German army to employ rabbi for first time in a century

The German army will employ a rabbi as religious counsellor for the first time in a century, a firm signal that Jewish life is an integral part of the country, Germany's Defence Minister said Wednesday.

German army to employ rabbi for first time in a century
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer with a group of soldiers in Iraq this year. Photo: DPA

Priests and pastors are already providing religious services to the estimated 94,000 Christians in the military.

But the equivalent has not been available to Jewish soldiers, who number around 300.

“Today at the cabinet meeting, we sent an important signal to our Jewish soldiers,” Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Twitter.

“After about 100 years, we will install a Jewish military rabbi in the #Bundeswehr (German army) again. A clear commitment – Jewish life is self-evident in our country.”

Religious counsellors in the army offer advice on ethical issues and accompany soldiers as they carry out training or further education.

Plans are also afoot to put in place a religious counsellor for the 3,000 Muslim soldiers, although talks have been held up because there is no central coordinating institution representing the community.

Germany's armed forces have over the years repeatedly come under fire over suspicions that some members are far right-leaning.

READ ALSO: 'Unacceptable mistake': German army apologizes for Nazi uniform Instagram post

Last year, then Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen ordered the military to cleanse itself of all links to the wartime Wehrmacht, after learning that steel helmets and memorabilia of the Nazi-era army were openly displayed at one of its barracks.

Most recently, Kramp-Karrenbauer vowed to take decisive action against cases of radicalism in the army, after it emerged that the Bundeswehr was to suspend a member of its elite force on suspicion of far-right extremism.

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Al-Azhar university calls for Sweden boycott over Koran burning

The Sunni Muslim world's most prestigious educational institution, Al-Azhar in Egypt, has called for the boycott of Swedish and Dutch products after far-right activists destroyed Korans in those countries.

Al-Azhar university calls for Sweden boycott over Koran burning

Al-Azhar, in a statement issued on Wednesday, called on “Muslims to boycott Dutch and Swedish products”.

It also urged “an appropriate response from the governments of these two countries” which it charged were “protecting despicable and barbaric crimes in the name of ‘freedom of expression'”.

Swedish-Danish far-right politician Rasmus Paludan on Saturday set fire to a copy of the Muslim holy book in front of Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm, raising tensions as Sweden courts Ankara over its bid to join Nato.


The following day, Edwin Wagensveld, who heads the Dutch chapter of the German anti-Islam group Pegida, tore pages out of the Koran during a one-man protest outside parliament.

Images on social media also showed him walking on the torn pages of the holy book.

The desecration of the Koran sparked strong protests from Ankara and furious demonstrations in several capitals of the Muslim world including in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry “strongly condemned” the Koran burning, expressing “deep concern at the recurrence of such events and the recent Islamophobic escalation in a certain number of European countries”.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson condemned Paludan’s actions as “deeply disrespectful”, while the United States called it “repugnant”.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday said the burning was the work of “a provocateur” who “may have deliberately sought to put distance between two close partners of ours – Turkey and Sweden”.

On Tuesday, Turkey postponed Nato accession talks with Sweden and Finland, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Stockholm for allowing weekend protests that included the burning of the Koran.