The German government has refused to ban the terrorist group Hezbollah in its entirety. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas recently repeated the German government's distinction between Hezbollah's legitimate and illegitimate activities in Germany. Pictured: The German parliament in session on December 18, 2019. (Image source: Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)
The German parliament has passed a non-binding resolution that calls on the German government to ban the activities of the Iran-backed Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah — Arabic for "The Party of Allah" — in Germany.
The measure — supported by center-right Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats, the two major parties that make up Germany's ruling coalition, and also by the classical liberal Free Democrats — has been hailed as "important," "significant," and a "crucial step."
The resolution, however, falls short of a complete ban on Hezbollah and appears aimed at providing the German government with political cover that would allow Germany to claim that it has banned the group even if it has not.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has faced increasing international pressure to ban Hezbollah, but she has refused to do so. Hezbollah has more than 1,000 operatives in Germany, according to German intelligence assessments.
The three-page resolution — "Effective Action against Hezbollah" ("Wirksames Vorgehen gegen die Hisbollah") — was passed on December 19. An abridged translation of the text reads:
"Because of our history, Germany has a special responsibility towards the Jewish and democratic State of Israel. Israel's security and right to exist are part of Germany's raison d'état [Staatsräson]. The Bundestag calls on the federal government to confront actors in the Middle East that question Israel's right to exist or openly threaten its security. In addition to Iran's continually aggressive policies, the most important of these anti-Israeli forces is the terrorist group Hezbollah, which is closely linked to Iran, and due to its widespread presence also poses a particular threat to the stability of the entire Middle East.
"The German Bundestag is committed to Germany's special responsibility towards Israel and its security. It adheres to the two-state solution, as confirmed by the United Nations Security Council in numerous resolutions: a Jewish and democratic state of Israel within secure borders and an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state.
"According to the federal government, Hezbollah supporters primarily use Germany as a place of retreat and logistics. Its followers are under the watchful eye of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution [German domestic intelligence]. There are around 1,000 supporters of Hezbollah in Germany, and this number is increasing. Hezbollah cannot currently be banned because its association structures cannot currently be determined.
"The federal government has already taken measures against the spread and support of Hezbollah in Germany with the 2008 ban on the 'Al Manar TV' television station, and the 2014 ban of the 'Lebanon Orphan Project.' In 2018 alone, the Federal Prosecutor General [Generalbundesanwalt] at the Federal Court of Justice [Bundesgerichtshof] initiated 36 investigations against individuals linked to Hezbollah....
"According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, it must be expected that Hezbollah will continue to plan and carry out terrorist actions against Israel or Israeli interests outside the Middle East. Our commitment to the protection of the State of Israel also requires that funding flows from Germany, which serve to finance Hezbollah in the Middle East, be prevented by all means.
"The German Bundestag views as an urgent priority a consistent national and common European approach against the activities of the terrorist organization Hezbollah....
"The German Bundestag calls on the federal government to:
"1. Continue closely to monitor the activities of Hezbollah supporters, particularly in Germany, and to pursue them by all means of the rule of law; this also includes combating money laundering and preventing terrorist financing from Germany;
"2. Impose an activity ban [Betätigungsverbot] on Hezbollah in order to prevent any activity by representatives of the organization in Germany that is against the principle of international understanding [respect for all people];
"3. Abandon the conceptual division of Hezbollah into a political and a military wing and to come to a common assessment at the European level to list the group;
"4. Continue actively to advocate for the right of existence of the Jewish and democratic State of Israel and the legitimate security interests of the State of Israel as a central principle of German foreign and security policy;
"5. Take measures, together with international partners, to reduce Hezbollah's influence in the Middle East, particularly in Syria."
In an explanatory note, the Bundestag stated that it was not recommending a complete organizational ban (vereinsrechtliches Organisationsverbot) of Hezbollah because its organizational structures in Germany are "not currently ascertainable."
The German government banned Hezbollah's "military wing" in 2013, after the group was implicated in the July 2012 bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria. Five Israelis were killed in the attack.
Germany, however, has refused to ban Hezbollah's "political wing," which continues to raise funds in the country. A German foreign ministry official, Niels Annen, has said that such a ban would be counterproductive because "we focus on dialogue." His comment has been understood to mean that the German government does not want to burn bridges with Hezbollah's sponsor, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Britain, the Netherlands, Israel, the United States, the 22-member Arab League and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council see no distinction between Hezbollah's military and civilian wings and all have banned the group in its entirety. Indeed, Hezbollah's deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem, has clearly stated that the group is structurally unified:
"We don't have a military wing and a political one; we don't have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other.... Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, is in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority."
On November 28, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that the German government had decided to ban Hezbollah in its entirety, and that a formal announcement would be made during a meeting of the interior ministers [Innenministerkonferenz] of Germany's 16 federal states in early December. Der Spiegel wrote:
"This would mean that the activities and members of the militia in Germany would be treated as equal to the Kurdish PKK and the Islamic State. All activities of Hezbollah would be prohibited in Germany. For example, the flag of the Lebanese terror militia (green rifle on a yellow background) should no longer be shown."
An interior ministry spokesman subsequently denied the report and no decision was announced during or after the meeting of German interior ministers.
The idea of banning Hezbollah in its entirety was first proposed by the conservative party Alternative for Germany (AfD). In June 2019, the German parliament discussed, but ultimately rejected, the idea of outlawing Hezbollah. The AfD had called on the government to "examine whether the conditions exist for a ban on Hezbollah as one organization, and, if necessary, to issue such a prohibition and implement it immediately." Lawmakers from the ruling coalition said that they needed further to investigate the matter.
At the time, the author of the resolution, AfD MP Beatrix von Storch, said:
"Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. The Berlin government claims that you must distinguish between a legitimate political wing of Hezbollah and an illegitimate terrorist wing. This does not make sense to us, or to the voters.
"Hezbollah's goal is the destruction of Israel and the Jews, and we should not be offering a safe haven for them to hide in Germany and to finance from our territory their armed struggle in Lebanon against Israel."
The AfD abstained during the vote on the Bundestag resolution passed on December 19. Von Storch emphasized the importance of not only banning the entirety of Hezbollah in Germany, but also of dissolving its mosque associations and deporting all supporters from Germany. She said that the fact that the other parties, after a delay of six months, were now discussing a ban on Hezbollah activities in Germany was proof of the success of the AfD. Nevertheless, she said that the Bundestag's resolution falls short:
"A ban on activities alone is completely inadequate and inappropriate in the fight against a terrorist organization. We therefore call for a total ban on Hezbollah in Germany and the dissolution of its mosque associations. The members of Hezbollah in Germany, around 1,000 followers, must be expelled expeditiously on the basis of Section 53 of the Residence Act. This also corresponds to the requirement of the Bundestag's anti-Semitism resolution, which explicitly calls for measures to combat anti-Semitism, including an end to continued residency for offenders. If that does not apply to Hezbollah supporters, who want to 'gas the Jews' and destroy Israel, who will? We call on the federal government fully to implement the ban of Hezbollah before the next impending Al-Quds day [Jerusalem day]."
Von Storch was referring to the annual demonstrations, sponsored by Iran and supported by Hezbollah members across Germany, who, waving the Hezbollah flag, call for the destruction of Israel.
Others welcomed the anti-Hezbollah resolution as an important first step. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said that the Bundestag's resolution "is an important step in the international struggle against terrorism, particularly against terrorist organization Hezbollah and its patron Iran." He added:
"We welcome the important resolution adopted today by the German Bundestag, which calls Hezbollah for what it is: an-Iran sponsored terror organization, with no distinction between its military and political wings.
"Hezbollah threatens not only Israeli civilians, but also undermines Lebanese sovereignty and regional stability. We hope this resolution will encourage others in Europe to take similar action.
"The world must unite against Hezbollah, designate it a terrorist organization, and impose harsh sanctions against it in order to prevent the organization from carrying out terrorist activities on Iran's behalf."
Israel's Ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, in an interview with The Times of Israel, said:
"We welcome the important and significant resolution adopted today by the Bundestag, which relates to Hezbollah for what it is: a terrorist organization, with no distinction between its military and 'political' wings.
"Hezbollah is indoctrinated, trained and financed by Iran and poses a threat not only to Israeli civilians, but also undermines Lebanese sovereignty and regional stability. As the resolution indicates, it poses a direct threat to German and Israeli security interests."
"Foreign policy should reflect reality and the Bundestag's resolution is clearly a crucial step that we hope will encourage others to take similar action against Hezbollah."
The domestic spokesman for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Mathias Middelberg, said:
"It is unacceptable that Hezbollah is waging a terrorist fight against Israel in the Middle East, and that this is financed, among other things, by worldwide criminal activities. In view of Germany's special responsibility towards Israel, we therefore call on the federal government to ban all activities for Hezbollah in Germany. Violators must be punished consistently.
"In addition, the separation between a political and a military arm should be abandoned and Hezbollah as a whole should be placed on the EU terror list. This could freeze Hezbollah's funds and assets in Europe more extensively than before."
The European Leadership Network (ELNET), a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening Europe-Israel relations, said that the resolution is an "important milestone in safeguarding Jewish life in Germany."
The American ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, said that the American government was ready to assist Germany in its efforts against Hezbollah:
"We stand ready to support the government's implementation of a ban and will continue to assist in any efforts to deny the world's most well-armed terror group operating space in Germany. Today's vote is an acknowledgment of Hezbollah's destructive international terrorism, and the action needed to stop its activities throughout Europe."
Germany's Social Democratic Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, however, has refused to ban Hezbollah in its entirety. He recently repeated the German government's distinction between Hezbollah's legitimate and illegitimate activities in Germany:
"Lebanon's political reality is complicated. However, this must not prevent us from exhausting the means available to us in Germany under the rule of law in order to stand up to Hezbollah's criminal and terrorist activities."
In fact, during Maas' leadership of German foreign policy, the German government has become a leading proponent of anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations. In 2018, for instance, of 21 anti-Israel UN resolutions, Germany approved 16 and abstained on four others. In May 2016, Germany approved an especially disgraceful UN resolution, co-sponsored by the Arab group of states and the Palestinian delegation, that unjustly singled out Israel at the annual assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) as the world's only violator of "mental, physical and environmental health."
Germany's Ambassador to the United Nations, Christoph Heusgen, has been ranked by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center as one of the top ten global anti-Semites of 2019 due to his obsession with Israel at the UN.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center wrote:
"We listed Ambassador Heusgen's name on the top ten list of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents specifically because of his recent actions taken and words spoken at the United Nations. In defining anti-Semitism in the 21st century, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is guided by Natan Sharansky's 3 D's, which define when anti-Israel criticism crosses into anti-Semitism: delegitimization, double standard, and demonization."
Germany's largest newspaper, Bild, summed it up this way:
"It remains to be seen to what extent the German federal government will comply with the Bundestag's proposal and will actually 'exhaust all the resources of the rule of law' to stop Hezbollah's money laundering and terrorist financing in Germany."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.