Posted on April 4, 2024

Germany Will Include Questions About Israel and Antisemitism in Its New Citizenship Test

Almudena de Cabo, El Pais, April 1, 2024

What is the reason for Germany’s special responsibility for Israel? What is an example of antisemitic behavior? How is Holocaust denial punished in Germany? These are just some of the new questions that the German government will include in its citizenship test. The objective of these new questions — published by the German newspaper Der Spiegel on March 28 — is to try to detect possible antisemitic applicants and prevent them from gaining German nationality. The updated range of potential questions is part of the new citizenship law approved in mid-January by the German parliament, led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz from the Social Democrat Party (SPD). Under the law, a person can apply for nationality after living five years in the country — down from eight — and even if they have several nationalities.

“As a result of the German crime against humanity of the Holocaust comes our special responsibility for the protection of Jews and for the protection of the State of Israel,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told Der Spiegel, in reference to the Nazi Holocaust that killed nearly six million people, mainly Jews, during World War II. “This responsibility is part of our identity today,” she added, arguing that anyone who wants to be a German citizen must know “what that means and acknowledge Germany’s responsibility.”

The German Interior Ministry wants questions about Jewish life in Germany to play a more important role in the future. According to Faeser, the revision of the citizenship test is also due to the impression that antisemitism has risen since the outbreak of the war in the Gaza Strip. According to figures provided by the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), between October 7, the day of the Hamas attacks on Israeli territory, and December 21, more than 1,100 antisemitic crimes were recorded, mainly damage to property and incitement to hatred. This has set off alarm bells in Germany, where any public questioning of Israel’s policy in Gaza triggers a strong wave of criticism.

“Antisemitism, racism, and other forms of contempt for humanity preclude naturalization,” Faeser told Der Spiegel.

The German citizenship exam currently contains 33 questions and is grouped into the themes of “Living in Democracy,” “History and Responsibility” and “People and Society.” Three questions refer to the federal state that the applicant lives in. The 33 questions on the test are not always the same ones. There is a list of 310 potential questions. A total of 17 must be answered correctly in order to pass. More than 90% of people who take the exam pass it, according to the Ministry of the Interior.

Der Spiegel reported that in the future there will be 12 questions related to Jews and Israel. They include:

  • When did the first Jewish community exist in what is now Germany?
  • Which cities have the biggest Jewish communities in Germany?
  • Who can become a member of the roughly 40 Jewish “Maccabi” sports clubs in Germany?
  • What is the name of the Jewish house of worship?
  • On what legal basis was the State of Israel founded?
  • What behavior with regard to the State of Israel is banned in Germany?
  • What do the so-called “stumbling stones” in German cities commemorate?

Israel’s right to exist

The Interior Ministry confirmed that those applying for German citizenship will not have to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a condition for gaining nationality. The coalition government formed by the Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals argued that the measure was not necessary.

The debate on this issue arose after the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt decided in mid-December to require individuals seeking to become naturalized citizens to state in writing “that they recognize Israel’s right to exist and condemn any efforts directed against the existence of the State of Israel.” The measure was taken in an attempt to fight growing antisemitism in Saxony-Anhalt, where the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has great support.

In Germany, the federal government is responsible for the right to nationality, but how it is implemented is a matter for each federal state. However, legal experts described the measure from Saxony-Anhalt as “very problematic” since there is no such thing as Saxony-Anhalt citizenship. It also did not clearly define the meaning of Israel’s right to exist.

Former German chancellor Angela Merkel told the Israeli Parliament in 2008 that Israel’s security was “a state issue for Germany.” This special responsibility was outlined by the first German chancellor after World War II, Konrad Adenauer, when he stated that Israel’s right to exist was of national interest, as a consequence of the Holocaust. After the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel on October 7, Chancellor Scholz once again recalled Merkel’s words.