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Hamas attacks on Israel triggers debate in Germany

Lisa Hänel with dpa
October 9, 2023

In the wake of the terrorist attack by Islamist militant Hamas on Israeli soldiers and civilians, Muslim associations in Germany have come under pressure to position themselves clearly.

A German flag waves in front of the Sehitlik Mosque in Berlin
Muslim associations in Germany have come under fireImage: Stefan Trappe/IMAGO

It began with a tweet by the German Minister of Food and Agriculture Cem Özdemir on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. "Resounding silence from Muslim associations in [Germany] regarding terror against #Israel. Or words that relativize..." And then: "In the face of terror, murder & kidnappings, there has to be an end to the naivety when dealing with Islamic associations finally!"

Hundreds of gunmen from the Islamist terrorist group Hamas crossed the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip in the early morning hours of October 7, killing and kidnapping soldiers and civilians. According to official figures, more than 700 people have since died in Israel, which has declared a state of war and retaliated in Gaza, where at least 560 people have been killed.

The parties in the German Bundestag, except for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the socialist Left Party, have affirmed their solidarity with Israel.

"Our sympathy goes out to the entire Israeli population and the State of Israel in these difficult hours. There is no justification for such terror, and it must be stopped immediately," they stated in a joint declaration.

Even before, people on X had called for a similar statement to be released by Muslim associations in Germany.

People praying in a mosque in Cologne
About 70% of Germany's mosques belong to one of the country's umbrella organizations Image: Mesut Zeyrek/AA/picture alliance

Diverse Muslim community

There are about five and a half million Muslims in Germany, and they form a very heterogeneous community nationwide. According to Mediendienst Integration, an information platform about migration, asylum and integration for journalists and media in the country, about 70% of Muslim prayer rooms and mosques in Germany as of 2021 were organized in federal umbrella structures or in associations at the state level.

A few are under observation by the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution and have come under criticism in relation to funds from Iran and Turkey.

Immediately after Özdemir's tweet, Ali Mete, the general secretary of the Turkish religious and political movement Milli Gorus (National Vision) in Germany, responded on X: "The images and videos of assaults, kidnappings and desecrations that we have unfortunately been seeing for many years and continue to see today are unbearable. We pray that the decades of suffering in Israel and Palestine, as well as in many other conflict regions, will soon come to an end. However, it is wrong and irresponsible to almost accuse Muslims here in Germany of being complicit in the crimes in Israel and Palestine."

Central Council of Muslims triggers ire

It took a while longer for the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, to which some 300 mosque associations belong, to react.

"We condemn the recent Hamas attacks on civilians and call for an immediate end to the violence," the Central Council declared. "In order to avoid more civilian casualties, all sides must now immediately cease hostilities." The last phrase has attracted much criticism, with the Council being accused of "whataboutism" and relativizing the violence of Hamas.

Eren Güvercin, a founding member of the Alhambra Society, which aims to be an independent Muslim forum for debate in Germany, was one of the critics to react with ire: "As a German Muslim, what @der_zmd is demonstrating here is shameful. You do not speak for Muslims in Germany. Change your name," he wrote on X.

Danyal Bayaz, the Green party finance minister of the state of Baden-Württemberg, was just as angry: "This statement is not simply whataboutism. It is a shameful declaration. Solidarity with #Israel cannot be relativized, and definitely not after yesterday's bestial attacks. Not a word about the images of people celebrating in Neukölln. You are lost!"

Some 50 people gathered in Berlin's district of Neukölln on Saturday evening for what police said was a pro-Palestinian demonstration. A video on Instagram shared by the anti-Israel network Samidoun showed a group chanting slogans. Samidoun, which was founded just over 10 years ago by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which the EU and the US have classified as a terrorist organization, says it campaigns for the rights and release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel. On Saturday, it distributed baked goods to passersby to "celebrate the victory of the resistance," as it wrote on Instagram.

This article was translated from German.

Hundreds die after Hamas launches attacks on Israel

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