Could Germany strip citizenship rights from foreigners over anti-Semitism?

A bill that would see foreigners with an 'anti-Semitic attitude' lose their rights to German citizenship will be debated in the Bundestag on Friday, along with plans to revoke citizenship from foreigners convicted of anti-Semitic crimes.

Cologne Synagogue during carnival
Police stand on guard at Cologne Synagogue during the opening of carnival. German politicians are pushing for stronger punishments for foreigners found to be anti-Semitic. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Banneyer

The proposed changes to citizenship and immigration law were drafted by the opposition CDU party, who said they wanted “to provide better protection against the further consolidation and spread of anti-Semitism ‘immigrated’ from abroad”.

The draft law sets out a number of amendments that would make a foreigner’s right to citizenship conditional on their acceptance of the state of Israel and the absence of anti-Semitic views or offences.

In concrete terms, foreigners who want to naturalise as Germans would have to explicitly acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and would be barred from citizenship if they had “pursued endeavours directed against the state of Israel”. 

If there are “factual, unsubstantiated indications of an anti-Semitic attitude on the part of the applicant”, foreigners would also be blocked from ever obtaining a German passport.

READ ALSO: German police raid scores of properties in fight against anti-Semitism

In addition, the conservatives are pushing to include a new clause in the nationality law that would allow citizens with multiple nationalities to be stripped of their German passport.

“Persons with at least one other nationality lose their German citizenship if they are convicted of an anti-Semitic offence and sentenced to at least one year in prison,” the bill states.

This would impact not just newly naturalised Germans, but also those born in Germany to foreign parents who have kept their parents’ citizenship. 

Refugees, meanwhile, would forfeit their right to humanitarian protection if they were convicted of an anti-Semitic offence carrying a prison sentence of six months or more.

Friday will see the bill put to its first reading – the first stage of the parliamentary process in which no votes take place. On its third reading, it would need the support of government parties like the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) – or opposition parties like the far-right AfD – in order to pass into law.

A coalition of just a few of these parties backing up the CDU would likely give it the votes it needs, for example the CDU and SPD or the CDU, FDP and AfD.

However, it is unclear if other parties support the proposals.  

‘We’ve imported hatred of Jews’

The CDU’s push to toughen up citizenship law comes after weeks of heated debate following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

On October 7th, a shock terror attack by Hamas saw at least 1,200 citizens of Israel murdered on Israeli soil, with around 200 civilians subsequently taken hostage.

Since then, Israel’s relentless bombardment of the Gaza Strip has reportedly caused more than 10,000 civilian deaths, 40 percent of whom are thought to be children.

PODCAST: Why is Germany’s landmark dual citizenship law on hold?

Pro-Palestine demonstrations in regions with a high population of foreigners have sparked discussions over whether the country’s migrant population – including many second- and third-generation Turkish migrants and Syrian refugees – are truly aligned with German values.

People march in solidarity with Palestine in Wuppertal

People march in solidarity with Palestine in Wuppertal, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Reichwein

“We’ve imported hatred of Jews,” said CDU fraction head Dirk Stettner in a recent interview with Tagesspiegel.

In its latest draft law aimed at toughening up citizenship and asylum laws, the party states that those campaigning in favour of Palestine are “obviously immigrants from the countries of North Africa and the Near and Middle East, where anti-Semitism and hostility towards Israel have a particular breeding ground, as well as their descendants”. 

For this reason, the party adds, “the instruments of residence, asylum and citizenship law must be used more consistently than before” in the fight against anti-Semitism.

Delays to citizenship reform

Amid growing fears and suspicions in the wake of October 7th, a flagship reform aimed at liberalising Germany’s citizenship laws was quietly removed from the parliamentary agenda.

The coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP had aimed to bring a first reading of the bill – which among other things will permit dual nationality for non-EU citizens – to the Bundestag on November 9th. 

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW – ‘We are determined to pass German citizenship reforms despite delays’

According to SPD MP Hakan Demir, however, the FDP demanded that the reforms be delayed until new provisions to fight anti-Semitism could be included in the legislation.

“The question mark that they have right now is if the new citizenship act is good enough to prevent anyone who is anti-Semitic from getting German citizenship,” Demir told The Local.

This could include asking would-be Germans to explicitly acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as part of the naturalisation process.

According to FDP sources, the bill could still go to the Bundestag in the week of November 27th, assuming amendments are made by then.

The Local has contacted the CDU, FDP and Interior Ministry for comment but at the time of publication had not received a response. 

Member comments

  1. I truly respect the German government on its position and its moral clarity on this one. Other countries should follow suit.

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German state to require citizenship applicants to declare Israel’s ‘right to exist’

The eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt has announced that from now on applicants for citizenship through naturalisation will have to commit in writing to their belief in Israel’s “right to exist”. What does this mean in practice and is it allowed?

German state to require citizenship applicants to declare Israel's 'right to exist'

Saxony-Anhalt’s interior ministry has decreed that if German citizenship applicants don’t do this, they will be refused naturalisation.

Tamara Zieschang of the ruling conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) wrote to the state’s citizenship offices, saying that applicants will have to confirm in writing “that they recognise Israel’s right to exist and condemn any efforts directed against the existence of the State of Israel”.

Attention should be paid by immigration officials to whether there is evidence of anti-Semitic attitudes among applicants during the naturalisation process, explained Zieschang.

The decree to the state’s municipalities says that naturalisation is out of the question if foreigners pursue efforts that are directed against the free, democratic basic order. This includes anti-Semitic offences or the denial of Israel’s right to exist.

The decree recommends that municipalities use specific wording for the statement of commitment. If the applicant refuses to submit a declaration, the naturalisation certificate will not be handed over. This should be noted in the application file and the naturalisation application should be rejected, according to German media reports.

Questions have been raised over if the decree is in line with German law. 

Berlin-based lawyer Ahmed Abad told The Local: “The duty to recognise Israel’s ‘right to exist’ has no legal basis.”

Immigration lawyer Sven Hasse told The Local that naturalisation requires that the applicants “confirm their commitment to the free
democratic constitutional system” of Germany and that “apparently, the Sachsen-Anhalt government assumes that a commitment to Israel’s right to exist can also be demanded in this context, as this is part of Germany’s Staatsräson (reason of state)”.

He warns that this could be challenged if someone is rejected based on it, adding: “the courts will have to decide whether this is lawful”.

READ ALSO: What is Germany’s ‘Staatsrasön’ and why is it being talked about so much right now?

It comes as the German government and other politicians have been debating on how to strengthen the new citizenship law against anti-Semitism. 

Proposals include adding a declaration explicitly acknowledging Israel’s right to exist, which is an idea put forward by both the CDU and FDP at the federal level in the wake of the October 7th Hamas attacks on Israel. 

READ ALSO: What are the next steps for Germany’s long-awaited dual nationality law?

In an interview with The Local’s Germany in Focus podcast in November, SPD MP Hakan Demir said politicians were discussing this, although he noted that the law already excludes people with racist or anti-democratic views – and insists that foreigners becoming German respect the existence of all states that Germany recognises, which includes Israel.

However, at the first debate on the naturalisation reform last week, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said singling out Israel’s right to exist may become a part of the new law.

“Denying Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitic and if there is a need to change the law in this regard, I am open to it,” Faeser said.

What’s the reaction?

Some people say Saxony-Anhalt’s move to change their naturalisation process is unfair and one-sided, especially given the heated rows around pro-Palestine protests in Germany.

Policy advisor at Access Now Marwa Fatafta wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “Germany doesn’t even recognise people like myself as Palestinian.

“I am registered and I live in this country as a stateless person. There is nothing more dehumanising in this context than to ask Palestinians to recognise their occupier while their very existence is denied.”

While Andreas Krieg, professor at Kings College London, raised questions about double standards between people born Germans and those naturalising as Germans. 

He tweeted: “To become a German citizen you have to express your support for another country’s right to exist. Unless you are an ethno-German, then you can even deny the existence of the Federal Republic all together and become a Reichsbürger,” referring to conspiracy theorists who believe the Federal Republic of Germany doesn’t legally exist.

READ ALSO: Who are Reichsbürger and how big a threat do they pose in Germany?