after the Hamas attack. Echoing the words of former German chancellor Angela Merkel in her historic address to the Knesset in March 2008, she said that Israel’s right to exist “is and remains” a “raison d’état,” or essential tenet of the German state.

People wave Israeli flags during a demonstration against antisemitism and to show solidarity with Israel in Berlin, Germany, October 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

While states may enact their own rules regarding naturalization requirements for applicants living within their jurisdiction, there already have been attempts to tighten naturalization requirements on a national level. Most recently, on November 15, the CDU faction in the Bundestag, referring to the Hamas attacks, proposed a draft law “to terminate the residence and prevent the naturalization of antisemitic foreigners” in Germany.

Back in June 2021, the CDU already had proposed expelling or “preventing the naturalization of antisemitic foreigners” and requiring that citizenship applicants swear that they will not attempt to undermine the State of Israel.

They also proposed a prison sentence of at least six months and the denial or loss of financial support for asylum applicants convicted of an antisemitic crime, rather than just expulsion.

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