Germany, New Zealand approaches to citizenship revocation for strip IS fighters – Statelessness

Both countries provide an exception for those who would be left stateless and appear to be applying that consistently unlike recent cases in the UK (Begum) and Australia (Prakash).

Starting with Germany:

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and their Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners have agreed a plan to strip some Germans who fight for the Islamic State militant group of their citizenship, a German newspaper reported on Sunday.

More than 1,000 Germans have left their country for war zones in the Middle East since 2013 and the government has been debating how to deal with them as U.S.-backed forces are poised to take the last patch of territory from Islamic State in Syria.

About a third have returned to Germany, another third are believed to have died, and the rest are believed to be still in Iraq and Syria, including some detained by Iraqi forces and U.S.-backed fighters in Syria. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, citing unnamed government sources, said three criteria must be met to allow the government to denaturalise Germans who take up arms for the Islamist group.

Such individuals must have a second citizenship, be adults and they would be stripped of their citizenship should they fight for Islamic State after the new rules go into effect.

The compromise ends a dispute over the issue between conservative Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and SPD Justice Minister Katarina Barley.

Spokesmen for both ministers were not available to comment on the report.

U.S. President Donald Trump last month urged Britain, France and Germany to take back more than 800 captured Islamic State fighters and put them on trial.

Germany said it would take back fighters only if the suspects have consular access.

Last month Britain revoked the citizenship of a teenager who had left London when she was aged 15 to join Islamic State in Syria.

The case of Shamima Begum highlighted the security, legal and ethical dilemmas facing European governments dealing with citizens who had sworn allegiance to a group determined to destroy the West.

Source: Germany to strip IS fighters of citizenship under certain criteria – report

New Zealand:

A New Zealand man detained in Syria after joining the Islamic State militant group will not be stripped of citizenship but could face criminal charges if he returns, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

New Zealand is the latest of a number of countries, from Australia and Britain to the United States, forced to grapple with legal and security challenges in dealing with former members of a hardline group that had sworn to destroy the West.

Mark Taylor, who traveled to Syria in 2014, told Australian broadcaster ABC from a prison in the Kurdish-run north that he expected to face time in prison if he returned to New Zealand.

Taylor’s joining the group was illegal and could have legal ramifications, Ardern said, but added that her government would provide him with a travel document to return, if possible.

“We have long had plans in place in the event that a New Zealand citizen supporting ISIS in Syria were to return,” Ardern told reporters, using an alternative name for the group.

“Mr Taylor only holds New Zealand citizenship and the government has an obligation not to make people stateless.”

Ardern said officials had identified that a small number of New Zealanders had joined IS, but declined to give an exact number.

New Zealand law allows revocation of citizenship only in limited situations, Ardern said, adding that the government could not render stateless anyone who did not have dual citizenship.Officials had told Taylor he would need to travel to a country where New Zealand has a diplomatic presence, such as Turkey, to receive an emergency travel document to return, said Ardern, adding that would be difficult as he is in detention.

In an interview aired on Monday, Taylor told the ABC that he had worked as a guard for the group for five years and had been detained in its prisons a number of times, such as after he accidentally leaked location details in a tweet in 2015.

He also appeared in an IS promotional video that year, calling for attacks on ANZAC Day celebrations in Australia and New Zealand.

Taylor told ABC he had witnessed executions while with the group and was sorry.

“I don’t know if I can go back to New Zealand, but at the end of the day it’s really something I have to live with for the rest of my life,” he said.

In February, Britain said it was revoking the citizenship of 19-year-old Shamima Begum, who had left London with two school friends to join up when she was 15, but now sought to return with her newborn son.

Source: New Zealand Islamic State recruit will not be stripped of citizenship

 

Brexit prompting thousands of Jewish people to apply for German citizenship

Almost ironic,  another Brexit fall-out:

Simon Wallfisch grew up in London as the grandson of an Auschwitz survivor who swore to never return to the country that murdered her parents and six million other Jews.

But more than 70 years after the Holocaust, Brexit has prompted Wallfisch and thousands of other Jews in Britain to apply for German citizenship, which was stripped from their ancestors by the Nazis during the Third Reich.

“This disaster that we call Brexit has led to me just finding a way to secure my future and my children’s future,” said Mr Wallfisch, 36, a well-known classical singer and cellist who received his German passport in October. “In order to remain European I’ve taken the European citizenship.”

Britons holding dual citizenship from an EU country like Germany will retain the privilege of free movement and work across the soon-to-be 27-nation bloc.

Many Britons whose ancestors came from other parts of Europe have been claiming citizenship in other EU member states so they can keep ties to the continent. But for Jews whose families fled Germany to escape the Nazis, the decision has meant re-examining long-held beliefs about the country.

Mr Wallfisch’s grandmother, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, was 18 in December 1943 when she was deported to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in occupied Polandwhere more than one million Jews were murdered.

In November 1944, she was taken to Bergen-Belsen – the concentration camp where diarist Anne Frank died after also being transferred from Auschwitz at about the same time – where she was eventually liberated by the British army in April 1945.

Ms Lasker-Wallfisch immigrated to Britain in 1946, got married and had two children. Her career as a famous cello player took her around the world, but it took decades until she overcame her hatred enough to set foot on German soil again in the 1990s.

In recent years, Lasker-Wallfisch, 93, has become a regular visitor, educating children in Germany about the Holocaust.

On Sunday’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Ms Lasker-Wallfisch, her grandson Simon and her daughter Maya Jacobs Lasker-Wallfisch performed for the first time together on stage at the Jewish Museum Berlin in commemoration of their family. They played music with other members of their extended family and read letters from the past as a tribute to those who survived and those who perished in the Shoah.

Before the show, the three generations sat together on the red couch in the museum’s dressing room and told The Associated Press about the emotional thoughts that went into the younger two’s decision to take German citizenship.

“We cannot be victims of our past. We have to have some hope for change,” said Maya Jacobs Lasker-Wallfisch, a 60-year-old London psychotherapist who is Simon’s aunt and is still waiting for her German citizenship to be approved. “I feel somehow in a strange way triumphant. Something is coming full circle.”

Her application is one of more than 3,380 requests that the German Embassy in London has received since the Brexit referendum in June 2016. In comparison, only around 20 such requests were made annually in the years before Brexit. Article 116 of the German Constitution allows the descendants of people persecuted by the Nazis to regain the citizenship that was removed between 1933 and 1945.

More than just retaining the ability to travel easily from country to country or maintain business ties, Jacobs Lasker-Wallfisch said there are other, more emotional reasons to acquiring German citizenship, with Britain due to leave the European Union on 29 March.

“I feel an aliveness here [in Berlin] that I have not experienced before, but it totally makes sense because after all I am German,” Jacobs Lasker-Wallfisch said. She added that if the country behind the Holocaust is now one that welcomes the descendants of the victims, “that’s a good thing”.

But Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust, remained skeptical and pessimistic.

“Jewish people never feel secure,” she said to her daughter and grandson, reminding them of her own past. “I had German nationality – it did not buy me security.”

Source: Brexit prompting thousands of Jewish people to apply for German citizenship

UK and German immigration: a tale of two very different laws

One of the better articles on planned changes to immigration policy in both countries:

Two European countries announced radical overhauls of their immigration rules on Wednesday, but there the similarity ended.

Britain, where concerns about long-term impacts of immigration helped drive the 2016 vote to leave the European Union, billed its stricter regime as “a route to strengthened border security and an end to free movement”.

Germany, however, facing such a shortage of workers that is threatening economic growth, said it was easing immigration rules to attract more foreign job-seekers.

In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the British home secretary, Sajid Javid, stressed that the Conservatives’ 2017 election manifesto had made clear the party’s “commitment to bring net migration down”.

His counterpart in Germany, Horst Seehofer, said: “We need manpower from third countries to safeguard our prosperity and fill our job vacancies.” The economy minister, Peter Altmaier, hailed the new law – keenly awaited by business – as historic.

Britain’s priority appears primarily to be establishing a system of tough controls capable of keeping certain people out. Business has accused the government of putting a political imperative for restriction before the needs of the economy.

In contrast, by introducing looser visa procedures and reducing red tape Germany’s emphasis appears to be on making it easier for certain people to enter and to stay. Some in Angela Merkel’s conservative alliance and in the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) have said such a move ignores public concerns about immigration.

The UK’s system does not put a cap on numbers but aims to reduce annual net migration to “sustainable levels”. It requires skilled workers to earn a minimum salary, to be decided next year. After Brexit there would be no more special treatment for EU citizens; a transitional temporary worker scheme would allow them, and workers of any skill level from other “low risk” countries, to enter Britain without a job offer for up to 12 months.

Business leaders have warned that the system will leave the UK poorer, depriving industry of a migrant workforce on which it has depended. The proposed £30,000 salary threshold for skilled workers would leave hospitals, the contstruction and hospitality sectors, manufacturing, agriculture and logistics desperately short of labour, they said.

Germany’s Fachkräftezuwanderungsgesetz, or skilled labour immigration law, will allow skilled workers such as cooks, metallurgy workers and IT technicians to enter the country for six months to try to find a job, provided they can support themselves financially.

More controversially, the law will offer the prospect of permanent residency to asylum seekers who have a job and speak good German but currently face deportation if their asylum applications are turned down.

Immigration has been a key political issue in Germany since Europe’s 2015 migration crisis, when the country absorbed more than 1 million mostly Muslim refugees and migrants, sparking a xenophobic backlash and surge of support for the anti-immigration AfD in federal and regional elections.

Ministers stressed the new rules were a “pragmatic solution” to a pressing economic problem. The AfD said they would fuel immigration, providing “a fresh incentive for people from around the world to come”. In Germany, however, those politics have not, so far, prevailed.

Source: UK and German immigration: a tale of two very different laws

Why the German Islam Conference misses the reality of Muslims in Germany

Interesting interview and perspective:

After more than a year of preparation, the fourth German Islam Conference (DIK) began on the 28th of November. More than 200 people from religious and political life, accompanied by academics, sat through panels discussing the role of Islam in Germany.

We talked to Murat Gumus, Deputy Secretary General of the Islamic Community Milli Gorus and Secretary General of the Islamic Council for the Federal Republic of Germany, at the Fourth German Islam Conference (DIK) and he gave us his thoughts on the future of Muslims in Germany.

What do you think is the goal of the DIK? Was this year’s eventing a success in this sense?

 
The title of the conference was German Muslims – Muslims in Germany. During the discussions at the kick-off event it became clear that the first part “German Muslims” did not meet with the approval of the majority of the participants.

One was unanimously of the opinion that there can be no German Islam, as there is also no Turkish, Arab Islam that exists. The event brought us clarity at least in this point, that discussions about such constructions meeting with widespread rejection and we must, therefore, concentrate on the essential topics.

One main issue is that Muslims are currently facing major challenges. The rejection of Islam and Muslims has increased significantly in recent years. According to recent studies, the majority of our society has a negative image of Islam.

According to a survey by the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD), almost one in three people believe that Muslims should not be part of everyday life in Germany.

According to the results of the Leipzig Authoritarianism Study 2018, the devaluation of Muslims has risen “alarmingly high”.

Compared with past studies, it can be stated that the mood towards Muslims and Islam has never been as negative as it is today. This widespread attitude is reflected in daily Muslim life in Germany: Muslims experience discrimination in work, at school and in everyday life. For example, it is statistically proven that Muslim applicants find it much more difficult to find a job according to their qualifications than non-Muslims.

Added to this is the constantly high number of attacks on Muslims and mosques.  Muslim life in its various manifestations is more often perceived as a cause of conflict. The most well-known and recurring topic is the headscarf debate. It often leads to an escalation of polarised and polemicised public discussions. In some cases, there are even calls to banish the visible Muslim from the public sphere either in part or in its entirety.

This image is diametrically opposed to the current situation of Muslims and their commitment to contribute to society: they have better school achievements than before, have significantly higher qualifications and are anxious to get involved in society.  Furthermore, Muslims identify strongly with their “new home”.  Finally, it is stated that Muslims are largely integrated in Europe, but are still not sufficiently accepted.

We wanted these problems to be given greater consideration. Especially since the Federal Ministry of the Interior had set itself the goal of tackling practical questions of Muslim life in Germany. Unfortunately, we were disappointed because the most acute problems facing Muslims in Germany were hardly addressed. Instead, topics such as imam training, identity discussions and the integration of mosques were particularly favoured.

For a stronger home for Muslims in Germany, however, it is important that our principal problems are tackled and solved. The Federal Ministry of the Interior must set itself this as its main goal and solve it.

What claims do you make against the DIK?  Is it in your opinion democratic, representative, inclusive, unbiased, balanced?

In Germany, freedom of religion is accorded special importance, not least on the basis of past experience. According to the constitution, the state must respect this freedom, regardless of the religion to which the individual adheres. What is special about the German interpretation and exercise of religious freedom is that the state does not displace religion from the public sphere, but offers it scope for shaping and acting in the public sphere and supports it in doing so.

This special characteristic of German religious freedom must be valued and maintained. This was partly the case with the decision of the Federal Constitutional Court in 2015, which allowed Muslim teachers in the majority of the federal states to wear religiously motivated clothing. Unfortunately, the unjustifiably restrictive interpretation of neutrality has not yet been corrected in all federal states.

In addition, the negative attitudes towards religiously motivated garments are gaining momentum again on the basis of a wrongly understood neutrality. In both public institutions and companies, attempts are being made to exclude Muslim women with headscarves from the employment relationship “legally” in advance.

On the other side, the introduction of Islamic religious education and the establishment of Islamic-theological centres at universities are the first steps in cooperation between Islamic religious communities and the state.

Even if the modes of cooperation between the parties do not yet correspond to the requirements of the given legal framework, we are confident that a recognition of the status of Islamic religious communities still to take place will replace the provisional arrangements (transitional models) and transfer the cooperation between religious communities and the state to the regular procedure under religious constitutional law.

I believe I heard clear signals on this from the Federal Ministry of the Interior at the kick-off event. In his keynote speech, Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer spoke twice about “Islamic religious communities”. If one considers the wording of the Interior Ministry from the past, this can be regarded as a novelty or a positive signal. For the recognition of religious communities in the sense of the Basic Law is particularly important to give Muslims a feeling of belonging in Germany.

We hope that the recognition processes in the federal states, which have become bogged down in the past due to the mixed political situation, will be put to the test and that a factual discussion will be held with those affected, based on the religious and neutrality of the state, the principle of parity and the respect of their right of self-determination and the self-administration of religious communities.

How do you rate the selection of guests for DIK by the organizer?

The Islamic Council with its more than 450 mosque communities has been providing advice and assistance to its members in the mosque communities for decades and the offers of the Islamic Council cover all areas of life of its members.

The other Islamic religious communities offer similar services to their members. By these characteristics, they clearly distinguish themselves from the other participants in the German Islam Conference. Because both in the quality of the services they offer and in the quantity of their sphere of activity the religious communities are very broadly positioned.

Other participants in the conference, on the other hand, represent either only themselves or only a small circle of people. Despite this situation, however, they receive oversized attention from politicians and the media. If the state wants to talk to them, please do so. They can do that with pleasure. However, it is questionable whether a mixture of qualitatively and quantitatively different – sometimes contradictory and reactionary – participants is purposeful.

What do you think of Horst Seehofer’s “German Islam”?

Minister Seehofer caused great disappointment and annoyance within the Muslim community right at the beginning of his term of office with the sentence “Islam does not belong to Germany”.

It is a short sentence with great effect: Muslims also want to feel accepted in Germany with their religious convictions. Through this sentence they have the feeling that after 60 years they are still not comprehensively accepted.

Subsequently, the Federal Ministry of the Interior said at the conference that he wanted to talk about how Islam could be in Germany. The content of a “German Islam” should be filled by Muslims themselves in the conference.

We are of the opinion that there is no such thing as a national Islam. There is no German or British Islam, just as there is no Turkish or Bosnian or Arab Islam. However, Muslims’ life practices may differ geographically and from culture to culture, while at the same time observing Islamic norms.

These differences can best be seen in the respective mosque architectures. However, this imprinting does not take place as a one-way street. Muslims also shape and influence the culture in which they live. This is also natural.

We welcome the fact that this view was also shared by many participants in the panel discussions at the conference kick-off event. I think that politics should be more relaxed with regard to the question of national imprinting and let things take their natural course.

What significance does the conference have for Muslims and the majority society in Germany?

As an Islamic religious community, we see the German Islam Conference first and foremost as a dialogue platform with state representatives on which the problems of Muslims can be addressed, the solution of which requires indirect and direct support from the state where cooperation is sensible.

Our motivation to participate in the event, therefore, presupposes that the state, guided by the principle of neutrality, by the principle of equal treatment and under preservation and respect of freedom of religion and the right of self-determination of religious communities, is aware of its responsibility towards its citizens, including Muslims.

In the end, the conference is what one makes of it. It can meaningfully contribute to solving the problems Muslims are confronted with. Or it can set goals for the future. It did this in the third German Islam Conference when important topics for Muslims such as denominational welfare or denominational pastoral care in prisons or hospitals were addressed.

Also, in the past topics such as Islamophobia and disproportionate negative reporting about Islam and Muslims were discussed. That was right and good. However, there are problems in the implementation of the agreements. This is often because politicians do not take the necessary steps.

Source: Why the German Islam Conference misses the reality of Muslims in Germany

Germany: Blood sausage at Islam conference stirs controversy

While accommodation generally should work both ways (i.e., as long as food is labelled and choice of alternatives), it does seem a lack of sensitivity at a national Islam conference. Would the Interior Ministry serve pork at an antisemitism conference?

When Canada organized an international antisemitism conference in 2010, all the food served was kosher:

Germany’s Interior Ministry has come under fire for serving blood sausage at a national Islam conference last week, despite pork being forbidden for practicing Muslims.

The issue has stirred a heated debate — one that touches on the fault line issues of integration and respect for different religions — between critics of the ministry and right-wing groups who justified the decision to serve the dish.

The ministry has defended its decision to serve the sausage consisting of pig’s blood, pork and bacon at the evening buffet on Wednesday. It said the serving reflected the “religious-pluralistic composition” of the event, which brought together Muslim associations and leaders with officials from the federal and local governments.

The ministry added that there was a wide range of food at the “clearly excellent” buffet, with vegetarian, meat, fish and halal dishes available. “If individuals were still offended for religious reasons, we regret this,” it said.

Nonetheless, some have viewed the choice of blood sausage as a deliberate provocation by hardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

In March, Seehofer caused a stir when he said in an interview that “Islam doesn’t belong to Germany” and that “Germany has been shaped by Christianity,” a comment he partially dialed back last week at the Islam conference.

#BloodSausageGate

Turkish-German journalist Tuncay Ozdamar, who first reported the “#BloodSausageGate” scandal, questioned on Twitter what message Seehofer had intended to send with the culinary decision.

“A little respect for Muslims who do not eat pork would be appropriate,” wrote Ozdamar, who himself claims to eat pork.

In comments published on the website Watson.de, Ozdamar said he had no objection to offering pork in schools with Muslim children because Germany is a multi-cultural country.

“But if I convene an Islam conference and invite Muslims to engage in dialogue, solve the problems of religion that arise in everyday life, then I have to be a bit sensitive, tactful and respectful,” he said.

Green Party politician Volker Beck also slammed the Interior Ministry, writing on Twitter that “appreciating diversity means also considering different habits.”

No clear markings?

Ali Bas, a Green Party spokesman for religious issues, told Watson.de that the blood sausage was not clearly identified at the buffet, but was rather served on appetizer trays. The Interior Ministry had said the food servings were clearly marked.

Many Muslims abstain from eating meat if it is unclear whether it is halal. Blood sausage could potentially be confused with sucuk, a halal sausage widely consumed in Turkey and the Arab world.

The Interior Ministry reportedly served ham in the first year of the annual Islam Conference in 2006.

Far-right AfD sees threat 

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) quickly entered the discussion, accusing critics of the Interior Ministry of launching an attack on German culture.

“Tolerance starts at the point where the blood sausage is seen simply for what it is: a German delicacy  that no one has to like, but that, just like our way of life, cannot be taken away from us,” AfD lawmaker Alice Weidel wrote on Twitter.

The post was accompanied by a picture of Weidel smiling in front of several blood sausages topped with basil leaves.

Ozcan Mutlu, a Green politician of Turkish descent, responded to the hysteria with a jab at the far-right.

“While the Twitter Nazis are fighting for the survival of the blood sausage and getting riled up over #BloodSausageGate, I’m drinking a beer at a German beer garden in Brooklyn to honor those sensible compatriots back home,” he wrote on Twitter, using the hashtag “#87percent” to refer to the percentage of voters who did not back the AfD in the 2017 general election.

Source: Germany: Blood sausage at Islam conference stirs controversy

What has Germany really learned – and remembered – from Kristallnacht?

Good commentary with the lingering questions “What have we learned from the Shoah?”:

Last week, Germany memorialized the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht – “the night of broken glass” – during which 1,400 synagogues and innumerable Jewish businesses throughout the country were vandalized. There were dozens of killings on that day, Nov. 9, 1938. At least 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

It was the visible unravelling of the old as a violent new social order was born, yet the savagery had not emerged from a void, as many have since argued. For almost a century, anti-Semitic speech had been increasingly normalized in public discourse. The brutality of Kristallnacht was an unsurprising outcome once a leader able to channel hatred arrived on the scene.

As the 2018 memorial date approached, the German government banned a planned protest march by far-right groups. This was a risky move in a liberal democracy, but necessary, according to Thomas Lutz, who heads the Memorial Museums Department of the Topography of Terror Foundation in Berlin. Mr. Lutz told me he encouraged the authorities to take preventative action. He belongs to the postwar generations who have made moral responsibility and Holocaust education their life’s work – a group that is being tested as never before. The radical Alternative for Germany party (AfD) is a serious threat to the German liberal consensus. Having entered the political mainstream in 2017, its leaders are hostile to foreigners and to Holocaust memorialization in the name of resurgent ethnic nationalism.

Two political streams are emerging where, until recently, there was only one. The AfD is increasing its support, but last week the older ethos was also visible when a 94-year-old former SS guard went on trial for crimes committed in Poland. “Germany owes it to the families and victims to prosecute these Nazi war crimes even today,” the prosecutor said. “This is a legal and moral question.”

No country has made greater efforts to atone for Second World War crimes than Germany, the perpetrator state. Since the 1970s, schoolchildren have learned about the Holocaust through history classes and mandatory visits to concentration camps. Museums such as Mr. Lutz’s superb Topography of Terror, which details the Nazi regime in words and pictures, have been erected. Small and large memorials pepper Berlin, including the massive and unsettling Holocaust Memorial near the famous Brandenburg Gate.

On the other hand, the former East Germany did not parallel this education. According to Communist ideology, there were no war criminals east of the Wall: they all lived in the West; a fiction that blocked acknowledgement and reflection. At reunification in 1990, the two cultures were largely strangers, and in the subsequent years, the promise of measurable gain has not materialized in much of the East. One can plot the growth of animosity. Simmering resentments soared in 2015 when Chancellor Angela Merkel allowed a million poorly vetted refugees into the country. Postwar taboos against racist speech loosened, possibly liberated by trash talk from the new U.S. President. Permission to spout hatred almost always radiates from the top.

On the anniversary last week, Ms. Merkel delivered a powerful address in a reconstructed synagogue in Berlin. She decried the “worrying” rise of anti-Semitism in her country. She called for the safeguarding of protective institutions and the liberal values that underpin them. And she asked the seminal question we once thought we had answers to, but has since become ambiguous: “What did we really learn from the Shoah, this rupture of civilization?”

“Democracy is complicated,” she said. “It relies on balance between majority and minority, on the division of powers.” Then she addressed an evident truth: Those who felt left behind were looking for simple, not complicated, answers – and they were finding them among racist nationalists.

Given its 20th-century history, the revival of right-wing German nationalism is a fearful prospect – not least to Germans themselves. Yet as important as it is to march in the streets, simple confrontation is not an effective strategy. New research suggests that cultural memory has a shelf life of 70 to 80 years – exactly the time that has elapsed since the Holocaust. Better solutions to the economic problems and social resentments of those who feel outstripped must be reimagined.

Angela Merkel is Europe’s wisest leader, but she has been fatally weakened by the political rise of the extreme right in both parts of her country. In her forthcoming absence, others must defend the democratic values she embodies and with which she has served her country.

Her question, “What have we learned from the Shoah?” hangs in the air.

Source: What has Germany really learned – and remembered – from Kristallnacht?

German schools teach Islam to students to give them a sense of belonging

Interesting article on a newer German approach to integration:

It was the second week of Islam class, and the teacher, Mansur Seddiqzai, stood in front of a roomful of Muslim teens and pointed to the sentence on the chalkboard behind him: “Islam does not belong to Germany.”

He scanned the room and asked: “Who said this?”

Hands shot up. “The AfD?” one student with a navy blue headscarf said, referring to Germany’s far-right anti-refugee party. “No,” Mr Seddiqzai shook his head. “Seehofer,” tried another. “Yes, and who is that?” “A minister,” said a third.

Finally, someone put it all together, identifying Horst Seehofer, the head of Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union and chancellor Angela Merkel‘s interior minister and coalition partner, who has on multiple occasions threatened to torpedo her government over the issue of immigration.

“Yes, that’s right,” Mr Seddiqzai said, turning to the others. “And what do you think? Is he correct?”

In a country where the debate over “who belongs?” has deeply divided Ms Merkel’s government, fuelled massive demonstrations and propelled the rise of anti-immigrant populism, these 16 and 17-year-olds confront versions of that question every day, in the headlines and in their personal lives: Do I belong, too? Can I be German and a Muslim?

Public schools in some of Germany’s most populous cities are helping such students come up with answers in a counterintuitive setting: Islam class.

The classes, taught by Muslims and intended for Muslim students, were first launched in the early 2000s and now are offered as electives in nine of Germany’s 16 states, by more than 800 public primary and secondary schools, according to the research network Mediendienst Integration. They include lessons on the Quran, the history of Islam, comparative religion and ethics. Often, discussions shift to the students’ identity struggles or feelings of alienation.

“When a German asks me which country I’m from, I tell them Turkey,” said Gulendam Velibasoglu, 17, who is taking Mr Seddiqzai’s 10th-grade Islam class this year. She was born and raised in this western German city. Still, she says, “If I said ‘German’, they wouldn’t accept the answer. They will see me as a foreigner, even though I’m a German citizen.”

Germany has the European Union’s second-largest Muslim population after France, according to estimates by Pew Research. In 2016, 4.95 million people, or 6.1 per cent of the German population, were Muslim. But less than half of those pray regularly, and even fewer regularly attend a mosque, according to the latest government surveys.

The country’s leaders have expressed an ambivalent view of Islam, at best. Mr Seehofer’s statement that “Islam does not belong to Germany” came just months after the Islam-bashing AfD, or Alternative for Germany, entered parliament. Ms Merkel denounced the statement and ruled out sharing power with the AfD. Nevertheless, the AfD has steadily gained support over the past two years: on 14 October, it scored the biggest electoral gains of any party in Bavaria, Germany’s most populous state.

Last year, the AfD hung campaign posters in Dortmund featuring women in burqas and the slogan “Stop Islamisation”. This year’s poster bore the words “Islam-free schools!” under an image of five beaming, light-skinned children.

Mr Seddiqzai, who was born to Afghan parents in the German city of Bochum and who wears a full beard and Nikes to school, said he worries about the effect on his students. “These posters tell them, ‘We don’t want you here’,” he said.

“They are not accepted in Germany, they are not accepted in the countries of their parents, and that produces this craving for a group to belong to,” he continued. “And then an Islamist comes to you and says, ‘Yeah, you don’t belong to anyone. Therefore just be Muslim.’ They offer them a third way.”

Mr Seddiqzai sees it as part of his job to make his students more informed in their consumption of such appeals.

Earlier this year, when local politicians were discussing a ban on headscarves, a group calling itself Reality Islam launched a social media campaign to protest the proposal and recruit students. Mr Seddiqzai showed his students how to trace Reality’s Islam’s links to Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist group banned in Germany since 2003. He also encouraged them to question the group’s stance on the headscarf, which it claimed the Quran mandates for women.

“I show them the Quranic verses about the headscarf, and we discuss it and we see there is no clear rule that a woman or girl has to wear a headscarf,” he said. “Most of them think the Quran itself has no contradictions, and even that is wrong. There are many contradictions in the Quran.”

Some German politicians are pushing for an expansion of Islam classes in public schools as a way to encourage the cultural integration of Muslim students and to promote an interpretation of Islam that highlights German values.

“We need more religious education,” Kerstin Griese, a lawmaker from the governing centre-left Social Democratic Party, wrote in an op-ed, “because it’s the only way to start a dialogue about our own traditions and values and to understand those of others”.

Such advocates generally don’t envision non-Muslim students taking these classes to gain a better appreciation of Islam. While a few German school systems offer religion classes that include multiple faiths or ethics classes that touch on religion, religion as taught in public high schools and supported by Germany’s Basic Law is generally targeted at specific denominations.

A further rationale for Islam classes is to “immunise” Muslim students from fundamentalism, as Protestant leader Heinrich Bedford-Strohm put it.

Of particular concern is radicalisation that might lead to violence. Since 2013, more than 1,000 people have left Germany to fight with or support the Islamic State and other terrorist organisations, most of them under 30.

But some educators and politicians resist the notion that Islam has a place in German public schools.

“Besides the fact that we have much more important problems in schools, it can’t be true that a German bishop is promoting Islam,” Alexander Gauland, a leader of AfD, said after Bedford-Strohm voiced his proposal.

No studies have examined the effectiveness of Islam classes in preventing radicalisation, according to Harry Harun Behr, a professor of Islam studies and pedagogy at Frankfurt’s Goethe University.

Still, he said, the classes are valuable because they show students their faith is as important as others taught in their schools and because they show Islam as a religion that is open to reflection and self-criticism.

At Mr Seddiqzai’s school, where almost 95 per cent of students are first or second-generation immigrants, Islam class is highly popular. When he crosses the schoolyard, he can barely walk five steps without being stopped by a student wanting to tell him about grades, romances or plans for the future.

“What Mr. Seddiqzai is teaching me is not really something you learn at mosque,” said 17-year-old Yusuf Akar. “How to interact with non-Muslims who may not be sure how to interact with us. Or who are scared of us.”

But it is more than that, too. “It shows me I’m welcome here,” Akar said. “Because the school no longer demands that we distance ourselves from our religion. They accept it and even create an opportunity to learn about it. And that gives me the feeling that I’m part of this society.”

Source: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/germany-islam-muslims-rightwing-extremism-afd-merkel-a8616886.html

Germany’s Far Right Finds A New Stronghold In Bavaria, And It’s Costing Merkel

Good background for the regional election results:

German support for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservatives is at an all-time low, and in few places is that more evident than Bavaria.

A booming economy and ever fewer migrants crossing the border into the wealthy alpine state haven’t eased a populist backlash against the Christian Social Union (CSU), which is the closest ally of Merkel’s party, the Christian Democrats (CDU). The CSU has governed Bavaria for all but three years since 1946, most of the time with an absolute majority.

But its future is in doubt, with conservative Bavarian voters in the midst of a shift toward Alternative for Germany (AfD). Just 5 years old, the far-right party is currently the main opposition in the German parliament and is widely expected to win seats in the Bavarian legislature for the first time when regional elections are held on Sunday.

One of the Bavarian cities where AfD is especially popular is Ingolstadt, which is hardly a typical stronghold for the far-right faction that traditionally plays to Germany’s working class in the less affluent, formerly communist east.

Luxury cars abound on Ingolstadt’s cobblestone streets and the 137,000 residents of the medieval city, where carmaker Audi is headquartered, enjoy the highest per capitaincome in Germany. But as well off as people in Ingolstadt are, many there are nonetheless anxious about their future.

Enter the AfD, which excels at stoking such fears.

The party’s candidate in Ingolstadt is Johannes Kraus von Sande, 48, who embraces the same campaign line the AfD used to win 13 percent of the vote in last October’s national elections: Uncontrolled migration threatens the German identity, security and economy, and the mainstream political parties aren’t doing anything about it.

“As our campaign posters say: The AfD fulfills the promises the CSU makes. The CSU’s failure to keep promises has pretty much defined the whole history of that party,” Kraus von Sande said in an interview with NPR.

But what exactly the AfD plans to do to fulfill campaign promises — or to address the problems it raises — the candidate said is still being worked out.

“The city has changed a lot,” Kraus von Sande said, recalling how when he went to high school in Ingolstadt, everyone knew everyone else by name.

Now, the city and its lucrative job market is far bigger and more international. City officials in Ingolstadt, where the population has grown by more than a third in the past four decades, estimate at least two out of five residents are either immigrants or descended from immigrants. Many of those immigrants are Muslims, who until recently, thought of Ingolstadt as a welcoming place for adherents of their faith.

Kraus von Sande said he doesn’t have a problem with all Muslim immigrants: “We have the Turks and I must say they are strongly integrated in German society and some of them are critical of Islam.”

But he said the migrants coming from the Middle East and Africa since 2015 — when war and poverty, coupled with Merkel’s open-door refugee policy, led to well over a million new arrivals in Germany — are causing more problems.

He said the earlier arrivals he speaks to don’t want newcomers who don’t or can’t fit in or fail to contribute to the German economy. The law needs to change, and they are looking to AfD to help with that, Kraus von Sande said.

“That definitely needs to happen very fast.”

The 53-year-old CSU candidate for the Bavarian legislature from Ingolstadt – police chief Alfred Grob – also has concerns about more effectively managing asylum seekers who come to Germany and ensuring that newcomers integrate.

He said it would be better for his city – and his political party — if the German government wasn’t operating a large refugee processing center for asylum seekers on the edge of Ingolstadt. That center, which housed about 1,400 migrants last year, was transformed in August into an “AnkER” center – a blend of the German words for arrival, decision and repatriation — and houses new arrivals who aren’t likely to qualify for asylum so they can be processed and deported more quickly.

But Grob criticized the AfD for capitalizing on fears rather than facts. Even though crime is up 11 percent in Ingolstadt, “the reality is that we have not had such a low crime rate for 20 years now,” Grob told NPR. “The other side is that refugees are proportionally over-represented in the crime statistics.”

He said that’s easy to explain: Most asylum seekers are young men, and as a demographic, they – no matter what their racial background – are more likely to commit crimes. Grob said many of the crimes by asylum seekers are happening at the transit center. He added that German voter backlash against the CSU and other mainstream parties is about a lot more than asylum seekers or the AfD. He called it “German angst.”

“People are afraid of a societal decline,” Grob explained. “We’re doing very well here. We feel so good that many think it can’t get any better and that in fact, it’s going to go down and maybe faster.”

A diesel emissions testing scandal and other problems at Audi have exacerbated such worries, he said. So have skyrocketing rents in the city. Older residents are also struggling with pensions that aren’t keeping up with the rising cost of living in Ingolstadt.

Another reason AfD is doing well in Ingolstadt is that it isn’t a university town, says Luzia Grasser, an editor in the Ingolstadt office of the daily Augsburger Allgemeine. “Ingolstadt has a relatively conservative voter class, so protest voters may not vote in the left milieu” compared to what’s happening in the rest of Germany, where the left-leaning, environmentally friendly Green Party has climbed to the number two spot in the latest opinion poll.

Much of the support for AfD in Ingolstadt comes from a large community of ethnic Germans from Russia who after the collapse of communism, immigrated to the region in the late 80s and early 90s. The candidates here say those immigrants were less likely to vote in Ingolstadt in the past, but are now worried about their jobs, unemployment benefits and pensions being gobbled up by newer immigrants — fears that AfD has seized on.

The far-right party has put up billboards around Ingolstadt warning of Muslim hordes stripping Bavaria of its Christian identity, pensions and benefits and fostering insecurity. One such billboard showing a white woman looking back in fear at two hooded men, and urging voters to cast their ballots for AfD to “protect our women and children,” stands across the street from a grocery store frequented by the many German Russians in the working class neighborhood of Piusviertel.

The neighborhood, with its apartment buildings, pristine parks and playgrounds, is home to many of Ingolstadt’s Turkish and Middle Eastern immigrants, who are reporting more harassment and abuse — especially of women wearing headscarves — since AfD began campaigning here. The community center there offers a wide range of programs to help residents seeking employment, integration into German society and culture and language. One of the volunteers is Yeser Saygili, who immigrated to Ingolstadt from Turkey a quarter century ago and speaks fluent German.

“I help a lot of immigrant women who are looking for jobs. One office looking for a cleaning woman recently asked me if the applicant wore a headscarf,” Saygili said. “I was, like, ‘Hello, how far have we regressed?’ In the end, she didn’t get the job.”

Saygili says she fears a far-right win in Bavaria on Sunday will only make things harder for Muslims in Ingolstadt. Political observers say it could also lead to a reshuffling or worse of Merkel’s cabinet, as her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, is co-leader of the CSU party and would feel pressured to resign following a poor election result.

Source: Germany’s Far Right Finds A New Stronghold In Bavaria, And It’s Costing Merkel

On a more encouraging note:

When German organizers pulled together a demonstration in Berlin to support “an open and free society,” they had some ambitious goals. They expected roughly 40,000 people to pack the span from Berlin’s city center, from Alexanderplatz to the Victory Column, where they were holding their final rally of the day.

As it turns out, those expectations didn’t measure up to the real thing.

More than 240,000 people showed up for the march and rallies Saturday, according to the organizers behind the #unteilbar event (#indivisible in English). Local police told the BBC that the demonstrators numbered “in the low hundreds of thousands.”

Authorities shut down the 3-mile expanse where the demonstrators had gathered, and overhead photographs showed massive crowds on the tree-lined avenue.

“A dramatic political shift is taking place: racism and discrimination are becoming socially acceptable. What yesterday was considered unthinkable and unutterable has today become a reality. Humanity and human rights, religious freedom, and the rule of law are being openly attacked. This is an attack on all of us,” organizers wrote in their manifesto prior to the event.

Protesters Throng Berlin In Massive Rally To Support ‘Open And Free Society’

‘We Are Facing a Monster’ Right-wing extremism in Germany

Good and thoughtful interview:

DER SPIEGEL: Ms. Knobloch, 73 years after the end of the Holocaust, right-wing extremists in Germany are once again stretching out their right arms in the Hitler salute. Jews are being threatened in public while parliamentary opposition leader Alexander Gauland, of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, recently said that the Nazi period was nothing but a “speck of bird shit” on German history. What is your reaction to the last several months?

Knobloch: These events weigh on us heavily. By “us” I mean the members of all Jewish communities in Germany. I am actually an optimist, something I inherited from my devout father. After the Holocaust, he was convinced Germany would once again have a future. I have thought a lot about my father recently. And I hope the alarming spectacle of the last few months will somehow come to an end like many others have before.

DER SPIEGEL: You don’t sound terribly optimistic.

Knobloch: I never thought it could get so bad again. Recently, I was at a high school with 300 students and told them: Take the responsibility we hand down to you. Be proud of your country. It has achieved a lot and is continuing to achieve. And as I was speaking, I was thinking: What are you even saying? Is it true at all?

DER SPIEGEL: You have your doubts?

Knobloch: There have been worrisome developments earlier. A few years ago, for example, there was a right-wing extremist demonstration in Munich where marchers shouted, “Jews in the gas, Jews out,” and the police didn’t intervene. But it has never been as bad as it is today. For the first time, a party has made it into national parliament whose program can be summarized with the words: Jews Out.

DER SPIEGEL: You are referring to the AfD.

Knobloch: I don’t actually want to even say their name. “Alternative for Germany,” what impudence. But yes, I am referring to the AfD.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you view the AfD as a Nazi party?

Knobloch: What else are you supposed to call a party that disseminates a platform that makes Jewish life impossible? This party is opposed to ritual circumcision and seeks to ban the shechita of animals, through which meat becomes kosher for practicing Jews.

DER SPIEGEL: There are more than a few Jews involved in the AfD. How can the party be anti-Semitic?

Knobloch: Just like a person with Jewish friends can still be an anti-Semite, Jewish party members are in no way a guarantee that a party doesn’t have anti-Semitic tendencies. The simple presence of Jews, in any case, isn’t enough and a group like the one calling itself “Jews in the AfD” is no proof of the lack of anti-Semitism. Particularly since the group isn’t just made up of Jews.

DER SPIEGEL: Among the established parties in Germany, there is a significant degree of uncertainty about how they should confront the AfD. Should they go on the attack? Ignore them? Try to expose them with arguments? They are trying everything and nothing seems to be working.

Knobloch: I like how the single neo-Nazi in the Munich city council is being dealt with. He is simply completely ignored by the other parties. He files inquiries and they simply go unanswered.

DER SPIEGEL: But in Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, every deputy has rights. And with 92 members of parliament, the AfD is the largest opposition party. How can they be ignored?

Knobloch: There needs to be a consensus among all the other parties. The AfD has positioned itself outside of our liberal values. Period. It bothers me that there isn’t even consensus on this point at the moment. What other viewpoint can there possibly be?

DER SPIEGEL: The debate surrounding how to deal with the AfD recently intensified after an extremely emotional plenary speech by former Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz, who linked the right-wing populists with fascism.

Knobloch: I thought Schulz’s reaction was absolutely the correct one. Everybody needs to know who they are voting for when they cast their ballot for the AfD. Our task is to clearly draw the line. If we don’t, we are merely helping normalize the right-wing populists. I wanted to write Martin Schulz a letter, but I never got around to it because of the Jewish holidays. His dedication is admirable.

DER SPIEGEL: Among other things, Schulz said that AfD co-leader Gauland belongs on the “manure heap of history.” Should he be stooping to the level of the right-wing populists?

Knobloch: We can’t always obey the rules of politesse when dealing with a Nazi party. When politicians from the AfD refer to the Nazi period as “a speck of bird shit” in German history and refer to the Holocaust memorial as a monument to shame, then we need to strike back rhetorically. We are facing a monster. We have to fight it before it becomes stronger.

DER SPIEGEL: Following the recent riotsin Chemnitz, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier harkened to the collapse of the Weimar Republic

Knobloch: That wasn’t an exaggeration. Weimar collapsed because the democrats, who were actually supposed to be the pillars of the system, ducked responsibility. I find it extremely troubling that people today aren’t taking to the streets in large numbers to demonstrate. There are distressing parallels between then and now. You just have to listen to the things politicians from this party say without facing repercussions. It is reminiscent of the rise of the NSDAP (Nazi party). Personally, I feel like it is 1928 again.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you think the AfD should be monitored by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency?

Knobloch: I find it completely incomprehensible as to why that wasn’t started long ago. I am stunned. If the AfD was being monitored, their representative would perhaps tone themselves down in public instead of inciting the population. Instead, there are rumors that Mr. Maassen …

DER SPIEGEL: … the former head of the BfV Hans-Georg Maassen, who wasrelieved of his duties recently for allegedly pandering to the far right …

Knobloch: … may have given tips to AfD members on how to avoid monitoring from the BfV. If that is true, that would be a catastrophe from my point of view.

DER SPIEGEL: Maassen expressed doubt about the authenticity of a video from Chemnitz that showed migrants being chased down.

Knobloch: Someone in his position should not just say something like that without presenting proof. That is a break with our political culture.

DER SPIEGEL: The rise of the AfD is inseparably connected with the refugee policies of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Do you think it was the correct decision to not seal off the German border in September 2015?

Knobloch: I view the issue through the lens of my own biography. If the U.S. immigration authorities in the late 1930s had approved the visas that my uncle applied for on behalf of his brother, his mother and me, my grandmother would not have had to suffer such a horrific death. She was too old to be accepted into the U.S. There were similar fates people faced that I heard about at the time. That is why I was very much in favor of Germany taking in the people who were living in horrific conditions in the Budapest train station in September 2015. After all, we became a humane country after 1945.

DER SPIEGEL: The Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats, believes the chancellor’s refugee policies are misguided.

Knobloch: We can’t take on more than we can handle, I agree with that. First and foremost, we have to help those who have had to leave their homes to escape war. When I see the terrible images from Syria, then we can’t hesitate for a moment. But we need a migration law to decide who fits, who can be integrated, who we need on the job market.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you see a connection between Merkel’s refugee policies and increasing anti-Semitism?

Knobloch: I’m wary on that issue. We don’t have an anti-Semitism problem because people from other cultures are coming to us. That would be an extremely simplistic view.

DER SPIEGEL: You don’t see a qualitative difference between European anti-Semitism from the Christian West and Muslim anti-Semitism?

Knobloch: I didn’t say that. Muslim anti-Semitism works primarily by way of the delegitimization of Israel. And there is a specific form of anti-Semitism that has its roots in the Koran. That also has an influence over how anti-Semitism develops in this country.

DER SPIEGEL: What do you mean?

Knobloch: Anti-Semitism used to be the rejection of a certain group of people. Today, it is simply hatred of the Jews.

DER SPIEGEL: Anti-Semitism has radicalized?

Knobloch: Absolutely.

DER SPIEGEL: Is there a recipe for fighting it?

Knobloch: Not enough is being done, that is the frightening thing. We have been calling attention to the problem for years. And there are actually institutions that should be taking action. Political leaders, for example. Security authorities. Educational institutions. All of them should focus on fighting anti-Semitism, especially given our history. But not nearly enough is being done. Those who are blaming the refugees exclusively for anti-Semitism are making it too easy on themselves. These people, if you will, can’t help it. That’s how they were raised.

DER SPIEGEL: Where do you think the largest shortcomings are to be found?

Knobloch: In education. We are way behind there. You can’t fight anti-Semitism by simply talking about anti-Semitism. You fight it by learning to love your own country and by defending its values.

DER SPIEGEL: In a recent op-ed for the Israeli daily Haaretz, you sharply criticized Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, saying that he has positioned himself as an ally to right-wing populists in Europe. Why did you get involved?

Knobloch: When Mr. Grenell welcomes the rise of anti-establishment populists in a country where the extreme right has won seats in parliament, we Jews feel threatened. The fact that he apparently doesn’t see this connection is appalling. Mr. Grenell uses the same language as the AfD. This cycle of mutual encouragement is a danger to our liberal democracy. In such a situation, I don’t care if he is the U.S. ambassador or whatever else.

DER SPIEGEL: Has Mr. Grenell contacted you at all?

Knobloch: No.

DER SPIEGEL: Would you like to meet with him?

Knobloch: It would depend on the subject matter. I am happy to talk at any time with young people who have adopted different ideas and to try and convince them.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Grenell claims to be a great friend of Israel’s.

Knobloch: Friendship is a rather broad term. Many people use it to put themselves in the center of attention because they think it looks good.

DER SPIEGEL: What do you think of the Israel policies of U.S. President Donald Trump?

Knobloch: I have family in Israel: a daughter, several grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. I have a special relationship to the country and advocate for its security wherever I can. The Israeli people want nothing more than peace, I am 100 percent convinced of that. That is why I welcome the fundamental tenets of Trump’s Middle East policy. I wouldn’t, however, have moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. That is such a sensitive issue that doing so merely makes in more difficult to find the solutions to problems.

DER SPIEGEL: You belong to the last generation of Holocaust survivors. How should the memory be kept alive once all those who witnessed it firsthand are gone.

Knobloch: My hopes are very much pinned on young people who are more interested in the history of their own country than was the case 10 or 15 years ago.

DER SPIEGEL: The Berlin municipal official Sawsan Chebli has proposed making it a requirement for young people to visit a concentration camp memorial. What do you think of the idea?

Knobloch: The only camp where it is still possible to really get a sense for the tragedy is Auschwitz. Such visits, though, can only take place if there has been sufficient preparation. Young people have to know what they are visiting. And if one of them doesn’t want to, you can’t force them.

DER SPIEGEL: What do you have against the so-called “Stolpersteine,” the gold-colored paving stones placed in front of buildings in German cities to commemorate Jews who lived there until they were deported by the Nazis?

Knobloch: I find this type of commemoration to be a catastrophe. People trample on the names of those who were murdered and dogs pee on them. The Munich city council has resolved that commemoration must take place at eye level. I hope that our example is followed elsewhere.

DER SPIEGEL: Jews who live in Israel often can’t understand how Jews can continue to live in the diaspora.

Knobloch: In the diaspora or in Germany?

DER SPIEGEL: Does it make a difference?

Knobloch: Of course it does. Given recent developments, I am being asked such questions more often.

DER SPIEGEL: By whom?

Knobloch: The part of my family that lives in Israel has already come to terms with it. My granddaughter is now grown up, but when she was in the ninth grade, she visited Auschwitz with her class. In Israel, it is a visit everybody makes. Afterwards, she wrote me a six-page letter and asked me how I can live in Germany.

DER SPIEGEL: The attacks on Jews in France triggered something of an exodus of Jews fleeing the country to Israel. Do you think there is a danger of something similar occurring in Germany?

Knobloch: Yes, there is a danger. Members of the Jewish community come to me and tell me that they are afraid. It is equal parts irrational and understandable. I try to give them courage, despite everything. That is part of the optimism that I mentioned earlier.

DER SPIEGEL: Ignatz Bubis, one of your predecessors as president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said toward the end of his life that he accomplished “almost nothing.” What are your feelings when you look back on your own life?

Knobloch: He was already quite sick when he said that. I called him and said: How can you say such a thing? I know how much you have accomplished.

DER SPIEGEL: You have a more positive view than Bubis did at the end of his life?

Knobloch: It is a question I ask myself every day, when I see the terrible developments in Chemnitz and elsewhere. But then I always think: I did achieve something. It’s just a gut feeling I have.

DER SPIEGEL: Bubis never wanted to live in Israel, but he wanted to be laid to rest there.

Knobloch: He didn’t want his grave to be vandalized. And given the increasing anti-Semitism, that is a very real danger.

DER SPIEGEL: And where do you want to be buried?

Knobloch: I have our family plot here in Munich.

DER SPIEGEL: Ms. Knobloch, thank you very much for this interview.

New German immigration laws agreed at government meeting

Significant given the political debates and tensions with the coalition:

Germany’s coalition government announced in the early hours of Tuesday that they had agreed on new immigration laws after several months of back and forth over immigration policy. The new laws will be inspired by the oft-touted Canada model, and would make it more difficult for the poor and uneducated to immigrate to Germany, according to a draft of the deal seen by journalists.

The deal “adheres to the principle of separating asylum and labor migration,” and ensures that those who have a legal right to claim asylum under German law will still be able to do so.

The outline of the proposed law states however, that non-EU citizens without higher education or, preferably, a concrete job offer, will not be able to live in Germany: “We do not want any immigration from unqualified third-country nationals,” the deal states.

Like the Canada model, prospective immigrants would be ranked according to level of education, age, language skills, job offers, and “financial security.”

No special treatment for well-integrated rejected refugees

The agreement was signed by the Social Democrat (SPD) Labor Minister Hubertus Heil and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU). Seehofer has been pushing for immigration reform since taking office, going so far as to threaten to resign in June if his demands were not met.

“Skilled workers from abroad are already making an important contribution to the competitiveness of the German economy,” the paper states, noting the need for more highly-qualified employees.

One issue not included in the deal is a special dispensation sought by the SPD for refugees whose asylum applications have been rejected but are already well integrated in German society.

Heil told German news agency DPA that Seehofer had agreed, however, that the government should more closely take care “not to deport any of the wrong people.”

The government will also retain the right to close off immigration for certain job categories as it sees fit.

Source: New German immigration laws agreed at government meeting