BERLIN (Reuters) - The German cabinet on Wednesday approved measures to fight right-wing political violence, including tougher rules on gun ownership and stricter monitoring of hate speech online, responding to a rise in hate crime by militant extremists.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has been under pressure to act after the killing of a pro-immigration politician in June and an attack on a synagogue and a kebab shop in Halle by an anti-Semitic gunman earlier this month, which left two dead.
Both crimes were carried out by right-wing militants, who were active on online platforms used by extremists to spread racist propaganda and make threats against politicians.
The new rules oblige online platforms and social media to inform security agencies and police about hate content.
If authorities suspect that crimes such as incitement have been committed the platforms are required to disclose the offender’s IP address.
The government also wants to make it illegal to sell guns to members of extremist groups monitored by security agencies.
Other measures include providing more financial support to deradicalization programs and groups that foster democracy and fight anti-Semitism.
The Jewish community welcomed the plan but said focusing on right-wing anti-Semitism won’t end violence against Jews in a country still coming to terms with its Nazi past and which is witnessing the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party which won almost a quarter of the vote in a regional election in the eastern state of Thuringia last Sunday.
“Anti-Semitism comes from right-wing extremists, left-wing extremists, Islamists and from within German society,” said Sigmount Koenigsberg, of the Jewish community in Berlin.
He added: “Because anti-Semitism is so wide-ranging, we need a more comprehensive strategy. No one is born anti-Semitic. The road to anti-Semitism is long. So prevention is crucial.”
The government has said around 90% of the 1,800 incidents recorded against Jews last year were committed by individuals espousing far-right views.
“Right-wing extremism, as well as Islamist terrorism, is today one of the biggest security threats facing Germany,” said Andrea Lindholz, head of the home affairs committee in the Bundestag lower house. “The main challenge is the fight against the boundless hate on the internet. The internet should not remain in a legal vacuum.”
Germany two years ago introduced laws allowing fines of up to 50 million euros ($55.57 million) on social media sites that fail to remove hate messages promptly. The new rules prompted Facebook to delete thousands of posts deemed as hate speech.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency estimates there are around 24,100 “right wing extremists” in Germany, about half of whom are potentially violent.
Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Alexandra Hudson