German Muslims frustrated by Israel’s support

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At first, Lobna Shammout was only vaguely aware of the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, because she was celebrating her 40th birthday. “The breaking news made my phone crash, I thought ‘please, not today,'” the Palestinian-German said. “When I finally checked… every breaking news story was worse than the last.”

In the weeks that followed, as Israel launched an all-out assault on Gaza in retaliation for the attacks, which killed 1,200 people, Shammout anxiously awaited news from his family and friends in Gaza. Some have died, among the approximately 15,000 Palestinians who the Hamas-run Health Ministry says have lost their lives.

At the same time, Shammout, who runs a nursing home in Lügde, western Germany, has become a conduit for information sought by friends and colleagues seeking to understand the conflict. (He says he gives them “the five-minute version.”)

And she, like many Muslims, has watched with growing frustration as Germany emerges as one of Europe’s staunchest supporters of Israel’s strategy. The country’s political leaders have spoken repeatedly and without apparent hesitation about the situation in Germany. Staatsräson, or reason of state, a principle that places support for Israel at the center of national identity.

Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said in a video message: “The phrase ‘Israel’s security is part of Germany’s policy’ Staatsräson‘ has never been an empty phrase and should not become one. It means that Israel’s security is essential for us as a country,” adding that Germany had a “historical responsibility” as the perpetrator of the Holocaust in which 6 million Jews were murdered.

“It was my grandparents’ generation that wanted to exterminate Jewish life in Germany and Europe. After the Holocaust, the founding of Israel was the promise of protection to the Jews, and Germany is obliged to help ensure that this promise can be fulfilled. “This is a historic foundation of our republic,” Habeck said.

Shammout gets it. But he also feels it leaves little room for critics of Israel’s response to speak or feel represented by the German government.

“I respect the history of Germany,” Shammout said. “I really understand the support for Israel as a state, as a safe place for Jews, and saying ‘never again’ can the Holocaust happen. It’s part of being German. But when this historical responsibility is used as an excuse to justify massive violations of human rights, to violate international law, then it makes me sad and angry and I do not accept this assumption. Staatsräson.”

Since the Hamas attacks, Germany has been in a state of intense tension. While pro-Palestinian marches have been banned in many towns and cities, others have been allowed to go ahead, with strict guidelines. (Federal Commissioner for Human Rights Policy Luise Amtsberg said: “Terrorism should not be celebrated. We have banned demonstrations when they aim to incite anti-Semitism, and freedom of expression should not be abused to spread hatred.)

Meanwhile, there has been a sharp increase in reports of anti-Semitic attacks against the country’s estimated 200,000 Jewish population. The Rias group, which tracks anti-Semitism, claimed to have recorded 994 incidents between October 7 and November 9, a 320% increase compared to the same period in 2022.

Last month, ahead of an annual two-day conference that brought together politicians, Muslim groups and representatives of the Christian and Jewish communities, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser called on Muslim groups to clearly condemn the Hamas attacks and stand up. distance themselves from anti-Semitism.

“I hope that Muslim organizations will clearly position themselves and assume their responsibilities in society,” he told German television. They should condemn the Hamas attack, “and not just with a ‘yes, yes,’” she added. “It should be quite clear that we are on Israel’s side.”

But many Muslims, who are part of Germany’s second-largest religious group with 5.5 million people, say they are being unfairly targeted. There has also been a large increase in Islamophobic attacks and it is suspected that many more have gone unreported.

Scharjil Ahmad Khalid, an imam and Islamic theologian, said there was additional security at his Khadija mosque in Pankow, north of Berlin. “Just as attacks of anti-Semitism have increased, so has animosity toward Muslims,” ​​he said.

Numerous attacks on mosques have been reported, including burning Qurans, pig carcasses and excrement on their grounds or in their mailboxes. In Magdeburg, Muslim graves were stained with swastikas.

“Hate messages are regularly posted in our mailboxes that usually say: ‘you are not part of Germany’, ‘Islam is not part of Germany, go back home’, ‘you are responsible for importing the anti-Semitism that is poisoning our country’. They have increased in line with negative media reports…that attribute anti-Semitism only to Muslims,” Khalid said. “There is a pall of suspicion hanging over all of us.”

Khalid wrote a commentary in the Berliner Zeitung arguing that the far-right, on the rise in Germany, especially in the form of the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), was much more likely to be behind anti-Semitic attacks than ordinary Muslims. The article sparked a backlash on social media: why had an imam been asked to speak on the issue, some wondered, and how could someone with an Arabic name speak for Germans?

“I was born and raised in Germany,” Khalid said. “This is racist and deeply offensive.”

Other commentators, such as the Berlin-based German-American Jewish author Deborah Feldmann, have raised suspicions that the conflict is being used by the far right, including the AfD, as an excuse “to finally be able to say ‘far away’ out loud.” . with those immigrants… and it scares me because it brings back memories of that time when my grandparents were forced to flee,” Feldmann told radio station DLF.

Habeck, in his speech, addressed social divisions and said right-wing extremists were “containing for purely tactical reasons” anti-Semitic attacks “in order to agitate against Muslims.”

For Derviş Hızarcı, president of Kiga, a non-profit organization created to combat anti-Semitism but increasingly also confronting Islamophobia, the widely circulated speech “was good and useful. But I would have liked to hear you ask more questions and offer more suggestions. Let’s critically reflect on the things we could have ignored, on our mistakes.”

The rise of the far right and the continued rise of support for the AfD caused Germans to ask themselves “if we are really that good at Vergangenheitsbewältigung as we thought we were,” Hızarcı said, referring to the process of acceptance of the past that has been one of the main pillars of post-war German society.

“If people think that it is above all the Shoah and our response to it that gives us our social identity, this identity may be too weak if we do not understand ourselves and our responsibility towards everyone,” said Hızarcı, son of Turkish. Gastarbeiter Parents (guest workers) who arrived in Germany in 1969.

In November, before the introduction of a fragile truce in Gaza, participants in a pro-Palestinian demonstration gathered in front of the chancellery in Berlin to demand an immediate ceasefire, a call rejected by the chancellor, Olaf Scholz. (“That would ultimately mean that Israel leaves Hamas the possibility of recovering and obtaining new missiles,” he said on November 12, calling instead for “humanitarian pauses”).

Nazan, 48, a nurse born in Germany to Turkish parents, said she had considered giving up her German passport because of the government’s position. “I don’t feel at home here anymore,” she said.

It’s a feeling that Shammout, whose father was a Palestinian and a German mother, and whose grandfather was forced to flee his home during the Nakba of 1948, knows all too well. “It hurts both sides, the Palestinian and the German,” she said.

Shammout has attended two pro-Palestinian protests in recent weeks and feels there are clear limits to his freedom of expression. “We are not allowed… to say that we want a free homeland. The police restrict us from using only a certain number of flags,” he said.

“I do not support Hamas and I absolutely condemn the attacks, but I reserve my right to protest and mourn our dead.”

Shammout said they had stopped some friends on the street and told them to get off. keffiyeh. She knows a Palestinian student who was told by the police that she risked being charged with sedition and losing her right to residency if she did not remove a Palestinian flag from her balcony.

“I was always proud to be a German with Palestinian roots,” she said. “Now I’m starting to doubt my identity, like a teenager.”

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