The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the practice of one’s religion. The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy on registration of religious groups and other matters. Unrecognized religious groups are ineligible for tax benefits. The federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of certain Muslim groups. Authorities also monitored the Church of Scientology (COS), which reported continued government discrimination against its members. Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, for some state employees, particularly teachers and courtroom officials. While senior government leaders continued to condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, some members of the federal parliament and state assemblies from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party again made anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements. The federal and seven state governments appointed anti-Semitism commissioners for the first time, following a recommendation in a parliament-commissioned 2017 experts’ report to create a federal anti-Semitism commissioner in response to growing anti-Semitism. The federal anti-Semitism commissioner serves as a contact for Jewish groups and coordinates initiatives to combat anti-Semitism in the federal ministries. In July the government announced it would increase social welfare funding for Holocaust survivors by 75 million euros ($86 million) in 2019. In March Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said he did not consider Islam to be a part of the country’s culture, and that the country was characterized by Christianity. In May the Bavarian government decreed that every public building in the state must display a cross in a clearly visible location near its entrance.
There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents. These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism. Most anti-Christian incidents involved actions by Muslim migrants against migrant converts. Jews expressed security concerns after several widely publicized anti-Semitic attacks, coupled with reports of anti-Semitic bullying in schools. Final federal crime statistics cite 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes during the year, including 69 involving violence, an increase of 20 percent compared with 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes, of which 37 were violent, in 2017. The federal crime statistics attributed 93 percent of the 2017 crimes to the far right. A study covering 2007-2017 by the Technical University of Berlin found online anti-Semitism was at its highest level ever recorded. There were demonstrations expressing anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment and protests against what participants described as radical Islam. The Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) continued to make public statements opposing the COS.
The U.S. embassy and five consulates general monitored the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance and expressed concerns about anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-Muslim acts. Embassy representatives met regularly with the newly appointed federal government anti-Semitism commissioner at the Ministry of Interior. The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on their concerns about religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups.
In January the federal government created the new position of commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against anti-Semitism. The new commissioner, Felix Klein, started work in May. The appointment followed federal parliament enactment of a resolution entitled “Resolutely Combating Anti-Semitism” on January 18. The resolution called for creation of an anti-Semitism commissioner and expressed appreciation for the government’s 2017 decision to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA’s) working definition of anti-Semitism. It also called for deportation of foreigners that incite anti-Semitic hatred, “determined” countering of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, continued punishment for persons who denied or trivialized the Holocaust, and further financing – including with Muslim organizations and mosques – for projects to combat anti-Semitism, as well as continued financial support for Jewish communities and memorials of the Holocaust. A 2017 report on anti-Semitism in the country by independent experts had also called for the appointment of a federal commissioner on anti-Semitism, as well as improved documentation and punishment of anti-Semitic crimes and better advisory services for those affected by anti-Semitism.
In October Klein announced that he planned to implement a nationwide system of recording anti-Semitic incidents below the threshold of criminal offenses. During a visit to Israel, he announced cooperation with the Israeli government in encouraging third party states to apply the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and to develop codes of conduct for governments’ interactions with social media companies to combat online anti-Semitism. On December 20, Klein announced the 2019 launch of a nationwide online platform for reporting anti-Semitic incidents. The platform will be run by the Research and Information Center for Anti-Semitism (RIAS), a nonprofit organization that receives some federal and state funding. The Ministry of Interior also announced it would establish a separate anti-Semitism department and add experts on Jewish life to the religious department. Klein repeatedly encouraged the federal states to establish their own anti-Semitism commissioners.
Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse, Bavaria, Saarland, Saxony-Anhalt and NRW established anti-Semitism commissioners. The responsibilities and functions of the position varied by state, but generally included developing contacts with the Jewish community, collecting statistics on anti-Semitic incidents, and designing education and prevention programs. In November the federal and state level anti-Semitism commissioners met for the first time to discuss best practices and identify areas of cooperation.
In November Baden-Wuerttemberg opened an anti-discrimination office. The state government said it would serve as a point of contact for those experiencing any form of discrimination, including religious discrimination.
In March NRW Minister-President Armin Laschet advocated granting PLC status to Muslim organizations. In January the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat requested PLC status in NRW, and the application was pending at year’s end.
In November Rhineland-Palatinate announced it was planning to sign a state agreement with the Muslim Alevite community. According to the state chancellery, the agreement would outline conditions for Alevi holidays and religious instruction in schools. At year’s end, four Rhineland-Palatinate elementary schools offered Alevi religious instruction. The government was scheduled to sign the agreement in March 2019.
In August the state of Rhineland-Palatinate announced it would stop negotiations to establish a “religion treaty” with the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) and three other Islamic organizations, Schura Rheinland-Palatinate, Ahmadiyya, and the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers. Such an agreement would have been a precondition for introducing state-wide Islamic religious education in public schools, but the state followed two expert opinion reports that had questioned DITIB’s independence from the Turkish government and the organizations’ “constitutional adequacy” as official partners for the state. State authorities also classified DITIB and Schura as “suspicious.”
In December media reported the Hesse State criminal police office started an investigation of a possible neo-Nazi network in Frankfurt’s police force after a group of police officers allegedly sent a threatening letter to a German lawyer of Turkish origin. In August investigators said they had found police officials used a work computer to look up the lawyer’s personal information without an official reason, and also found a group of five police officers had been sharing neo-Nazi images and content. Authorities suspended the five officers from duty, and the case remained under investigation at year’s end.
According to reports from the federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC) – the domestic intelligence service – and state OPCs and COS members, the federal and state OPCs in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Thuringia continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating Scientology publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution. In September following the opening of new representational COS offices in Stuttgart, a Baden-Wuerttemberg state OPC spokesperson said state and national COS membership had decreased by one third since 1997, and suggested that the OPC’s monitoring of the COS deterred membership. COS leadership disputed the state OPC’s statement that membership had declined. At least four major political parties (the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the Federal Democratic Party (FDP)) continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership.
Federal and state OPCs continued to monitor a number of Muslim groups, including Salafist movements, ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, Turkish Hezbollah (TH), Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama’at, Millatu Ibrahim, the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH), the Muslim Brotherhood, and Milli Gorus. The website of NRW’s OPC stated the Muslim Brotherhood “rejects democracy.”
Groups under OPC observation continued to say their status as meriting OPC scrutiny implied they were extremist and constrained their ability to apply for publicly funded projects.
In January the Hamburg Regional Court acquitted 12 alleged members of the banned Salafist group Millatu Ibrahim. The Hamburg state attorney’s office charged that the men had, among other offenses, stormed a mosque in Luebeck, Schleswig-Holstein in 2013 and threatened to kill those who did not adhere to Millatu Ibrahim’s convictions. The state attorney’s office stated it was convinced of the defendants’ guilt but that it had failed to prove the allegations.
In July Hamburg began to record hate crimes in a more detailed manner. Hamburg Justice Senator (the city-state’s minister of justice) Till Stefen told the newspaper Welt in June the statistics would improve sentencing and make sociopolitical developments more visible. Stefen added, “We need new sources to make anti-Semitic crimes visible.” Hamburg State Attorney General Jorg Frohlich stated that collecting the new statistics would require significant additional work but that “every progress is worthwhile” when combating hate crime.
In September Bavaria established a hotline for reporting anti-Semitic incidents, according to the state’s anti-Semitism commissioner. Bavarian authorities said the hotline would begin operations in spring 2019.
In May federal statistical data on the number of anti-Muslim and anti-Christian hate crimes became available for the first time. Police had added the categories to their criminal statistics in 2017. Anti-Semitism was already a category of hate crime in federal crime statistics.
In February Baden-Wuerttemberg announced the state would start organizing training for Muslim chaplains at correctional facilities, rather than rely on outside organizations to conduct the training. In the same month media reported the state OPC had barred three of 16 imams who were graduates of a third-party training course from serving as prison chaplains because of what the OPC said were the imam’s contacts with radical Islamist organizations.
In May Bavarian Minister-President Markus Soeder announced a decree requiring public offices to display a cross in a visible place at the entrance area of the building where they were located. According to Soeder, the decree was intended to highlight Bavaria’s cultural and historical roots.
In March the Federal Constitutional Court dismissed the suit of a woman who wanted to drive wearing a niqab. The court stated the woman had not sufficiently demonstrated how the law prohibiting driving with a face covering restricted her religious freedom.
In March the Koblenz police district completed a disciplinary review of a male Muslim police officer who in 2017 refused to shake the hand of a female colleague, citing religious reasons. Police officials disciplined the officer, and ordered him to pledge his allegiance to the constitution in writing and pay a fine of 1,000 euros ($1,100). They also instructed the officer, on penalty of dismissal, not to refuse to shake the hands of women in the future when acting in an official capacity.
In May the Berlin Labor Court ruled against a teacher in Berlin who had sued the school system in 2017 for transferring her from a primary school to a school for older children because state law barred women who wore a headscarf from teaching younger children. The court decided the state administration had the right to transfer its teachers to any other post of the same salary level.
In November the State Labor Court of Berlin and Brandenburg awarded approximately 5,000 euros ($5,700) to a job applicant in compensation for discrimination on the grounds of religion. The job applicant, trained in information technology, said the school where she applied to work as a teacher had rejected her because she wore a headscarf. In May the local labor court had ruled that, because teachers served as a model for young students, the school was justified in limiting her religious freedom and asking her to teach without a headscarf. The state court, however, saw no indication that a teacher wearing a headscarf would have threatened “school peace,” and quoted the Federal Constitutional Court’s 2015 decision that such a threat was a necessary condition for prohibiting teachers from wearing headscarves.
In April the NRW integration ministry announced it would examine legal requirements for a headscarf ban for girls younger than 14, the age of so-called “religious majority.” The state integration minister stated in an interview that wearing a headscarf was a personal decision, but children lacked the self determination to decide and should not be pressured. Critics of the proposed ban, including some teachers, asked how the ban would be enforced. The federal integration commissioner and the chairwoman of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency spoke against the ban while federal FDP Party Chair Christian Lindner and CDU Party Vice Chair and federal Minister of Agriculture Julia Kloeckner supported it. By year’s end, the NRW state government had not decided on the proposed ban and said it expected to continue debating the issue through the end of 2019.
In April a Muslim woman wearing a niqab left a reception by Heiner Bernhard (SPD Party), the mayor of Weinheim in Baden-Wuerttemberg, after she refused a request by a town employee to show her face. The mayor stated he wished “to greet all citizens of his town face to face,” and that he considered it a “citizen’s duty” to show one’s face in a democratic state. Shortly before the incident, the municipality had refused to process a pending passport application for the woman’s child because, according to Mayor Bernhard, the mother declined to show her face for identification purposes, as required by law, while applying for the passport on behalf of her child. Bernhard told the newspaper Welt, “For identity verification, we had to see the woman’s face. She could have gone to a separate room in our town hall.”
In September the city of Pforzheim announced it had reversed a regulation requiring Muslim women wishing to wear a headscarf in their driver’s license photograph to present evidence of their faith through a certificate from their mosque or religious community. Earlier in the year, a Muslim woman’s tweet about the requirement had generated strong criticism of it on social media. The new policy required certificates of faith only in cases where there was reasonable doubt about the religious motivation of those seeking to wear a headscarf in the photograph.
In February the AfD put forward a motion requesting the government to introduce legislation in parliament to prohibit full-face veils in public. Citing the individual rights of Muslim women, the AfD motion stated that wearing a full-face veil was “an expression of the oppression of women” and of conscious distancing from “Western liberal society.” At year’s end parliament was still debating the motion in committee.
In March the Bavarian Administrative Court rejected the complaint of a judicial trainee in Augsburg who in 2014 had sued to contest a Bavarian Ministry of Justice rule denying judicial trainees the right to wear a headscarf in court. A lower court had previously sided with the plaintiff in 2016.
In July a majority of the citizens of Kaufbeuren, Bavaria voted in a referendum against leasing (for a symbolic fee) municipal real estate to the local DITIB organization on which to build a mosque.
In March the Higher Administrative Court in Muenster, NRW ruled that an event venue owner could not rent his venue for a Muslim circumcision celebration scheduled for Good Friday. The ruling reaffirmed a December 2015 ruling by the Administrative Court in Cologne. The circumcision itself had taken place several weeks before the scheduled celebration and the court ruled that the jubilant nature of the event contradicted the quiet nature of the Christian Good Friday observance, which several federal states, including NRW, legally enforced.
In February the Gelsenkirchen Administrative Court in NRW banned outdoor amplification of the call to prayer via speakers by a local mosque. Following legal action by nearby residents in 2015, the Muslim community had to stop amplifying the prayer call outside of the mosque’s premises pending a court decision. The court justified its decision in this specific case with the lack of citizen involvement and dialogue in the city’s first decision to grant the permit for the call to prayer but did not prohibit the call to prayer altogether. In March the city announced it would appeal the decision prohibiting the amplification. The city’s lawyer compared the call to prayer with the ringing of church bells and said the court had not respected the religious freedom of the Muslim community.
In October the Federal Labor Court ruled on new guidelines for the rights of religious communities as employers, ruling on a case in which the EKD-owned charity organization Diakonie denied employment to a social worker because she was not a member of a religious community. Although the job description required applicants to belong to a Christian church, the court ruled that Diakonie could not deny her employment solely on that basis. The court’s decision stated religious communities could no longer require applicants to belong to a religious community as a condition of employment unless religious communities could demonstrate that membership was required to perform the job.
In March the European Court of Human Rights unanimously held that the country’s courts’ decisions in 2013 to take Twelve Tribes Church children living in Bavaria into state care because of reports that Church members punished their children by caning had not violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In March Foreign Minister Heiko Maas condemned rising anti-Semitism at schools after Muslim immigrant children bullied a Jewish girl at a Berlin elementary school. The bullying reportedly included death threats.
In May the NRW Ministry of Schools and Education distributed resources on countering anti-Semitic bullying in schools to all schools and education authorities in the state. The action followed reports indicating that bullying of Jewish students rose in 2017. Politicians from the CDU/CSU called for action, including that schools pay more attention to communicating religious tolerance.
In December Hamburg’s parliament passed a resolution to strengthen preventive work against anti-Semitism. The parliament allocated an additional 300,000 euros ($344,000) for school programs to combat anti-Semitism, including educational visits to former concentration camps, adult education, and anti-discrimination counseling. The parliament said it would cooperate with Hamburg’s Jewish community and organizations to support their efforts to combat anti-Semitism, and that its efforts would target right-wing extremist groups.
In May the education ministry of Brandenburg, and the education ministries of Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate in June, signed declarations of intent with Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel to collaborate on Holocaust education in the states’ schools. In November Hamburg’s education ministry introduced educational materials on Jewish life from Yad Vashem as part of a broader effort to combat anti-Semitism in schools. Yad Vashem said it had concluded such agreements with 15 of 16 states in the country.
In June the Baden-Wuerttemberg state government announced plans to reorganize Islamic religious education in public schools. Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann said that, because of the absence of a single Islamic partner organization, he proposed establishing a Sunni Muslim educational foundation that would serve as a mediator between the state and various Islamic associations. The state government did not reach a decision on a new model for Islamic religious education and announced it would continue the existing system for an additional school year.
The Alevi Muslim community continued to offer separate religious lessons in schools in eight states for approximately 1,400 students.
In June Berlin Humboldt University, a public university, created an institute for Islamic theology and said it would begin training imams and religion teachers in 2019. The state of Berlin pledged to provide 13.8 million euros ($15.83 million) in funding for the institute through 2022. Humboldt University created the institute in cooperation with three Muslim associations – the Central Council of Muslims, Islamic Federation, and Islamic Association of Shia Communities – and the associations were to have a voice in selecting the institute’s professors. Critics, including student organizations and the Berlin CDU, said they disapproved of the extent of the associations’ control over the institute’s board, or of what they described as the associations’ conservative orientation.
During campaigning for the October Bavarian state elections, the Bavarian AfD distributed posters calling for “Islam-free schools,” which the party explained as a call to end “Islamic education and headscarves in schools.”
The COS continued to report governmental discrimination. “Sect filters,” which were signed statements by potential employees to confirm they had no contact with the COS, remained in use in the public and private sectors. According to the COS, in September a Munich school refused to hire a teacher due to his membership in the COS. The COS said the government also discriminated against firms owned or operated by its members. According to the COS, Hamburg city officials asked one COS member to sign a “sect filter” when he attempted to purchase land from the city for his company.
In April the Berlin Administrative Court dismissed a suit that the mosque association Neukoellner Begegnungsstaette (NBS) had brought against the Berlin OPC in 2017. NBS had sought to have the Berlin OPC remove the association’s name from its annual report and to stop stating NBS had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The court ruled that the Berlin OPC’s statements that NBS had had contacts with the Islamic Community in Germany and that the latter group organized followers of the Muslim Brotherhood were valid.
In May the NRW state chancery spokesperson told media the state government stopped cooperation with DITIB due to the Turkish government’s influence over the group.
In July the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference) and the government announced an increase of 75 million euros ($86 million) of government funding for social welfare services for Holocaust survivors, raising the yearly contribution from 405 million euros ($464.45 million) in 2018 to 480 million euros ($550.46 million) in 2019. According to the commission, the increased funds would finance additional home care, food support, medicine, and transportation services for Holocaust survivors.
The government continued to subsidize some Jewish groups. Based on an agreement between the federal government and the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the federal government increased its yearly support from 10 to 13 million euros ($11.47 to $14.91 million) to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage, restore the Jewish community, and support integration and social work. In addition, the federal government provided financial support to the Institute for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg, the Rabbi Seminar at the University of Potsdam, and the Leo Baeck Institute, an international research group on the history and culture of German Jewry.
State governments continued to provide funds to Jewish communities and organizations in various amounts, for such purposes as the renovation and construction of synagogues. The federal government continued to cover 50 percent of maintenance costs for Jewish cemeteries. State and local police units continued to provide security for synagogues and other Jewish institutions.
In September the NRW government announced a ten-year plan totaling 44 million euros ($50.46 million), beginning in 2018 and ending in 2028, for the modernization and new construction of Jewish facilities and institutions. The state said funding would begin at three million euros ($3.44 million) and be increased by 200,000 euros ($229,000) annually until reaching the maximum funding level of five million euros ($5.73 million) in 2028. Separately, NRW again provided three million euros ($3.44 million) to support and upgrade security in Jewish buildings.
On November 8, the city of Dessau-Rosslau in Saxony-Anhalt presented the Jewish community with a piece of land to build a new synagogue in the center of town. The community received 195,000 euros ($224,000) from the city and 300,000 euros ($344,000) from the state’s lottery commission for the construction of the building, as well as 700,000 euros ($803,000) from the federal government. The Minister-President of Saxony-Anhalt, Reiner Hasselof, welcomed the new synagogue, stating it would increase the visibility of Jewish life in the city.
According to the Humanistic Union, an independent civil liberties organization, total state contributions during the year to the Catholic Church and the EKD amounted to approximately 538 million euros ($616.97 million). The union said it calculated its estimate based on the federal states’ budgets.
In June the NRW state government’s Center for Political Education organized six one-day information programs in six cities entitled Diverse Islam versus Violence-Prone Salafism: Opportunities for Intervention and Prevention. The stated goals were to help teachers and educators distinguish between Islam as a religion and what the organizers described as violent Islamist extremists, and to engage with youths vulnerable to religiously based extremism. Presenters were Muslim and non-Muslim academics, members of NGOs, and state government employees. Muslim religious leaders did not participate in the programs.
In July the NRW Ministry for Children, Family, Refugees, and Integration awarded 160,000 euros ($183,000) to the Central Council of Muslims in support of its Hands-on Diversity: Students against anti-Semitism project.
In January the Federal Constitutional Court reversed the 2016 acquittal by the Wuppertal Regional Court of seven members of a self-declared “Sharia Police” on charges of violating the prohibition on wearing uniforms as expressions of a common political opinion. Dressed in yellow vests marked “Sharia Police,” the men patrolled Wuppertal in September 2014 to counter “non-Muslim behavior.” The Constitutional Court remanded the case back to the lower court and stated the latter had failed to consider whether the uniforms caused intimidation or were otherwise threatening to the public. At year’s end the lower court had not scheduled a new trial date.
On July 9, the Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and anti-Semitism, in conjunction with several other Jewish organizations in the country, published a “declaration of principles on the fight against anti-Semitism.” While applauding several “well-intentioned” federal- and state-level public statements and initiatives over the previous months, the declaration called on the government to back up policies with concrete action. It cited the need to take victims seriously, distinguish anti-Semitism as a specific form of discrimination, and apply the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism. The signatories called upon the newly appointed federal and state commissioners on anti-Semitism to develop more effective preventative measures to combat it and to learn from the experiences of victims to develop more effective preventive measures. They also called on federal and state government agencies and publicly funded institutions to explicitly distance themselves from all form of anti-Semitism, including campaigns such as BDS.
Frankfurt Deputy Mayor and City Treasurer Uwe Becker targeted the BDS movement against Israel on numerous occasions and called for a ban of BDS in Germany. In April Becker said “Frankfurt will, in the future, only work with banks which do not maintain business relations with the anti-Semitic BDS movement.” In June he added that artists who supported the BDS movement were not welcome in Frankfurt and festivals or organizations in Frankfurt supporting BDS or providing a platform to its supporters risked losing city funding.
In September the NRW State Parliament condemned the BDS movement and its calls to boycott Israeli products and companies, as well as Israeli scientists and artists in NRW. The parliament also requested that all NRW government organizations deny BDS requests to use city, municipality, and county spaces.
In December Jewish community leaders in Duesseldorf said they believe NRW could still do more to combat anti-Semitism, and they found state-level responses to the BDS movement to be insufficient and weak.
On January 1, the government implemented procedures for registering complaints and violations of the law barring hate speech enacted in late 2017. The procedures stipulated operators of social networks with more than two million users in the country, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, must delete or block “obviously illegal content” within 24 hours after notification or, in more complex cases, within seven days. Operators must name a representative in the country able to react to complaints within 48 hours. Operators failing to comply systematically with the requirements were subject to fines of up to 50 million euros ($57.34 million). By year’s end the government had not penalized any companies under the law. Anti-Semitism Commissioner of Baden-Wuerttemberg Michael Blume reported the new law had had little effect on the spread of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate speech, as groups simply chose to use other, less public social media forms such as WhatsApp groups and video game chat rooms not covered by the law.
In March federal Interior Minister Seehofer stated the phrase “Islam is part of Germany,” which former President Christian Wulff and other politicians had popularized, was wrong. “No. Islam is not part of Germany,” he said. Seehofer added that Muslims in the country “are, of course, part of Germany,” but that he did not consider Islam to be a part of the country’s culture. The minister’s statements led to a public debate on the role of Islam and Muslims in the country. Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that, while the country was shaped by its Judeo-Christian heritage, “Now there are four million Muslims living in Germany” who “can live their religion here, too.” Several Muslim associations criticized the minister’s statements. Gokay Sofuoglu, chair of the advocacy group Turkish Community in Germany, said, “At a time when there are more and more attacks on mosques and Muslims, it is not a good start if the minister of the interior begins with such a statement.” He also stated that “it is not his [Seehofer’s] job to decide who belongs to Germany and who does not.” Addressing Seehofer’s remarks, Islamic Council Chair Burhan Kesici said, “He does not have the decency to withhold his opinion.…It would be better to recognize reality and see Muslims as part of society. Only then could prejudices be reduced.” Ayman Mazyek, Chair of the Central Council of Muslims, commented, “Against the backdrop of the mosque fires and the increased Islamophobic attacks, I would have expected the new interior minister to stand behind German Muslims.”
In September Hans Peter Stauch, an AfD state parliament member in Baden-Wuerttemberg, posted a video on Facebook entitled “The Power of the Rothschilds.” The video included statements that the Rothschilds, a Jewish banking family, were responsible for World War II and the Holocaust. Baden-Wuerttemberg’s state commissioner for anti-Semitism and the heads of the state-level Green, SPD, and FDP parties criticized Stauch, saying that he was spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Stauch responded that he had only posted the video without commentary and said he was exercising his freedom of speech.
In January AfD Bundestag (federal parliament) member Beatrix von Storch tweeted that Cologne police were appeasing “barbaric, gang-raping, Muslim hordes” when the police tweeted a New Year’s Day greeting in Arabic. Twitter briefly suspended von Storch’s account. Thomas Held, spokesman for the Cologne police, confirmed to media that the Cologne police initiated a criminal report against von Storch for suspicion of inciting hatred, stating that this was “a completely normal procedure” which they were “legally obliged” to start upon the suspicion of a criminal offense. Additionally, approximately 100 private individuals reported von Storch’s tweet to police. Twitter also deleted a tweet by AfD Parliamentary Caucus Chief Alice Weidel, defending her colleague by using the phrase “imported, marauding, grabbing, beating, knife stabbing migrant mobs.”
In May Weidel argued in a parliamentary debate that the uncontrolled immigration of Muslims endangered the wealth of the country, stating, “Burquas, headscarf girls, subsidized knife men, and other good-for-nothings will not secure our wealth, the economic growth, and most of all our welfare state.” Representatives of all other parties present in parliament reacted with interjections and booing. Parliament President Wolfgang Schaeuble called her to order for “discriminating against all women who wear a headscarf.”
In July a group of AfD party members from Weidel’s Bodensee electoral district in Baden-Wuerttemberg visited the Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial in Brandenburg State as part of a trip to Berlin sponsored by the federal press office. According to the memorial site’s staff, some participants continuously interrupted the guided tour with inappropriate comments, including speech that trivialized Nazi crimes and questioned the existence of gas chambers. The federal press office stated one participant made anti-Semitic statements. Neuruppin public prosecutor Wilfried Lehman was investigating the case, and stated in November that his office hoped to complete the investigation by year’s end, and he already had sufficient evidence for one case of Holocaust denial.
On April 26, the Bundestag condemned the increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents and attacks in the country, and emphasized its support for Israel’s right to exist. “It is intolerable when Jewish life in Germany is not possible without fear,” said SPD party leader Andrea Nahles. Volker Kauder (who at the time was CDU/CSU parliamentary caucus leader), said “Everyone has a place in this society,” but that there was no place for anti-Semitism.
In May the Rostock District Court upheld a lower court’s 2016 finding that AfD state Member of Parliament (MP) Holger Arppe was guilty of hate speech against Muslims for comments he wrote on the right-wing website Politically Incorrect in 2010, while using a pseudonym. The court increased Arppe’s fine from 6,300 to 9,000 euros (from $7,200 to $10,300).
On February 8, the Stuttgart Higher Regional Court found the creator of the banned Altermedia neo-Nazi website guilty of leadership in a criminal association and inciting racial hatred and sentenced him to two and a half years in prison. Three women, charged with supporting the website and incitement, were convicted and received suspended sentences ranging from eight months to two years. The court declared the platform a criminal organization. It had published content that denied the Holocaust and targeted Jews, immigrants, and foreigners; the federal interior minister closed it in 2016.
According to the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD), political parties continued to distance themselves from Islamic associations because they were concerned foreign nations and organizations could influence Muslims with money and by sending radical imams to mosques in the country.
As part of the coalition agreement between the ruling CDU/CSU and SPD parties, the government agreed to continue the German Islam Conference dialogue between representatives of the government and Muslims in the country, which began in 2006. The conference’s aim was to improve the religious and social participation of the Muslim population in the country, give greater recognition to Muslims’ contributions to society, and, in the absence of a central organization representing all Muslims in the country, further develop partnerships between the government and Islamic organizations. In November the government held its fourth German Islam Conference, a two-day conference with 240 participants. Conference attendees included representatives of Muslim associations, communities, scholars, and activists. Interior Minister Seehofer called on Muslim communities to cut their ties with sources of foreign funding and influence, develop their own training systems for the country’s imams, and increase their cooperation with the country’s government. Federal Integration Commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz, reiterating concerns about the foreign financing of the country’s mosques, said, “Those who want to be part of Germany as a Muslim organization cannot remain part of Ankara.”
In January Sawsan Chebli, a Berlin state legislator of Palestinian heritage, proposed the government require that “everybody living in this country” visit Nazi concentration camp memorials at least once. She added that newly arrived immigrants should visit the memorials as part of programs to integrate them into society, in order to sensitize them to Nazi crimes against Jews and combat anti-Semitism. The country’s Central Council of Jews and the World Jewish Congress endorsed the proposal. Council President Josef Schuster told Deutschlandfunk Radio that migrants who had fled or been expelled from their home countries could develop empathy by visiting such memorials. The proposal generated debate and was not adopted. Critics said such visits should be voluntary and preceded by prior education about the Holocaust. Gunter Morsch, Director of the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation and head of the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, said, “It seems to me an illusion to believe that such a visit can help to counter a strongly entrenched prejudice.”
In March NRW Minister-President Laschet hosted an iftar at the state chancery, the first NRW minister-president to do so.
The government created the position of federal commissioner for worldwide religious freedom within the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and in April it appointed MP Markus Gruebel as the first commissioner. Gruebel stated the government wanted to send a clear signal on the importance it places on religious freedom and the strengthening of common values.
The country is a member of the IHRA.