Members of Germany’s ruling coalition have agreed to ban the Hamas flag, following a series of antisemitic incidents coinciding with last month’s fighting between the Palestinian militant group and Israel, German media reported on Sunday.
The center-left Social Democratic Party, the main coalition partner of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, has endorsed the ban despite initial concerns over its legality, according to a report by the Welt am Sonntag newspaper cited by Deutsche Welle.
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"We don't want terrorist flags to be waved on German soil," CDU/CSU faction deputy leader Thorsten Frei said in an interview with newspaper Welt am Sonntag. Frei said that the rule of law needed to provide a clear and determined response to the anti-Semitic protests held in Germany in May, in order to "send a clear signal to our Jewish citizens."
Armin Laschet, the top CDU politician bidding to succeed Merkel, called for the flag to be banned last month following a series of anti-Israel demonstrations that have seen violent clashes with police.
Laschet, the state premier of North Rhine Westphalia, noted that the flag of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was banned while that of Hamas was not, even though both are classified as terrorist organizations by the European Union.
"Therefore this flag, which represents terrorism, must also be prohibited,” he said during a during a debate in the the state parliament in Duesseldorf. “It should not be allowed to be shown on German streets," he said. The Hamas flag had been waved regularly during the demonstrations.
Furthermore, Parliament is to debate in the coming week a motion seeking making it illegal to distribute propaganda and use symbols of organizations included in the EU's terrorism sanctions list, a spokesperson for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group told DPA.
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This is only possible at present if the organization is explicitly banned in Germany.
Last month, Germany’s Jewish community called upon the German government to step up protection of Jewish institutions throughout the country after Israeli flags were burned in front of two synagogues, one of which had a window smashed, apparently in response to the latest escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A fire was also lit above a stone marking the site of a synagogue in Düsseldorf that was destroyed by the Nazis in 1938 during Kristallnacht, and in the town of Gelsenkirchen, antisemitic in addition to anti-Israel slogans were chanted in front of a synagogue.
“Israel and Jews as a whole are exposed to hatred and agitation, especially on social media,” Josef Schuster, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement following the incidents.
“The threat to the Jewish community is growing. This is shown by the burning of Israeli flags in front of the synagogues in Bonn and Münster. The protection of Jewish institutions must now be increased. We expect solidarity with Israel and the Jewish community from the citizens of Germany. We must all together stand on the side of the Jewish state.”
The number of politically motivated crimes rose sharply in Germany last year, including a 15 percent increase in antisemitic offenses. The number of antisemitic crimes reported to police across the country jumped from 2,032 in 2019 to 2,351 last year.
The total documented by the country’s federal police force is the highest since contemporary record-keeping began in 2001.
Antisemitic incidents also spiked in Germany during Israel’s ground operation in Gaza in 2014, with the number of violent incidents more than doubling over the previous year, according to the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University. Chants of “gas the Jews” were heard at a number of German protests against Israel in response to the 2014 military campaign.
In 2015, a German court ruled that a firebombing of a synagogue in Wuppertal, which was carried out at the height of anti-Israel protests in Germany, could not definitively be declared an antisemitic act. The defendants claimed they were angry over Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip.
Germany banned all Hezbollah activity on its soil on Thursday and designated the Iran-backed group a terrorist organization, a much-anticipated step long urged by Israel and the United States.
The move meant that Hezbollah symbols were banned at gatherings and in publications or in the media and Hezbollah assets could be confiscated, the interior ministry said at the time.
Reuters and JTA contributed to this report.