(June 18, 2019 / JNS) The scene out of the German Bundestag (Parliament), with its transparent dome shining light overhead to symbolize democracy—the “new Germany”—might as well have taken place in the rowdy Knesset, where MKs are known to talk over each other and trade nasty barbs. Unlike the uneventful, late-afternoon discussion about illegal employment before it, this debate was heated. The subject: the ban on Hezbollah’s political arm.
As the sponsor of the legislation, Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) MP Beatrix Von Storch began: “The question about whether Hezbollah should be banned should not really be the question. The question should be: Why has this not long happened long ago? Hezbollah is waging a war of terror against the Israeli civilian population with one goal: the extermination of the Jewish state. … Hezbollah must get out of here.”
She ended with: “Pray, tell: Which side are you on?”
Germany, like the European Union, only considers Hezbollah’s so-called military wing a terrorist organization. Nevertheless, the Netherlands and United Kingdom consider all of Hezbollah a terrorist entity, as do the United States, Canada, Israel and even the Arab League.
In recent weeks, German Jewish leaders called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to fully outlaw Hezbollah.
“The Central Council of Jews in Germany calls for a ban of the Shi’ite militia Hezbollah,” said their leader, Josef Schuster, in the Germany daily Jewish paper Jüdische Allgemeine, adding that “Hezbollah is heavily financed by Iran, and Hezbollah poses, in its entirety, a threat to the entire world.”
“A continuation of the distinction between their individual wings would be negligent and should therefore be corrected as soon as possible,” said Schuster.
In a meeting in late May with Merkel, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also urged the German government to fully ban the terror group.
“We’re also hoping to get Germany’s help—and we talked about this today—in recognizing Hezbollah as a unified entity and banning it from Germany as our ally, the United Kingdom, did this year,” said Pompeo.
Questions over anti-Semitism
However, the debate in the Bundestag over the ban took a different turn when, instead of focusing on Hezbollah, it questioned the credibility of AfD, which has been accused of anti-Semitism, downplaying the Holocaust, and racism.
AfD’s introduction was followed by a rejoinder from other parties, in this case, from right to left (in the literal seating and symbolic order): Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union/Christian Socialist Union (CDU/CSU), the Free Democrats (FdP), the Socialist Democrats (SPD), the Linke (Left) and the Greens.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the AfD, the last thing that our friends from Israel and the Jewish community need is the support of your party and your faction,” MP Marian Wendt (CDU/CSU) said to applause from non-AfD parties.
Next came the FdP, which sealed pro-Israel credentials upon its motion to change Germany’s negative voting patterns on Israel in international bodies, which only the AfD supported.
“It is legitimate to question the division of Hezbollah into two wings,” MP Benjamin Strasser said. “It’s precisely these questions that we in the FdP faction have been asking ourselves and discussing for some time in all its seriousness.”
To which von Storch, from the front AfD row, shouted: “Here it comes!”
“Here it comes, Mrs. Storch. It’s not legitimate—rather it’s misleading—that the AfD, of all people, poses as a champion of Israel’s right to exist.”
Strasser accused the AfD of utilizing Muslim anti-Semitism to cover up its own. The FdP, he said, rejects the motion precisely due to its dedication to fighting anti-Semitism.
“Am Yisrael Chai!” he closed to applause, except from the AfD.
Quoting the Central Council of Jews in Germany, SPD’s Uli Grötsch called the AfD “the true danger for Jewish life in Germany,” saying their true intentions are to “sow hatred of Islam.”
Kathrin Vogler of the Linke castigated the AfD for “again stealing 38 minutes again of valuable debating time for a technically weak and politically transparent motion.” To which von Storch sarcastically muttered: “How regrettable in democracy.” Vogler cited a statistic that 90 percent of anti-Semitic crimes were perpetrated by the “right,” although this categorization has been disputed by government authorities.
Omid Nouripour of the Greens called the motion “unbelievable hypocrisy.”
Several speakers brought up controversial statements by AfD leaders, including co-chair’s Alexander Gauland’s calling the Nazi period “bird shit” in the scheme of German history. Regional AfD leader, Bjorn Hocke, once called Berlin’s grand Holocaust memorial a “memorial of shame.”
The AfD was given some reprieve from accusations of anti-Semitism when “Jews in the AfD” formed last October, calling the AfD a pro-Jewish, pro-Israel party. When confronted then with such anti-AfD talking points, its vice president, Wolfgang Fuhl, said: “I prefer to be part of a party that wants to help living Jews, not dead Jews.”
The need for a ‘stable Lebanon’
There was unanimous agreement that Hezbollah is an existential threat to Israel, just as there was unanimous agreement that the Iran-backed, Hezbollah-friendly Al Quds demonstration is a disgrace to German streets (but which is not outlawed due to freedom of assembly). German intelligence estimates that 1,000 Hezbollah activists operate in the country. On substance, the refusal to ban Hezbollah’s political wing was justified on procedural, political and technical grounds.
“As a member of parliament, I am very much in favor of banning the Hezbollah organization as a whole,” Wendt told JNS. “I made that very clear in the debate. We must also take into account, however, the foreign-policy goals of the Federal Republic of Germany in this region. The parliamentary part of Hezbollah plays not an inconsiderable role in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon, where it participates in government. Apart from that, the motion has technical flaws, so it was not acceptable.
“We, the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, are working intensively on a European solution to stop the terrorist activities of the militia in the Middle East.”
SPD’s Uli Grötsch also spoke of the need for a “stable Lebanon,” where Hezbollah is a relevant social and political player.
Speaking to JNS, FDP’s Strasser said that the bill’s rejection “is not a pro-Hezbollah stance, even though the right-wing populists are currently trying to interpret it that way.” He tasks the Ministry of Interior to determine whether or not the Hezbollah political wing meets the legal requirements for the ban.
Von Storch told JNS that she fully intended to put the Bundestag on the spot about this “political scandal.” She credits the AfD in forcing the Bundestag’s hand to vote against BDS last month; the motion, she said, came as reaction to a harsher anti-BDS bill sponsored by the AfD.
“The German government officially supports Israel, but this is only lip service. In reality, they do the opposite,” she said, citing Germany’s persistent ties with the Iranian regime as an example. “We force them to justify and put them under pressure to change their politics.”
However, the Central Council of Jews does not necessarily welcome AfD’s initiative.
“The AfD bill aiming at a ban of Hezbollah is, in my opinion, not a means to help the cause but a translucent maneuver to counter Muslims,” Schuster told JNS. “It takes its place alongside a range of existing attempts to blame Muslims alone for anti-Semitism, for attacks and terror against Jews and Israel. As long as the AfD does not dissociate itself from party officials with anti-Semitic views, from attempts to relativize the Shoah and from right-wing extremists, it cannot be a legitimate player in the political field in the eyes of the Jewish community in Germany.”