German Muslims face 'blanket suspicion' of supporting Hamas

President pleads for tolerance as police raids target Hamas and Samidoun supporters

Police officer carry evidence during a raid on suspected Hamas and Samidoun properties, in Berlin, Germany, 23 November 2023.  A total of 15 properties were searched on the morning of 23 November in connection with a ban on the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the pro-Palestinian group Samidoun, the German Interior Ministry announced.  The searches were conducted in Berlin, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein.  On 02 November, the German government banned activities in Germany related to Hamas, a designated terrorist organization, and the international network 'Samidoun - Palestinian Solidarity Network'.  The sub-organization 'Samidoun Deutschland' was banned and dissolved on the same day.   EPA / FILIP SINGER
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German Muslims should not be under a “blanket suspicion” that they sympathise with Hamas, the country’s President said on Thursday, as police staged raids against a small band of loyalists to the banned group.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier told an audience of Jewish and Arab schoolteachers he was pained by accounts of Muslims feeling estranged in Germany since the Israel-Gaza war erupted.

He voiced concern about children being trapped in a “social media bubble” of hardline views on the conflict, which has led to sometimes ugly demonstrations on German streets.

His words appeared more conciliatory than a speech two weeks ago, when he raised eyebrows by urging Arab and Palestinian communities not to become “stooges” of Hamas.

Since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, senior German politicians have tended to emphasise their horror at anti-Semitic incidents in the country that perpetrated the Holocaust.

But at the same time “many people with Palestinian, or other Arab, or Turkish roots who live in Germany are feeling estranged and marginalised in their own country”, Mr Steinmeier said on Thursday.

“More than a few are feeling hurt because since October 7 they no longer feel they are being treated as individuals, but only as migrants or Muslims. They are angry because they feel they are being placed under a blanket suspicion of sympathising with Islamist terrorism because of their background, their religion or their name.

“It hurts me to hear such reports. We are one country. Someone’s background does not determine their affiliation. There can and must be no blanket suspicion in our country.”

Police raids

Investigators say about 450 people in Germany are suspected of being fully fledged members of Hamas, with some believed to have been involved in financing or propaganda for the group.

They are also suspected of trying to “influence political and social discourse” in Hamas’s favour, Germany’s Interior Ministry said as it announced raids on 16 properties in four states.

Alleged supporters of Hamas and another banned pro-Palestinian group, Samidoun, had their homes searched in what Interior Minister Nancy Faeser called an operation against “radical Islamists”.

Hamas and Samidoun were hit with bans as a response to the fallout of the Israel-Gaza war, although Hamas had already been designated a terrorist organisation.

German police carry out anti-Hamas raids - in pictures

Officials said about 500 police officers involved in the searches were accompanied by experts on Islam who were assigned to examine evidence. Phones, laptops and documents were seized from the raided homes, mainly in Berlin.

“Islamists and anti-Semites cannot and must not feel safe anywhere here,” she said of the raids. “Extremists have to reckon with the full force of the state.”

Police say some pro-Palestinian protests have spilt over into violence. Mr Steinmeier said high emotions over the conflict were spilling over into school playgrounds as some children mourn friends in the Middle East while others want Israel “wiped from the map”.

He said some children had been stirred up by “gruesome pictures, contradictory news stories and propaganda on social media”, leaving some teachers feeling overburdened.

As Germany debates the limits of freedom of speech during the Israel-Gaza conflict, Mr Steinmeier said views could be expressed at schools that are “ambivalent or irritating”.

But schools are “not neutral when it comes to the basis and conditions for peaceful coexistence in Germany”, he said.

“Every pupil in our country must know German history. Everyone must know what Auschwitz means and our responsibility arising from it.”

Updated: November 23, 2023, 2:52 PM