Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Uphill Struggle to Break German Ties with Hamas

NewsThe Uphill Struggle to Break German Ties with Hamas

Front organizations maintained by illegal Islamist organizations are continuing to conduct business-as-usual in a number of European countries, despite the efforts of counter Islamist campaigners. Recent events in Germany, involving Focus on Western Islamism (FWI) reporters demonstrate the effectiveness of public pressure on bodies enabling these activities. Much, however, remains to be done.

Frank Nopper, mayor of Stuttgart, Germany.

The mayor of Stuttgart recently deleted references to a pro-Hamas charity that raises money for a designated terrorist organization from the municipality’s website. That’s good news, but the next step is to stop the organization from conducting its banking in the city. It’s not a slam dunk, given the difficulties in getting Stuttgart Mayor Frank Nopper to move against the organization in question, the Palästinakomitee Stuttgart.

Nopper didn’t remove the entry highlighting Palästinakomitee Stuttgart from his city’s website because it provides funds to terror-supporters in Gaza. Instead, he made the decision in response to the threat of a lawsuit from an Israeli legal organization and numerous journalistic inquiries from FWI.

“October 7 wasn’t enough for the mayor of Stuttgart to act?” asked Rabbi Abraham Cooper, director of global action at the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. “Hamas suicide bombings? Massive missile attacks? Its genocidal antisemitic founding document wasn’t enough? Disgusting!”

The decision was made public when Susanne Kaufmann, a spokeswoman for Nopper, told FWI in an email dated December 28 that “Based on a careful examination of current developments, the state capital Stuttgart has decided to no longer list the Palästinakomitee Stuttgart as a cultural association on the city’s homepage.”

It was a change of policy from mid-November when Kaufmann invoked bogus legal excuses after this reporter contacted the mayor about Stuttgart enabling material support for jihadi terrorists on its website.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, a lawyer who runs the Israel Law Center, which specializes in combating terror finance, told FWI “It is outrageous that the Stuttgart Palestine Committee, a Hamas front organization, would be allowed by the City of Stuttgart to post its information on its homepage. They are plainly soliciting funds for the Islamic terrorist groups in Gaza.”

October 7 wasn’t enough for the mayor of Stuttgart to act?

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Simon Wiesenthal Center

Darshan-Leitner added that “It’s shocking that only two months after the brutal murder of German citizen, Shani Louk, by Hamas terrorists from Gaza, that Stuttgart’s Mayor was so resistant to shutting down this source of funding to her murderers. Shani’s blood calls out from the ground for justice.”

The controversy surrounding Stuttgart’s aid to the pro-Hamas group came to a head in December when Israeli diplomats pushed Nopper to remove pro-Hamas propaganda from the taxpayer-funded city website. Israeli officials acted after this reporter forwarded articles and background information to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israeli embassy in Berlin.

The German city of Bremen was much quicker to act, expunging straight away contact information for a pro-Hamas group, Bremer Friedensforum, from its municipal website after FWI contacted officials about the organization’s agenda in late October.

While the Palästinakomitee Stuttgart can no longer count on Stuttgart municipal officials to promote its work, it apparently still conducts its banking in the city, in contravention of German law. FWI has learned that Stuttgart-based bank, Landesbank Baden-Württemberg (LBBW), provides an account to the PCS. (Stuttgart is the capital of the German state Baden-Württemberg.)

It’s not something that bank officials are eager to talk about. Bernd Wagner, a spokesman for the LBBW, told FWI “At the outset, we would like to make it clear that we strongly condemn Hamas’s terrorist attack on Israel. As a German company, we take a clear stance against any form of hatred and antisemitism.” Wagner added, “Please understand that LBBW is not allowed to and cannot provide any information about individual customer relationships due to banking secrecy in Germany.”

Public officials are not more forthcoming. A spokesperson for Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community told FWI that “It is the responsibility of the competent security authorities and ultimately the judiciary to answer this question. The Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community cannot comment on this.”

When FWI asked the German federal ministry of finance for a response about LBBW’s alleged enabling of Hamas, a spokesperson said “Please understand though that we cannot comment on individual cases. If you have questions regarding the LBBW, please contact them directly.”

FWI turned to the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) for answers. A BaFin spokesman told FWI “BaFin expects the institutions it supervises to comply with the law. … BaFin investigates and takes supervisory action within the scope of its powers if the institutions it supervises violate legal requirements.”

According to the BaFin spokesman, “Irrespective of this, BaFin maintains a regular and ad hoc dialogue with the government agencies involved in the prevention of terrorism and the fight against its financing. This also applies to financial support for Hamas and its sub-groups, which are designated as a terrorist organisation.”

Palästinakomitee Stuttgart did not respond to numerous inquiries from FWI.

The State of Baden-Württemberg and Stuttgart’s tolerance for the LBBW is an embarrassment for the state and municipal governments because they own a substantial part of the LBBW. Rachel Ehrenfeld, a counter-terrorism expert, told FWI that “It is disturbing that the appeals to the mayor, the state and the German government did not result in closing the Hamas and the BDS accounts, as their laws dictate. Apparently, they don’t wish to upset Turkey, Iran, and Qatar, the leading sponsors of Hamas.”

All of this helps explain why the state of Baden-Württemeberg is a stronghold for pro-Islamist organizations and movements. According a recent domestic intelligence agency report, there are currently 70 active Hezbollah operatives in Baden-Württemberg. After massive Israeli and American pressure on Berlin, Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community outlawed all Hezbollah activities in 2020. Despite the ban of Hezbollah on paper, the Baden-Württemberg Green party governor Winfried Kretschmann—a former Maoist—has not clamped down on Hezbollah’s activities. The failure of LBBW—and its public owners—to pull the plug on the Palästinakomitee Stuttgart account is emblematic of a larger Islamist problem in the southwestern German state.

Benjamin Weinthal is a Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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