"We will not accept the heinous attacks against Israel being celebrated here on our streets," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in his address to the federal parliament, the Bundestag on Thursday. In Berlin, members of the group Samidoun, which describes itself as a Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, had celebrated the Hamas attack against Israel — in which hundreds of Israeli civilians were killed — by handing out sweets.
Aiman Mazyek, who chairs the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, also spoke of shameful images: "I can never be glad — regardless of the victims' faith, or whether they have any faith at all — if someone is massacred or terrorized," he said.
Interior Minister: Deport offenders where possible
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has now announced a ban on Hamas activities in Germany. The organization Samidoun, which is affiliated with the Palestinian terrorist group PFLP, will also be banned. "Whoever supports terror organizations like Hamas commits a criminal offense," Scholz said.
Banning the actions and organizations means their gatherings and activities are no longer permitted, nor can their logos be used. Organizational assets may also be confiscated. Whoever persists despite the ban would be committing a criminal offense.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser also intends to take action against other supporters and sympathizers of Hamas in Germany. This would include people who collect donations for the organization. At the same time, she is examining the possibility "of deporting offenders from the Islamist scene, if they are not German passport holders."
Supporters and sympathizers
According to estimates from the German domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, there are about 450 people in Germany who back Hamas; many of them are German citizens. There is no official branch of the group in Germany.
But there are supporters and sympathizers. 'We must therefore assume that that the number of people in the supporter scene is in the thousands," Middle East expert Guido Steinberg, from the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), told DW. The group of sympathizers is even broader. While supporters take concrete action in support of Hamas, for example, advertising or collecting money, sympathizers often do not figure publicly at all, Steinberg explained.
"These bans are one of the most important instruments a democracy has to prevent money flowing to terrorist organizations," Hans-Jakob Schindler from the transatlantic think tank Counter Extremism Project (CEP) told DW. However, he added: "It is always difficult, because in Germany associations and non-profit organizations enjoy a certain degree of protection, and investigations by authorities such as the Office for the Protection of the Constitution are limited when it comes to finances."
The line is crossed when violence is openly called for or endorsed. "As long as individuals restrain themselves in this regard, it will be very difficult," Schindler explained, adding that suspects usually pay close attention to what they say, so as not to attract attention from the authorities.
Germany as a safe haven?
Hamas does not recognize the state of Israel and its stated goal is to destroy it. Germany, the European Union, the US and other nations have declared Hamas to be a terror organization.
Germany banned a number of organizations closely aligned with the movement several years ago. "Hamas considered Western countries such as Germany a safe haven, where the organization could concentrate on collecting donations, recruiting new followers and spreading their propaganda," a 2022 report by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution read.
According to an assessment by the German domestic intelligence agency, the organization Samidoun belongs to the radical Palestinian organization the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The PFLP also propagates taking up arms against Israel. In contrast to Hamas, however, it is secular in orientation, rather than religious.
Also considered part of the network is the organization "Palestinian Community in Germany," which according to security authorities is mostly comprised of Hamas supporters.
Yet individuals and groups based in Germany play only a minor role in the financing of Hamas, Schindler said: "One must bear in mind that fundraising initiatives from Germany and Europe are not the main financier of Hamas." When it comes to money, that is very clearly Qatar (…) Hamas would not function without the funds from Qatar," Schindler explained.
Iranian influence in Hamburg
Within Germany, political attention is also turning toward international supporters of Palestinian terror groups: In 2020, then-Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (of the Bavarian conservative Christian Social Union, CSU) banned the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
The Islamic Centre of Hamburg (IZH), presumed to be controlled by Iran, has been under observation by the domestic intelligence agency for decades. It is considered as the long arm of the Iranian regime and congratulated Hamas on Saturday's attack against Israel. "Without Iranian support over recent years, Hamas would not have been capable of this unprecedented attack on Israeli territory," Scholz said.
German authorities deported the deputy leader of the IZH in 2022: He stood accused of supporting terror organizations and the financing of terrorism. However, the IZH itself has not yet been banned. The condition for doing so, which would also have to withstand a possible judicial review, is proof that aggressive, combative behavior forms the core character of the association.
Central Council of Muslims: Only a minority are anti-Israel
Aiman Mazyek of the Central Council of Muslims emphasizes that only a small minority of Muslims take to the streets with anti-Israel or antisemitic slogans. People should not assume "that these images, these people, speak for all Muslims, for German Muslims, or for their organizations here."
The question remains: Does Germany now also have to reckon with attacks by Hamas or their sympathizers? Hans-Jakob Schindler said: "I do not see Germany as a main target for Hamas, but you cannot rule out the possibility of motivated, radicalized individual perpetrators feeling obliged to do something."
This article was originally written in German.
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