The German Parliament has amended Germany's Criminal Code to ban the flag of Hamas, the terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip.
The move comes after the green and white flags of Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Israel, featured prominently at pro-Palestinian rallies across Germany during the Gaza conflict in May. Some of those rallies ended in anti-Semitic violence in German cities and towns.
German lawmakers said that banning the Hamas flag was aimed at sending "a clear signal" of support "to our Jewish citizens." Others, however, dismissed the ban as an empty gesture aimed at silencing critics of the German government's pro-Islamist foreign policy ahead of upcoming federal elections this September.
Some opposition lawmakers said that if the German government was truly serious about tackling Muslim anti-Semitism in Germany, it would completely ban not only Hamas, but all the anti-Jewish Islamist groups freely operating in the country.
On June 24-25, the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German Parliament, ratified changes to Section 86 of the Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch) that were approved by the Bundestag, the lower house of Parliament, on June 22. The amended law bans the display of symbols (Kennzeichen, defined as flags, badges, uniforms, slogans and forms of greeting) of groups designated as terrorist organizations by the European Union. Previously, only symbols of organizations proscribed by Germany had been banned.
The new law does not specifically mention Hamas by name, and effectively bans the symbols of all 21 entities currently on the EU's terrorism list, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Hezbollah, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) — and the Communist Party of the Philippines.
The flag ban, a brainchild of Chancellor Angela Merkel's chosen successor, Armin Laschet, was initially opposed by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) on the grounds that it would be unconstitutional, but with federal elections scheduled for September 26, the members of Germany's governing coalition — which includes Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the SPD — eventually reached an agreement.
In an interview with Die Welt, CDU lawmaker Thorsten Frei said:
"We do not want the flags of terrorist organizations to be waved on German soil. I am very pleased that the SPD has joined our initiative. In doing so, we are sending a clear signal to our Jewish citizens."
Flag Ban Does Not Go Far Enough
The Free Democrats (FDP), a classical liberal opposition party, countered that a flag ban was woefully insufficient; it called for a complete ban of Hamas in Germany. In an interview with Augsburger Allgemeine, FDP lawmaker Benjamin Strasser explained:
"The statutory standardization in criminal law of a flag ban by the CDU/CSU and the SPD only distracts from their own failures in the fight against terrorist organizations. After the government for years refused to ban Hezbollah from operating on German soil, the Federal Minister of the Interior apparently does not see himself, even with a crystal-clear terrorist organization like Hamas, in a position to ban its activities in Germany."
Writing for the Vienna-based Mena Watch, analyst Alex Feuerherdt warned that the Hamas flag ban would remain a "superficial measure" if the terrorist group's capacity to raise money in Germany was not affected:
"As much as it is to be welcomed if the anti-Jewish Hamas flag is no longer allowed to be displayed, the question also arises as to whether this would not primarily be a matter of literal symbolism politics (Symbolpolitik)....
"There can be no question that it is unbearable when the symbols of organizations are displayed at rallies that want nothing but death to Jews in general, and to the Jewish state in particular. However, a ban on flags remains a superficial measure if the structures of the associations and parties concerned are not or only insufficiently affected.
"In early May, Interior Minister Seehofer banned the Islamist organization Ansaar International, whose fundraising also benefited Hamas. In fact, the network of associations and initiatives that collect, unhindered, millions of euros in Germany for Hamas, is far larger, as reported by Der Spiegel....
"Meanwhile, it is telling how quite a few leftists from the anti-racist and supposedly pro-Palestinian camp complain when it comes to the Hamas flag and its ban.
"It is objected, for example, that the Shahada (the Islamic creed that appears on the Hamas flag) can also be found on other, similar flags — such as that of Saudi Arabia — which for this reason can hardly be distinguished from that of Hamas. According to them, it is simply a creed and thus a religious message that is not only claimed by Hamas. A ban sends the wrong signal and also hits Muslims who do not agree with Hamas.
"The question of which organizations and associations, like fundamentalist Saudi Arabia, literally write an Islamic creed on the flag and use it as a political symbol, on the other hand, is rarely asked by such leftists.
"The answer is illuminating: In addition to Hamas, it also includes Hezbollah, the Taliban, Al-Qaida, Boko Haram, Hezb-ut-Tahrir, Al-Shabab and Al-Nusra — all of them terrorist organizations. The 'Islamic State' should also be mentioned, so this is by no means just about a religious message.
"Flags with the Shahada were often seen at the anti-Israel demonstrations in May. Given that so many anti-Semitic and Islamist organizations have made this creed a central part of their symbolism, shouldn't leftists feel the need to distance themselves?
"And even if it were only about a religious statement: Wasn't criticism of religion one of the most distinguished tasks of the left? Why does one ignore it when it comes to Islamist manifestations directed against Israel? Because you secretly agree with it?
"A ban on the Hamas flag would, if rigorously enforced, make the symbol of an anti-Semitic terrorist organization disappear from the streets. The problem, however, is clearly wider. Hamas' infrastructure in Germany would also have to be touched, otherwise a ban on flags is of limited use. After all, Hamas will not simply disband just because you can no longer see its symbols."
In another essay titled, "Symbolism Politics Against a Symbol," Feuerherdt noted that the flag of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed, Lebanese-based terrorist group, is also banned in Germany, but that German police are often reluctant to enforce the ban, either due to fear or because of political correctness:
"A ban on the Hamas flag would, above all, be symbolism politics (Symbolpolitik). After all, during the marches on the anti-Semitic al-Quds day in Berlin, the police were ordered to prevent the flying of flags of the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah. However, the police did not consistently enforce this — either due to unwillingness or inability."
The German-Iranian author Ramin Peymani, in an essay — "Muslim Anti-Semitism: What's the Point of Banning the Hamas Flag?" — wrote that the ban on the Hamas flag is a reluctant recognition by Germany's political class that the anti-Semitism problem in modern Germany is an self-inflicted problem:
"The Bundestag acts. Finally, the use of symbols of terrorist organizations is also being banned in Germany. The trigger was Palestinian marches in the spring, during which anti-Semitic hatred was openly revealed. In order not to be misunderstood: The right to demonstrate is a valuable asset and one can of course criticize Israel's settlement policy. What we have been experiencing in Germany for some time, however, testifies to deep-seated Muslim anti-Semitism. One would have therefore wished that politics would have been active as early as 2015.
"For far too long, German politics has watched the Muslim hatred of Israel and the Jews spread more and more aggressively. Now the federal government can no longer turn a blind eye to reality. There is no thriving coexistence with hatred if you ignore it. With all sorts of diversionary maneuvers, those responsible had tried for years to define hatred and agitation unilaterally. But since the spring, as tens of thousands of Muslims have been shouting their hatred of Jews on Germany's streets and burned Israeli flags, the pressure had steadily grown to act.
"Wherever anti-Semites appear, politicians and the media try to place them in the right-wing camp, although time and again it is declared leftists who incite against Israel and urge others not to 'buy from the Jews.' The political lie of mostly right-wing extremist anti-Semitism was told so often that at some point no one raised an objection. It was followed by the next anti-Semitism lie after 2015 [when Chancellor Merkel allowed into the country more than a million mostly Muslim migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East]. The hatred of Jews was rekindled, sharper than ever before in the history of the Federal Republic. And again, the political-media cartel did not want to name the reasons.... In the end, politics failed because of the facts. It could no longer deny reality....
"The green and white flag of the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas...is the most visible symbol of anti-Israel marches. In future, not only the use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations but also the use of symbols of terrorist organizations will be prohibited. The move will not be without consequences for the police crime statistics: "While anti-Semitism has so far been attributed almost exclusively to right-wing extremists...the criminal acts of radical Muslims are now more clearly visible — provided they are recorded as meticulously as was previously the case for right-wing extremism.
"However, it will probably continue to be the case that anyone who writes 'Kill all Jews' on the wall is generally listed as a right-wing extremist.... The extension of Section 86a of the Criminal Code can only be a first step on the way to not only adequately recording the hatred of radical Muslims against those of different faiths, but also to punish them accordingly. Islam experts like Constantin Schreiber have been documenting for years that — tolerated by politicians — parallel societies have established themselves that will not be satisfied with the extermination of Israel....
"One should be curious about the voting behavior of the left-wing camp, which sometimes lacks the willingness to demarcate itself from radical Islam. There is not only a lack of critical distance to Islam. Political leaders in Europe are only gradually waking up from their multicultural daydreams. However, this is less based on the mature realization that one's own policy has failed, rather than due to the pressure of voters who fear for their prosperity and security....
"The fact that they will soon no longer be able to live out their hatred of Israel and the Jews in Germany, which has been handed down over generations, as unabashedly as before, will be an enormous powder keg. How politics reacts to this foreseeable conflict will define which way our society is going. The litmus test of the new political approach to radical Islam is yet to come."
Germany's ban of Hamas flags follows a well-established pattern of announcing half-hearted measures to tackle radical Islam in Germany. In particular, the German government has a long track record of hypocrisy regarding Israel and the Jewish people.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly stated that Israel's security is an essential part of Germany's Staatsräson (reason of state), and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas frequently reiterated that, "I entered politics because of Auschwitz," a reference to the largest German Nazi concentration camp.
At the same time, Merkel's government has consistently pursued one of the most staunchly pro-Iran foreign policies in the European Union. Iran is, of course, committed to the destruction of Israel.
Moreover, Germany's long-time ambassador to the UN, Christoph Heusgen, has repeatedly singled out Israel for condemnation at the United Nations.
In December 2019, Merkel's government proudly announced (here and here) that it had "banned" Hezbollah, the Iran-backed, Lebanon-based Shiite terrorist group, from operating in Germany. Eighteen months later, however, the group's presence in Germany has emerged stronger than ever.
Merkel has also refused to ban the Turkish Grey Wolves, Germany's largest right-wing extremist group, apparently out of a fear of angering Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In a recent editorial, the veteran German commentator on EU affairs, Wolfgang Münchau, wrote that Angela Merkel is the "most over-rated politician of our time." He explained:
"Angela Merkel is a political operator of the highest caliber. But she has never been a strategic actor, except in respect of her own position. This is why the most absurd thing that has ever been said about her was the accolade of leader of the western world. Last week, she was not even a leader of the EU when she failed in an attempt to get other heads of government to agree to the resumption of high-level diplomacy with Vladimir Putin.
"Merkel and Emmanuel Macron were irked because [U.S. President Joe] Biden talked to Putin first. Like children in a playground, they did not want to be left out. And they didn't think for a minute what impact this would have, on the Baltic states in particular....
"A lot of the things that are wrong with German foreign policy right now are the result of decisions taken by Merkel a long time ago. In 2011 she reacted to the Fukushima nuclear accident by pulling the plug on German nuclear energy. That fateful decision was a disaster on so many levels: Germany ended up over-reliant on Russian gas and oil and on Nord Stream 2; this, in turn, gave rise to a sense of betrayal in the Baltic states, Poland, and Ukraine. In the process she managed to do damage to transatlantic relations....
"Merkel's decision to open the border for refugees was not a strategic choice, but a spontaneous executive act. She did not consult with the coalition partners, nor with other EU member states. In her entire 16 years as chancellor, she never chose a strategic battle, never tried to seek majorities where none existed before. The sole purpose of Merkel was Merkel."