The New German Anti-Semitism

Good long and disturbing read:

One of Wenzel Michalski’s early recollections of growing up in southern Germany in the 1970s was of his father, Franz, giving him some advice: “Don’t tell anyone that you’re Jewish.” Franz and his mother and his little brother had survived the Holocaust by traveling across swaths of Eastern and Central Europe to hide from the Gestapo, and after the war, his experiences back in Germany suggested that, though the Nazis had been defeated, the anti-Semitism that was intrinsic to their ideology had not. This became clear to Franz when his teachers in Berlin cast stealthily malicious glances at him when Jewish characters — such as Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” — came up in literature. “Eh, Michalski, this exactly pertains to you,” he recalls one teacher telling him through a clenched smile. Many years later, when he worked as an animal-feed trader in Hamburg, he didn’t tell friends that he was Jewish and held his tongue when he heard them make anti-Semitic comments. And so Franz told his son Wenzel that things would go easier for him if he remained quiet about being Jewish. “The moment you say it, things will become very awkward.”

As a teenager, Wenzel defied his father’s advice and told a close friend. That friend quickly told his mother, and the next time Wenzel saw her, she reacted quite strongly, hugging him and kissing his face: “Wenzel! Oh, my Wenzel!” Now a stocky, bearded 56-year-old, Wenzel recalled the moment to me on a recent Saturday afternoon. He raised the pitch of his voice as he continued to mimic her: “You people! You are the most intelligent! The most sensitive! You are the best pianists in the world! And the best poets!” In his normal voice again, he added, “Then I understood what my father meant.”

Wenzel Michalski is now the director of Human Rights Watch for Germany. He and his wife, Gemma, an outgoing British expat, live in a cavernous apartment building in the west of Berlin. In their kitchen, Gemma told me that after arriving in Germany in 1989, she often got a strangely defensive reaction when she told people she was Jewish; they would tell her they didn’t feel responsible for the Holocaust or would defend their grandparents as not having perpetrated it. And so, to avoid conversations like these, she, too, stayed quiet about being Jewish.

Recently, the Michalskis’ youngest son became the third generation of the family to learn that telling people he is Jewish could cause problems. The boy — whose parents asked that he be called by one of his middle names, Solomon, to protect his privacy — had attended a Jewish primary school in Berlin. But he didn’t want to stay in such a homogeneous school for good, so just before he turned 14, he transferred to a public school that was representative of Germany’s new diversity — a place, as Gemma described it, where he “could have friends with names like Hassan and Ahmed.”

The first few days there seemed to go well. Solomon, an affable kid with an easy smile, bonded with one classmate over their common affection for rap music. That classmate introduced him to a German-Turkish rapper who would rap about “Allah and stuff,” Solomon told me. In return, he introduced the classmate to American and British rap. Solomon had a feeling they would end up being best friends. On the fourth day, when Solomon was in ethics class, the teachers asked the students what houses of worship they had been to. One student mentioned a mosque. Another mentioned a church. Solomon raised his hand and said he’d been to a synagogue. There was a strange silence, Solomon later recalled. One teacher asked how he had encountered a synagogue.

“I’m Jewish,” Solomon said.

“Everyone was shocked, especially the teachers,” Solomon later told me about this moment. After class, a teacher told Solomon that he was “very brave.” Solomon was perplexed. As Gemma explained: “He didn’t know that you’re not meant to tell anyone.”

The following day, Solomon brought brownies to school for his birthday. He was giving them out during lunch when the boy he had hoped would be his best friend informed him that there were a lot of Muslim students at the school who used the word “Jew” as an insult. Solomon wondered whether his friend included himself in this category, and so after school, he asked for clarification. The boy put his arm around Solomon’s shoulders and told him that, though he was a “real babo” — Kurdish slang for “boss” — they couldn’t be friends, because Jews and Muslims could not be friends. The classmate then rattled off a series of anti-Semitic comments, according to Solomon: that Jews were murderers, only interested in money.

Over the next few months, Solomon was bullied in an increasingly aggressive fashion. One day, he returned home with a large bruise from a punch on the back. On another occasion, Solomon was walking home and stopped into a bakery. When he emerged, he found one of his tormentors pointing what looked like a handgun at him. Solomon’s heart raced. The boy pulled the trigger. Click. The gun turned out to be a fake. But it gave Solomon the scare of his life.


German inter-faith scheme criticised for using beermats to explain Islam

Well, if one wants to reach non-Muslims (the intent), beer mats are not a bad way to go about it:

A scheme to promote better understanding of Islam in Germany has run into controversy — after Muslim groups objected to the use of beer mats to provide information.

Under the scheme, beer mats are provided to pubs and restaurants with questions about Islam. On the reverse is an internet link to the answers.

Rather than using formal German, the beer mats are printed in regional dialect for each city, complete with local slang.

Typical questions include “Mohammed, what was he like?” and “What is it with Muslims and pork?”

The scheme has run in a number of German cities since it was first launched in 2016, and the beer mats have been translated into three dialects.

But a bid to introduce it in the small central German town of Maintal, close to Frankfurt, has run into opposition from local Muslims, who say beer mats are an inappropriate way to educate people about a religion that forbids alcohol.

“They could have used postcards, or adverts on the side of a bus. Why did it have to be the pub?” Salih Tasdirek, the head of the local foreigners’ advisory council, told Spiegel magazine.

The local council has defended the scheme. “We wanted to bring big social issues into conversation,” said Verena Strub, the council’s integration officer.

“I can understand if someone associates beer mats with alcohol, but not that anyone would associate Islam with alcohol just because the questions are on beer mats.”

The scheme is the work of Orient Network, a small German NGO that promotes interfaith understanding.

“We wanted to give answers in local language to the questions that our members, mostly Islamic scholars, are always asked,” said Raban Kluger, the scheme’s main organiser. “It is not our intention to associate alcohol with Islam.”

The questions and answers on the beer mats were all drawn up by Muslims and checked by Germany’s Central Council of Muslims, Mr Kluger said.

Tens of thousands of beerm ats featuring the questions have been printed. So far, they have been translated into the local dialects of Saxony, the Baden region, and Hesse, where Maintal is located.

Source: German inter-faith scheme criticised for using beermats to explain Islam

German government defends planned immigration laws | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond

Responding to the most immediate needs of the business community:

In a heated debate in the Bundestag on Thursday, the German government made the case for its much discussed proposed law governing immigration for skilled workers.

The new proposal, initially agreed upon by Angela Merkel’s Cabinet five months ago, is the government’s response to many years of complaints from a business community increasingly concerned about the lack of qualified IT specialists and engineers in Germany and shortfalls in other vocational professions. The country’s aging population is also desperately in need of health care workers.

A historic turning point

Conservative Interior Minister Horst Seehofer was on hand to present the draft law. He described it as a “historic point of juncture” that provided clear criteria for who should be able to come to Germany to work and under what conditions.

The minister was careful to point out that any perceived liberalization of Germany’s immigration laws could easily be corrected in the future, should the job-market situation change.

One of the key planks of the proposed law is the suspension of a mandatory check accompanying all job applications from outside the EU that makes sure there are no German or EU citizen applicants, who have priority.

The law will also make it easier for immigrants with a vocational qualification to move to Germany. Up until now, the German system had mainly favored those with academic qualifications.

Additionally it will also allow some people, under certain circumstances, to come to Germany to seek vocational training.

Interior Minister Seehofer said the law would be ‘historic’

The opposition criticized the limited scope of the plan, while the government’s conservative faction in the Bundestag stressed in a statement that there must be “no immigration into the social security systems.”

Tolerated, as workers

The German labor minister, Hubertus Heil, also defended another migration law proposed by the government that modifies how certain asylum-seekers whose applications have been rejected can obtain a “tolerated” status, meaning they are nonetheless allowed to stay in the country. The modifications apply to rejected asylum-seekers who have begun a state-recognized vocational training course or work for at least 20 hours a week, learned German, and have been able to support themselves for 18 months already.

Heil defended the move as a “pragmatic solution,” arguing it made no sense to deport people who were already working in Germany while at the same time trying to encourage other skilled workers to come.

Immigration reforms ‘too restrictive’

But some experts did not think much of the idea.

“It is much too restrictive to make much sense,” Thomas Gross, immigration law professor at Osnabrück University, said of the toleration article. “There are a few former refugees whose status hasn’t been recognized. They will get a more long-term ‘toleration status’ under very tight restrictions. But that isn’t a residency permit, but a second-class, uncertain status, and it will only be relevant for very few people.”

Gross was similarly unimpressed with draft law on general immigration. “It’s certainly a compromise that offers access and progress for those with non-academic professions with training qualifications,” the professor told DW. “But for all other areas it brings practically no progress.”

Attacks from all sides

The government, made up of Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, and the center-left Social Democrats, was bombarded from both sides of the parliament during the debate.

The business-friendly Free Democrats, represented by Linda Teuteberg, dismissed the draft law as “tentative and uninspired” and said it offered no great progress.

Green party parliamentary leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt said the proposal was more of an “obstruction law” rather than a modern immigration law, a line that was also taken by the socialist Left party.

The exact opposite argument was made by Gottfried Curio, a representative from the far-right, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), who said the proposed law would only attract more “underqualified poverty migration.”

Germany is facing a care-worker crisis

Human rights organizations like Pro Asyl also argued that the draft law was orientated more towards Germany’s economic interests and would help very few asylum-seekers who were trying to integrate in Germany.

Bureaucratic bottleneck

Bettina Offer, an immigration lawyer who represents major German companies looking for employees abroad, said it was unrealistic to expect the government to completely overhaul Germany’s immigration law in anything less than three to five years. According to her, what the government had done was ease the most critical points in the current legal situation.

“They wanted a quick solution because skilled workers were needed quickly, and I think that made sense,” Offer said. “That has been improved, but it’s true that the new law only offers a very rough framework, which I think will be refined in the next few years.”

“But what is perhaps even more important for the skilled workers is that the government has understood that the bottleneck is not so much at the legal level, but at the bureaucratic and administrative level,” she added.

In other words, it’s the practical problems that deter many qualified people from coming to Germany, such as difficulties getting visa appointments, either in Germany’s Foreign Citizen Offices or in consulates abroad.

“The new law includes a fast-tracked procedure for qualified workers. Businesses have been calling for that a long time, and that has finally been heard,” said Offer.

The law is supposed to come into effect on January 1, 2020, though the government has also warned that the relevant bureaucracies will need a six-month preparation period, which would mean the parliament would have to pass the law this summer to have an effect.

Source: German government defends planned immigration laws | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond

German conference on Islamic veil sparks controversy

All depends on the range of speakers and views that are being expressed, along with how they are expressed:

Islamic veils and headscarves remain the subject of heated public debate in Germany. Some view them as part and parcel of religious freedom; others as a symbol of women’s oppression in Islam. The German court system has already taken up the issue of whether school teachers should be banned from wearing a partial headscarf or full veil — or any other openly religious symbols — in class. To complicate matters further, not all of Germany’s 16 states see eye-to-eye on the matter, which is gaining in visibility due to the country’s changing demographics.

Germany’s Muslim population, which has rapidly increased in recent years due to immigration from Muslim-majority countries, was estimated at between 4.4 and 4.7 million people or approximately 5.5% of the country’s total population in 2015, according to the Federal Statistical Office. The number is doubtless higher now, according to the agency, but updated official figures exist.

With these demographic changes come societal debates — one of which, that of the Islamic veil, has been a continual source of discussion. The latest veil controversy, which made headlines all across Germany, has occurred over a planned academic conference — something that even its organizer did not expect.

Academic accused of peddling ‘anti-Muslim sentiments’

Professor Susanne Schröter, who has been researching Islam in Europe at Frankfurt University since 2008, has planned a conference titled “The Islamic veil – Symbol of dignity or oppression?” for May 8. A small group of students has criticized the conference, accusing her of wanting to spread Islamophobic sentiment and calling for her resignation.

Zuher Jazmati, a member of the “Uni gegen antimuslimischen Rassismus” (“University against anti-Muslim racism”) initiative told DW: “We do not believe a value judgment ought to be made on whether or not someone wears a veil. Making such a judgment is annoying for and a burden on any woman wearing one.” Jazmati believes that such discussions even encourage violence against Muslim women.

He also opposes several of the invited conference speakers. Jazmati takes issue with the attendance of German journalist Alice Schwarzer, who publishes Emma, a feminist magazine. He also opposes Islam critic Necla Kelek, whom he accuses of having expressed highly contentious statements in the past and of perpetuating a racist discourse. “When we discuss this topic we should do so with women in attendance who wear a veil so they can speak for themselves,” Jazmati underlines.

‘Just a regular conference’

Schröter is adamant that the event will go ahead as planned. She told dpa press agency: “I assumed that this would be just a regular conference that would not stir controversy. After all, we have been discussing the Islamic veil for nearly 20 years now.” While she said the Islamic veil had indeed become a hotly debated topic, she underlined that the conference had been planned merely to contextualize the controversial “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” exhibition at Frankfurt’s Museum of Applied Arts. The professor noted that proponents of the veil, like theologian and Quranic expert Dina El-Omari, who herself wears the covering, have been also been invited to the conference.

Still, Schröter is known for her critical view of Islamic veils. In August last year while attending a conference of the nonprofit women’s rights organization Terre des Femmes, she reportedly stated that the covering impedes women’s freedom and is often “tied to a whole bundle of restrictions.”

In early April this year, she published an article in German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung titled “What does God have against showing hair? Those who favor Islamic fashion should be aware of its repressive nature.”

Freedom of speech under threat?

Meanwhile, the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers (DHV) warned that freedom of speech was under threat at German universities. “Dissenting opinions must be respected and tolerated,” insisted DHV president Bernhard Kempen. Differences of opinion must be resolved through debate and not by boycotting, bashing, mobbing or violence, he stressed.

Birgitta Wolff, the president of Frankfurt University, has backed Schröter, stressing that it is part of her job as professor to organize academic conferences at which differing opinions are voiced.

German advertising has increasingly oriented itself toward the Muslim market segment, as shown in this gummy candy ad

Schröter says that universities should be about freedom of speech and a plurality of opinions: “Universities are a place for discussions, not a place where small lobby groups decide what can and cannot be said.” In an interview with German daily Die Welt, Schröter said critics have tried to “intimidate” and “defame” her, and that they were attacking the principle of free speech, adding that they were accusing her of “anti-Muslim racism” because they reject all criticism of Islam.

At present, it looks unlikely an amicable solution to the conference dispute will be found. Jazmati says that the list of invited speakers means neither he nor other members of his organization will attend the event, though he says he will look at conference excerpts released afterwards to see if the things his organization expected did happen. So far, there has been no direct communication between Schröter and the group Jazmati represents.

Source: German conference on Islamic veil sparks controversy

‘The New Germans’: Far-right AfD forms immigrant supporters’ group

Immigrants and minorities are not monolithic and while odd, it is not surprising that a few may be drawn to far-right groups and that far-right groups try to recruit them to claim that they are not xenophobic or racist.

A small group of Alternative for Germany (AfD) politicians and party members have come together to rally up support for the far-right party from a seemingly unlikely demographic — migrants and those with immigrant backgrounds.

“Die Neudeutschen” or “The New Germans” group was formed over the weekend by AfD politicians who all have immigrant roots, and was presented at a press conference in Berlin on Monday.

For Anton Friesen, an AfD lawmaker from the eastern state of Thuringia, the formation of the group was “overdue.”

“Since the AfD was founded, many German citizens with immigrant backgrounds have voted for us,” Friesen told DW. “Now there is finally an association that gives these people names and faces,” he added.

Friesen, who helped initiate the new AfD association, was born in Kazakhstan and moved to Germany with his parents when he was nine years old.

His fellow group spokesman is Alexander Tassis, the son of a Greek migrant worker who is an AfD state lawmaker in Bremen. He is also heads the “Alternative Homosexuals” — an AfD-aligned group for LGBT members.

Currently, the group has 20 members who are German citizens with Polish, Iranian and Colombian roots, as well as ethnic Russian-Germans and Romanian-Germans, Friesen said.

With European Parliament elections coming up in May, as well as several key state parliament elections in eastern German states in the fall, “The New Germans” hopes to win over potential voters by holding events on German-Polish relations and what Friesen describes as “the new, imported anti-Semitism.”

Targeting ‘patriotically-minded migrants’

Numerous political parties and rights groups in Germany have criticized the AfD for the xenophobic remarks of the party’s leaders, who have repeatedly depicted refugees and asylum-seekers as dangerous and violent.

The party has also sparked controversy over campaign slogans such as “Burka? We like bikinis” and a poster depicting a white, pregnant woman with the words: “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves.”

With the new group, Friesen hopes to “correct” what he views as an incorrect public image of the party. “The AfD isn’t xenophobic,” he said. Rather, the party is focused on people who are already in Germany.

This includes “patriotically-minded migrants” who advocate for “the protection of our western culture and our values,” Friesen adds.

Manifesto calls for ‘de-Islamization of Germany’

“The New Germans” may be targeted towards people with immigrant roots — but it doesn’t compromise on the party’s stances concerning immigration.

Members must agree to the group’s manifesto, which advocates for “harsh action against all forms of anti-Semitism” but also calls for “a comprehensive de-Islamization of Germany,” news agency DPA reported.

It also urges for an “end to illegal mass migration, which undermines the opportunities in life for socially worse off Germans.”

Jewish AfD group sparks controversy

“The New Germans” isn’t the first AfD-aligned group to raise eyebrows.

Last October, a small number of Jewish people formed “Jews in the AfD” (JAfD), despite a number of scandals in which leading AfD politicians questioned Germany’s culture of remembrance about the Holocaust.

While the members of JAfD contend that the part is not anti-Semitic, numerous Jewish organizations condemned the creation of the group. Other German politicians accused the party of using the Jewish group as a way to mask its anti-Semitism scandals.

Source: ‘The New Germans’: Far-right AfD forms immigrant supporters’ group

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.


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, 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 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