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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Israelis pursue German citizenship
The shell of a bus after a bombing at the  Meggido junction
Many lives have been lost on both sides of the divide
Germany has seen a sharp increase in the number of applications for citizenship received from Israelis, a development put down to growing fears over security in the Middle East.

In the first two months of this year alone, nearly 500 Israelis applied for citizenship.

If the rate continues, the country could expect to process as many as 3,000 requests by the end of the year, an increase from the 1,751 received in 2001 - which was also a rise on the previous year.

"This has happened before when things reach crisis point in the region," Erwin Ganzer, spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry, told BBC News Online.

"The majority of those who have received citizenship have not in fact moved here. But it's clearly important to some people that they have somewhere secure, if need be, to escape to."

Anti-Semitism row

The Nazis revoked the German citizenship of most of the country's 600,000 Jews in 1941.

Juergen Moellemann
Moellemann: Criticising Israel is not tantamount to anti-Semitism
The new German constitution drawn up in 1949 enshrined the right of all those people - most of whom were killed in the Holocaust - and their descendents, to reclaim their citizenship.

Those wanting citizenship are asked to produce documents proving their heritage before they are issued with German papers.

The announcement that applications have increased coincides with a row over anti-Semitism in Germany, kicked off by the deputy leader of the country's Free Democratic Party (FDP), Juergen Moellemann.

Mr Moellemann's criticism of Israeli leader Ariel Sharon and the country's behaviour in the Middle East have been described by German Jewish leaders as the most anti-Semitic remarks to be heard since the Holocaust.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has also weighed into the debate, denouncing Mr Moellemann and warning that Germany's reputation abroad was at risk.

But many people, including opponents of Mr Moellemann, are angered that criticism of Israel is being portrayed as tantamount to anti-Semitism.

The row has prompted much debate as to whether Germans will ever be allowed to speak their mind on Israel without the Holocaust being mentioned.

See also:

17 Jun 02 | Middle East
02 Jun 02 | Europe
29 May 02 | Europe
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