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Too Little, Too Late? Antisemitism and Germany’s New Naturalization Test

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser addresses the 2023 meeting of the German Islamic Conference (DIK). Photo: Reuters/Bernd Elmenthaler

JNS.orgWhat do you call a Jewish house of prayer? When was the State of Israel founded? Which cities in our country have the largest Jewish communities?

These are just three of the 20 questions about Israel and Jewish life that Germany will be introducing into its naturalization test for prospective citizens. Announcing the changes last week, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said their purpose was to root out and exclude the bigots. “Anyone who does not share our values cannot obtain a German passport. We have drawn a crystal-clear red line here,” she stated. “Antisemitism, racism and other forms of contempt for humanity rule out naturalization.”

Some of the additional questions are more philosophical in nature and deliberately so. For example, the question “What is the basis of Germany’s special responsibility to Israel?” carries four possible answers: “membership of the EU,” “Germany’s Basic Law,” “the Christian tradition” and the correct response, “from the crimes of National Socialism.” That, of course, underlines the centrality of the Nazi Holocaust to postwar Germany’s commitment to a democratic order. Similarly, the question “On what legal basis was the State of Israel founded” includes the options “by a resolution of the Zionist Congress,” “a proposal by the German government,” “a proposal by the USSR” and the correct answer, “a resolution of the United Nations.” That emphasizes, rightly, that Israel’s sovereign legitimacy was recognized by the world’s leading international organization. Another question, “Who can join the Jewish Maccabi sports clubs?” includes the options “only Germans,” “only Israelis,” “only religious people” and the correct answer, “everyone.” The point here, which escaped The Washington Post’s reporter on the story, who called this question “mysterious,” is to puncture the antisemitic myth that Jews only look out for other Jews and only provide services to other Jews.

Generally, I think naturalization tests for immigrants are a good idea. When I became an American citizen seven years ago, I remember some of my native-born American friends joking that I likely knew more about the United States than most Americans because you have to swot up on the answers to questions like, “How many judges sit on the Supreme Court?” and “Why was the Civil War fought?” And in the U.S. naturalization test, you are also asked about political affiliations—my examining officer, noticing my very Jewish name, was apologetic and a little embarrassed when she asked me if I was or had ever been a Nazi, but anyone who admitted as much, or indeed to having been a Communist, would be rather unlikely to pass. In that sense, there is a trustworthy precedent for what the Germans are introducing now.

The larger consideration is how effective such a test might be. You don’t have to be particularly bright to memorize answers like “synagogue,” “1948” and “1,700 years ago”—the correct answer to the question, “When was the first Jewish community in Germany established?” So, if you’re a hardened antisemite who wants a German passport, you have the option of acquiescing to this distasteful test in the name of a higher purpose. No doubt, there will be many prospective immigrants who will try just that.

However, just because the test can’t guarantee that antisemites won’t slip through the net doesn’t mean that the proposal is faulty. The test’s purpose is to project, gently but firmly, Germany’s core values and the need for prospective citizens to conform to those values. And if you can’t or won’t do so, the message essentially says, then you are free not to come here in the first place.

The test is also an acknowledgment that antisemitism can be imported. For much of the postwar period, antisemitism in Germany was mainly a problem on the far right; however, with the explosion of political violence in the 1960s and 1970s, it became a problem on the far left as well. But during the last 20 years—and particularly with the arrival of around 2 million immigrants from the Middle East in 2015, as civil war raged in Syria—the problem has taken a distinctly Islamist turn. In the weeks since the Hamas pogrom of Oct. 7, Germany has witnessed up to 29 antisemitic incidents per day, many of them executed by Arab or Turkish-origin immigrants. Not all the incidents involve violence—indeed, most of them concern vandalism and the spread of ugly antisemitic propaganda online and at demonstrations—but there is little doubt that whatever the nature of the offense, the German authorities want to minimize the amount of antisemitism in their midst.

To my mind, there’s another deeper question here: Are these measures, however welcome, too late in arriving? After all, it’s fair to say that with a Jewish community of just over 100,000, Germany is presently experiencing a genuine crisis of antisemitism that won’t be resolved by filtering out prospective immigrants who give the wrong answers on a naturalization test.

Much the same can be said for the rest of the European Union; in the Netherlands, for example, where a Jewish community of 30,000 has endured an 800% increase in antisemitic incidents since the Oct. 7 atrocities, Jewish leaders have run out of patience. “Our youth is no longer safe at educational institutions: they are canceled, attacked, intimidated,” Chanan Hertzberger, the chair of the CJO Jewish communal organization, told the newspaper De Telegraaf last week. “It is rife, and we have had enough. We are normal Dutch people and also want to be considered and treated as such. Our civil liberties are at stake; more and more Jews feel threatened and intimidated, and are hiding Jewish symbols.” Like Germany, Holland is home to large numbers of Moroccan, Turkish and other immigrants from cultures where hostility and enmity towards Jews is a fact of life. Just as in Germany, any efforts by the Dutch authorities to be discerning about who they admit in the future won’t address the problem on their streets and in their universities right now.

The flip side of the naturalization test is what it tells us about the status of Jewish communities in these countries during the present period. If antisemitism is such an overwhelming problem that it needs to feature prominently in a naturalization test, it suggests to those Jews in its sights that insecurity will be a permanent feature of their lives, however much the authorities might wish otherwise. Perhaps they should think about moving somewhere else—like Israel, which was created as a haven for Jews. European governments may not be giving up on their Jews, but they shouldn’t be surprised if their Jews give up on them.

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University of Toronto seeks injunction to end protest encampment over ‘harmful, discriminatory’ speech outlined in court filing

The University of Toronto is now seeking a court injunction to put and end to the encampment in King’s College Circle after the 8 a.m. deadline passed Monday morning—while unionized workers joined students, faculty and other protesters at a rainy morning rally. Shortly after the ultimatum hour, the university announced in a statement from UofT […]

The post University of Toronto seeks injunction to end protest encampment over ‘harmful, discriminatory’ speech outlined in court filing appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Monday morning saw the Toronto community and politicians showing support for the Chabad girls’ school struck by weekend gunfire

Mayor Olivia Chow was among those who addressed the crowd.

The post Monday morning saw the Toronto community and politicians showing support for the Chabad girls’ school struck by weekend gunfire appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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‘A Call for Genocide’: South African Jews Blast Country’s President for Chanting ‘From the River to the Sea’

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in Chatsworth, South Africa, May 18, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Rogan Ward

South African Jewish leaders castigated their country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, for what they described as him calling for a “genocide” against Jews in Israel over the weekend.

Ramaphosa was speaking at an election rally in Johannesburg on Saturday when he deviated from his prepared speech to lead the crowd in in a chant of “From the River to the Sea, Palestine shall be free” — a popular slogan among anti-Israel activists that has been widely interpreted as a call for the destruction of the Jewish state, which is located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The address took place at FNB Stadium, where South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) held its final rally before South African elections on Wednesday. According to Politicsweb, a news website focused on South Africa, a call for the release of the “hostages held in Gaza” who Hamas terrorists kidnapped from southern Israel on Oct. 7 appeared in Ramaphosa’s prepared remarks but not in his final speech.

The South African Jewish community lambasted Ramaphosa for his remarks in a statement shared with The Algemeiner, expressing “its revulsion at the introduction of a call to exterminate Jews from their homeland” by the president.

“The president of the ruling ANC party and the head of state of a democratic country has called for the elimination of the only Jewish state in the culmination of the ANC president’s election speech made to thousands of ANC members and on national television,” said Wendy Kahn, national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD). “He uses the populist slogan ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be Free,’ which is widely regarded as a call to genocide of the Jewish people. The call to remove all Jews from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea equates to removing all Jews from Israel.”

Kahn compared the slogan with Hamas’ goal to “see Israel as ‘Judenfrei,’ or Jew free,” before noting that such an endpoint contradicts the South African government’s stated policy of supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The chanting of this slogan by a head of state of a government that recurrently tries to express their commitment to a ‘two-state Solution’ as their policy on Israel and Palestine is hypocritical to the full,” the SAJBD said. “How does a sitting president reject his own government and own party’s international relations policy? This reconfirms our understanding that President Ramaphosa and his government are not looking for a peaceful solution to the tragic conflict, but rather to cause discord among fellow South Africans against its Jewish community.”

Kahn added, “The president’s contempt for South African Jewry is evident in this unscripted outburst at the rally which amounts to nothing more than Jew hatred. The SAJBD is reviewing its options for holding the president accountable for these hateful words.”

South Africa’s ANC government has been one of the harshest critics of Israel since Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists launched the ongoing war in Gaza with their invasion of and massacre across southern Israeli communities.

South Africa temporarily withdrew its diplomats from Israel and shuttered its embassy in Tel Aviv shortly after the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom, saying that the Pretoria government was “extremely concerned at the continued killing of children and innocent civilians” in Gaza.

In December, South Africa hosted two Hamas officials who attended a government-sponsored conference in solidarity with the Palestinians. One of the officials had been sanctioned by the US government for his role with the terrorist organization.

Earlier this month, members of South Africa’s Jewish community protested Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor’s recent call for students and university leaders to intensify the anti-Israel demonstrations that have engulfed college campuses across the US.

In January, the South African government failed in its bid to argue before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Israel’s defensive war in Gaza constituted a “genocide.” However, the top UN court last week ordered Israel to halt its military operations against the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. The emergency ruling was part of South Africa’s ongoing case at the ICJ.

The post ‘A Call for Genocide’: South African Jews Blast Country’s President for Chanting ‘From the River to the Sea’ first appeared on

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