German state pushes citizenship applicants to recognise Israel

Imposition of test requirement by local officials puts country's naturalisation process on 'shaky legal ground'

A giant seven-branched candleholder is lit up to celebrate the start of Hanukkah on Thursday in Berlin, Germany, alongside a screen depicting hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Getty Images
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A push by an eastern German state to make acknowledgement of Israel's "right to exist" a requirement for citizenship applications tests will probably inspire other states to apply the rule, experts have told The National.

Despite the possibility that it would fail a test in a German court, a senior official of the state of Saxony-Anhalt issued an order for applicants to commit in writing to the "right of the state of Israel to exist".

The official called on Germany's 15 other states to follow suit.

There has been a heated political debate in Germany about inserting the requirement in its citizenship law after the October 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel, which has led to heavy bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

The war and its heavy civilian toll have increased political tension across Europe and particularly in Germany, where previous leaders have said that Israel's right to exist is a "raison d'etat".

This reflects a strong political commitment from Germany to Israel's security, although no such commitment is written in the German constitution.

But it is unlikely that a German court would uphold this requirement should it be challenged by an unsuccessful citizenship applicant, said Tarik Tabbara, a citizenship law professor at Berlin University of Economics and Law.

"It's pretty shaky," Mr Tabbara told The National. "It's quite unclear what a requirement like that means.

"The right of Israel to exist in which borders? What about a one-state solution? I would think the court wouldn't uphold it."

But a court case would probably take time and in the meantime, German states have a limited amount of freedom to interpret national citizenship laws.

A reform has been under discussion for the past year and includes proposals to attract skilled migrants.

Several political parties including the centre-right Christian Democratic alliance last month pushed for the recognition of Israel's right to exist to be integrated in the reform.

A proposal that predates the October 7 war would also deny citizenship to people who commit anti-Semitic or racist offences.

EU officials have said that anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic attacks have been on the rise across the continent in the past months. In Germany, a synagogue was attacked on October 18.

It will become clearer in coming weeks what the final reform will be and whether it will include the requirement to recognise Israel's right to exist.

Should it be integrated into the law, it would have to be applied across the country.

But if not, it is likely that other states will follow Saxony-Anhalt's lead and decide to interpret the citizenship law in a way that makes it necessary to recognise Israel's right to exist, said Mr Tabbara.

"I wouldn't be surprised if some of the big states like Bavaria and North-Rhine Westphalia follow," he said.

Such a move would mean that the requirement would more likely be challenged in court.

In another signal of heightened European sensitivity to the war in the Middle East, Germany has called for the EU to follow the US in denying visas to extremist Israeli settlers who commit violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, as attacks surge.

France said it was open to the idea in late November.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said on Wednesday that extremist settlers in the West Bank would be banned from entering Belgium.

Mr de Croo wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that his country would take a stand against the settler violence.

"We will work with the US on sanctions targeting individuals involved in actions that undermine peace, security and stability in the West Bank," he said.

The issue will be discussed by the EU's 27 foreign affairs ministers at a meeting on Monday in Brussels.

Other matters related to the war in Gaza, including the EU's humanitarian response and the possibility of sanctions being imposed on Hamas leaders individually, will be on the table.

Brussels is unlikely to issue targeted sanctions against Israeli settlers because such decisions must be made by consensus and there are deep historic divisions over the Palestine-Israel conflict among the bloc's members.

Settler violence is a matter of concern for the EU but it is not up to the bloc to comment on individual countries' initiatives, a representative for the European Commission said on Thursday.

Updated: December 08, 2023, 6:00 AM