Amid crisis, Berlin and Jerusalem urged to allow dual citizenship

In light of the current crisis in German-Israeli relations, parliamentarians from the two countries have called on their respective governments to change immigration laws to allow for dual citizenship.

“As it stands, Israelis who have no biographical connection to Germany must relinquish their Israeli citizenship when becoming a German citizen,” MK Nahman Shai (Labor) and German MP Volker Beck (Greens) wrote in a joint letter this week to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“We ask you to join us in our plea and to advocate a comprehensive introduction of dual citizenship between Israel and Germany as an important facet of strengthening German-Israeli relations and the ties between both countries and their people,” the parliamentarians wrote.

Except for a few exceptions, Germany does not allow its citizens to assume a second nationality when they move abroad. In addition, Israelis who want to become German but do not have a biographical connection with Germany must renounce their Israeli citizenship before becoming naturalized by Berlin.

Similarly, Israel’s 1952 Nationality Law would have to be amended to allow non-Jewish Germans to retain their citizenship when becoming Israelis.

Specifically, the two lawmakers — who head the Israel-Germany friendship associations in the Knesset and the Bundestag, respectively, urged Berlin to amend section 12 (2) of the German Nationality Act to include Israel to the list of countries for which an exception is made.

Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai attends a committee meeting in the Knesset, April 13, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Currently, citizens of European Union states and Switzerland are exempt from renouncing their nationality when assuming German citizenship.

In their letter, Shai and Beck also call for Israel to be added to this list. They also propose changes to paragraphs 5 to 8 of Israel’s 1952 Nationality Law. Paragraph 5a, for instance, says that a foreign national can assume Israeli citizenship only after he or she “has renounced his nationality or has proved that he will cease to be a foreign national upon becoming an Israel national.” This rule does not apply to Jews, who are eligible for Israeli citizenship under the 1950 Law of Return.

The fact that Germany does allow dual citizenship affects mostly non-Jewish Germans (or German converts to Judaism) who immigrate to Israel and Israelis who want to live in Berlin. However, German Jews who were eligible for Israeli citizenship by birth — by virtue of the Law of Return — generally do not face problems from German authorities when obtaining Israeli passports.

“Israel and Germany share a special relationship. The basis of this is Germany’s historical responsibility towards Israel as a result of the Shoah [Holocaust] and the mass crimes perpetrated against Jews by Germans. But also beyond this, Israel as a Jewish, democratic state is a partner and friend to Germany across many levels,” Shai and Beck wrote in their letter.

“The historical responsibility of Germany also includes the obligation to honor the survivors of the Shoa and their descendants and to enable historical and individual justice in recognition of their life stories and their suffering.”

Many Israelis have family ties to Germany due to “displacement, escape and migration by German Jews to Mandatory Palestine and the State of Israel,” they added. “In addition, Jews who had or have no family relationship with Germany are also part of the frequent migratory movements between the two countries.”

In this photo taken Tuesday, October 14, 2014, Israelis attend a gathering encouraging others to immigrate to Berlin in Tel Aviv, Israel. (photo credit: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

There are tens of thousands of Israelis who live in Germany as well as many non-Jewish Germans who reside in Israel, they said, stressing the special connection between the two countries. In recent years, Berlin has become a popular destination for Israelis moving abroad.

Their letter makes no mention of the current political tensions between Jerusalem and Berlin — which culminated last month when Netanyahu snubbed German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel over his insistence to meet with a group critical of Israeli soldiers.

However, Beck said the crisis was a perfect opportunity to advance the aforementioned desired changes to both countries’ law books.

German politician Volker Beck. (CC BY-SA Mathias Schindler/Wikipedia)

The “shattered porcelain in German-Israeli relations… must now be cemented again with concrete cooperation projects. Here, both governments are called upon to approach each other,” Beck told The Times of Israel. “The friendship between the people in Germany and Israel can not and will not be permanently damaged by this éclat. However, we must now work on this actively.”

Accepting dual nationality would emphasize the special bilateral relations, “and would also fulfill them with meaning and life,” Beck said.

Relations between Berlin and Jerusalem have been frosty for years. Earlier this year, Merkel postponed joint Israeli-German government consultations originally planned for May 10, citing scheduling difficulties ahead of national elections in September.

However, she did find time to host Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas last month.

In private conversations, German and Israeli officials acknowledged that Merkel’s cancellation was due to her frustration over Israeli legislation to retroactively authorize illegal West Bank outposts.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands after a press conference in Berlin, on March 24, 2017. (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)

The latest crisis started when Netanyahu’s office presented Gabriel with an ultimatum ahead of his first visit to Israel as foreign minister — either cancel a planned meeting with Breaking the Silence, a leftist NGO that documents alleged human rights abuses by Israel’s army in the Palestinian territories, or be disinvited for a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Gabriel’s insistence on the meeting and Netanyahu’s subsequent cancellation of the planned sitdown dominated the headlines for days in both countries.

Early next week, Germany’s new president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, is due in Israel. It is currently unclear whether he will meet with Breaking the Silence, a group he has met in his previous position as foreign minister.


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