This article first appeared in Zeit.
For days, millions of Israeli citizens have been spending their days and nights in shelters and bunkers due to ongoing rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. The German government and representatives of all parties have condemned the attacks against the Jewish state. Likewise, that the security of the Jewish state is part of Germany's Staatsräson has been repeatedly emphasized. But how does this square with the fact that organizations close to Hamas and other Islamist groups are still official political partners, even actively supported, in Germany today?
The result is a negligent advancement, or at least toleration, of organizations that are brothers in arms with terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
A key player in the network that stretches from Gaza to Berlin and Hamburg is the Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in Egypt in the 1920s, it is considered the founding organization of Sunni Islamism and has followers worldwide. Its Palestinian offshoot is the terrorist organization Hamas. At the heart of its Islamist ideology is a pronounced antisemitism and a categorical rejection of democracy and the rule of law. Its goal is the destruction of Israel.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s most important organization in Germany is the some 600-member strong Muslim Community of Germany (DMG). The Office for the Protection of the Constitution at both the federal and state level deems the Muslim Community of Germany a direct offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which in turn considers itself affiliated with Hamas. Only a few years ago, Hamas honored a deceased representative of the DMG. According to Berlin's Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the Islamic Culture and Education Center in Neukölln is not only affiliated with the DMG but is also a meeting place for Hamas supporters.
Particularly problematic is that the DMG is a founding member of the Central Council of Muslims. Apparently, no one at the Central Council took issue with the DMG’s ideology and affiliations until December 2019 when, only because of public pressure, was the DMG’s membership allowed to expire--or at least such distancing is claimed. The chairman of the Central Council, Aiman Mazyek, expressed that the Council regretted "this painful but necessary step." An astonishing statement about obvious enemies of democracy. Only a few months earlier, Mazyek had defended the DMG against accusations by the security authorities. Whether the DMG’s membership actually ended, however, cannot be verified, since the Central Council of Muslims has not published its membership list for some time.
Another sponsor of terror that enjoys bewildering tolerance in Germany is the supposedly humanitarian aid organization Islamic Relief Germany. The federal government confirmed late last year, in answering a Bundestag inquiry by the Free Democratic Party (FDP), that Islamic Relief had "significant personnel connections" to the Muslim Brotherhood. The German government attests the same about the parent organization Islamic Relief Worldwide. The Israeli domestic intelligence service Shin Bet believes that Islamic Relief Worldwide, based in Birmingham, is part of Hamas' financial network.
For "reasons of state interest," the German government did not answer whether funds from Islamic Relief flowed directly to Hamas. What the government did reveal, however, is that a large portion of donations collected by Islamic Relief flowed directly to its parent organization. In 2019 alone, this amounted to 12 million euros. Far more worrying is that up until 2020, Islamic Relief received millions in German government funding. Between 2013 and 2020, despite the aforementioned findings, the organization received project funding of around 15 million euros from the Federal Foreign Office alone.
A German board member of Islamic Relief Worldwide, Heshmat Khalifa, referred to Jews online as "grandchildren of monkeys and pigs." When this became known, he was forced to resign. But even his successor, who was also chairman of the German branch, quickly lost his post after it became known that he had glorified Hamas on social media. He had described the terrorists as "great men" who followed the "divine and holy call of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
All this did not stop the city of Berlin from financing the organization's Muslim hotline with as much as around 150,000 euros in 2018. In Berlin, Islamic Relief also participated in the Muslim Culture Days in 2019, which were sponsored by the city. It is incomprehensible why the German government continued to provide Islamic Relief millions of euros until last year. Despite the findings of the German intelligence services, the organization received project funding of around 15 million euros from the German Foreign Office between 2013 and 2020. Whether any of this money flowed directly to Hamas is impossible to say. But it would be naïve to believe that Hamas and other antisemites did not at least indirectly benefit from German taxpayer money.
Government agencies and civil society can also treat Shiite groups close to the Iranian regime with an alarming lack of distance and criticism. One example is the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH). Its director is appointed directly by Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Khamenei's regime not only finances Hezbollah, which threatens Israel from Lebanon. Hamas also receives significant support from Iran. In May 2020, Ismail Haniyya, a senior member of Hamas, described Iran as a key supporter of the Palestinian terror group. Another terror group currently attacking Israel with rockets is Palestinian Islamic Jihad. A spokesman for this group thanked the regime in Tehran at length for its support just a few days ago.
Security authorities in Hamburg and the federal government have known for years that the IZH is not only a direct offshoot of the antisemitic regime in Tehran, but also a meeting place for Hezbollah supporters. Nevertheless, in 2012 Hamburg signed a state agreement with the city's Muslim organizations, among them IZH. Through this agreement, the IZH is involved in activities such as the training of Islamic theologians at university, the care of Muslims in correctional facilities, and the development of education about Islam in schools. Thus, the regime in Tehran has at least indirect state-sponsored influence on Muslims living in Germany.
These are just a few examples of a fundamental problem: Government agencies and civil society systematically feign ignorance and hide behind the explanation that they must talk to someone on the Muslim side. Yet precisely this is untrue. Nobody has to talk to obvious antisemites and enemies of democracy and Israel. For good reason, no politician would think of involving right-wing extremists. Why is an exception made for Islamists? How can it be that the German Islam Conference, a forum of the highest of political level, includes precisely those organizations that maintain ties to enemies of liberal democracy and incite hatred of Israel?
Last week's incidents in Gelsenkirchen, Münster, Berlin, and other cities have shown that hatred of Israel is a hazardous accelerant in the minds of young people; attacks on Jews in Germany is only a small step away. If the state and federal government do not make this connection clear to Muslim communities and organizations, there will be no progress combating this form of antisemitism. The latter also have a duty to finally take action against Israel-related antisemitism in their own ranks.
Above all, extremist organizations make up only a small fraction of Muslims living in Germany. Cooperation with them therefore harms the overwhelming majority of those Muslims who have nothing in common with these organizations or their ideology, but who want to strengthen our democracy.