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Germany adds citizenship test questions about Jews and Israel

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BERLIN — Those seeking German citizenship could soon have to answer test questions about antisemitism, Germany’s commitment to Israel and Jewish life in Germany.

The catalogue of more than 300 questions from which citizenship test questions can be selected is to be amended shortly, the interior ministry said in a statement, pending final approval. New questions, German magazine Der Spiegel reported, are to include: What is a Jewish house of prayer called? When was the State of Israel founded? What is the reason for Germany’s special responsibility for Israel? How is Holocaust denial punished in Germany? And, somewhat mysteriously: Who is allowed to become a member of the Jewish Maccabi sports clubs in Germany? (Anyone, according to the organization’s FAQ.)

The move comes months after the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt made a written commitment for the “right of the State of Israel to exist” a requirement for naturalization.

Germany has cracked down on pro-Palestinian voices and on antisemitism amid Israel’s war in Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. Germany and German institutions have come under criticism in recent months for enforcing strict speech policies affecting pro-Palestinian protests. Museum shows, book talks and other art events have been canceled.

“One thing is particularly important to me,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told Der Spiegel. “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. This responsibility is part of our identity today.”

“Anyone who doesn’t share our values, can’t get a German passport. We have drawn a crystal clear red line here,” Faeser said. “Antisemitism, racism and other forms of contempt for humanity rule out naturalization.”

The 33-question citizenship test is one of several prerequisites to becoming a German citizen. To pass, applicants must correctly answer at least 17 multiple choice questions within an hour.

A wave of more than 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents logged by authorities in the months since Oct. 7 has prompted German leaders to call for better enforcement of the country’s antisemitism laws in recent months.

“Anti-Semitism has no place in Germany,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an address to German parliament in late October. “We will do everything to oppose it. We will do this as citizens, and as bearers of political responsibility.”

This includes enforcing existing laws, Scholz said.

While antisemitism itself is not a crime in Germany, antisemitic motivation for a crime can be considered in sentencing. In April 2023, the government announced that it would increase annual payments to the Central Council of Jews in Germany to almost $24 million, in part “to further strengthen the safety and security of Jewish communities.”

Holocaust denial is illegal in Germany, and punishable by prison time.

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