Germany demands new citizens accept Israel’s right to exist

People applying for naturalization in Germany will now be required to affirm Israel’s right to exist, under changes to the country’s citizenship law.

The legislation, which came into effect Thursday, is part of a larger citizenship overhaul from Berlin as the government grapples with rising antisemitism, a surge in popularity for the far right, and fierce debate over its response to Israel’s war in Gaza.

The country’s naturalization exam will now include a number of new questions, according to a statement from the interior ministry.

“In response to increasing antisemitism in Germany, the list of questions in the naturalization test has been expanded. New exam questions have been added on the topics of antisemitism, the right of the state of Israel to exist and Jewish life in Germany,” it said.

The war in Gaza, and Berlin’s strong support for Israel, has fueled much discussion in Germany. In the aftermath of the October 7 attacks, German lawmakers, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz, reiterated that Israel’s security is Germany’s “reason of state,” or matter of national interest.

But other voices in the country have accused authorities of going too far, infringing on the rights of pro-Palestinians to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

‘A crystal clear red line’

The legislation is being introduced nationwide after the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt also required citizenship applicants to recognize Israel’s right to exist in December.

The implementation of the law on a federal level was advocated by the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party last year. The idea was also well-received by other parties in the Bundestag.

Under the changes, the process for obtaining citizenship has also been sped up. Those who work in Germany and are considered “well integrated” can now obtain citizenship after just five years instead of eight.

Applicants no longer need to give up the citizenship of their previous country – something that used to be a requirement in Germany for first-generation migrants.

Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has welcomed Thursday’s changes as a “commitment to a modern Germany.”

“Whoever shares our values and makes an effort can now get a German passport more quickly and are not required to give up a part of their identity with the former citizenship,” she continued.

“We have also made it just as clear: Whoever doesn’t share our values, will not be able to get a German passport. Here we have drawn a crystal clear red line and made the law much stronger than before. Anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of contempt for humanity rule out naturalization. There is no tolerance for that.”

The reform comes as a new report from RIAS, an organization monitoring antisemitism in Germany, found that antisemitic incidents in the country rose around 83% last year, significantly increasing after the attack on Israel on October 7 and Israel’s eight-month military offensive in Gaza. These incidents include everything from antisemitic graffiti, to threats, to violent attacks.

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