Amid mounting international outcry over neo-Nazi violence within its borders, Germany has taken its first dramatic step and announced a ban on a right-wing extremist group.
Shortly before the ban was announced Friday, police began a nationwide crackdown on leaders of the group, the National Front, one of a number of explicitly anti-Semitic organizations in Germany.
German Jews, who have spoken out against the outbreak of violence, have reported an increased interest in immigration to Israel.
Applications for aliyah have soared sixfold, according to the Frankfurt representative of the Jewish Agency.
Judith Zamir said her office handled more than 200 applications for immigration to Israel over the past four weeks, up from fewer than 30 in a typical month. She said they came predominantly from Jews ages 18 to 35.
Many Jews are also investigating a move to the United States or other countries, according to a German television report.
But Ignatz Bubis, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said Jews had no reason to leave the country and only a small number were in fact doing so, according to news reports.
In moving against the National Front, police seized weapons and propaganda material from the homes of over 100 known activists in various parts of the country. The ban may be extended soon to another neo-Nazi group called the German Alternative, press reports said.
Bonn is also considering a move to strip neo-Nazis of the right to demonstrate, officials said. Government determination to demonstrate opposition to the tide of right-wing violence was reflected in a radio interview Sunday with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Germany must do everything to put “the right-wing rabble” in “their place and hit these culprits with the full force of the law,” said Kohl, whose government has been criticized for not cracking down on the neo-Nazis.
His admonition was backed up by a demonstration by 200,000 Germans in Hamburg, where right-wing arsonists last week killed three Turks in nearby Moelln.
The demonstration followed an attack by vandals on a Jewish memorial in Gottingen, in western Germany. Critics faulted police for releasing two young neo-Nazis, ages 23 and 21, after detaining them in connection with the attack.
Addressing the demonstration, author Gunther Grass charged the government with failure to protect foreigners in the country. He urged political parties to set aside the debate on curbing the influx of asylum-seekers and focus instead on protecting those who were there.
A high-profile government presence was provided by Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, who told Parliament last week that the latest wave of neo-Nazi attacks had a serious impact on Germany’s world standing.
Labor Minister Norbert Bluem and the Turkish envoy to Germany also took part in a memorial ceremony at the Al Aksa Mosque in Hamburg for the women and two girls killed in the firebombing at Moelln.
Bluem said Germany rejected both the old and the new Nazis and was committed to democracy. He urged the Turkish community to refrain from responding to violence with violence, and instead try to strengthen ties with its German neighbors.
A 25-year-old man from Guddo in northern Germany is being held in connection with the attack, a police spokesman said. Michael Peters is said to be a leader of a neo-Nazi group responsible for attacks on asylum seekers and other foreigners in several towns in Germany, including Moelln.