Rise of Far-Right Party Worries German Jews and Israel
JNS.org – The rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the country’s recent election has been described as a “political earthquake.” Meanwhile, many Jewish leaders’ immediate reaction was to express concern about the AfD’s views.
But what are the broader implications of the party’s electoral showing for German Jews and for Israel?
In late September, the AfD won 12.6 percent of the public vote, the first time that a German far-right party won seats in the country’s Bundestag legislature in decades. Chancellor Angela Merkel, head of the center-right Christian Democratic Union party, retained her nation’s leadership for a fourth term.
The AfD — founded in 2013, largely to protest the issue of bailouts for financially struggling European Union (EU) member states and concerns about immigration to Europe — has adopted an increasingly hard line against NATO, the EU and the US, as well as against immigration and Islamic terrorism.
If the AfD influences the German government to tighten immigration laws, some Jews might feel relieved. “Germany’s Jewish community [is] worried about the influx of mainly Muslim immigrants,” many of whom are hostile to Jews and Israel, said Konstanty Gebert, a prominent Polish Jewish activist, journalist and expert from the European Council on Foreign Relations.
On the other hand, if Germany becomes more unwelcoming to non-ethnic Germans of any type, this may concern Jews.
Some AfD politicians have already made blatant antisemitic remarks. In 2016, AfD politician Wolfgang Gedeon claimed that Holocaust denial was a legitimate opinion. Gedeon has called the infamous antisemitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a “brilliant concept of domination.”
Another AfD politician, Björn Höcke, has said in reference to the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, that “Germans are the only people in the world who plant a monument of shame in the heart of the capital.”
AfD politician Nicolaus Fest recently defended his party against accusations of antisemitism, telling i24 News that, “[t]he AfD is mostly concerned about imported terrorism and imported antisemitism. I think most Jews should vote for us because the imported antisemitism is mostly a Muslim problem.”
Many Jews disagree.
Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council for Jews in Germany, told JNS.org that “the entry of the AfD into the German Bundestag is really worrying for our whole country and for the Jewish community.”
“Currently, the AfD is focused on Muslims,” he said. “But their agitation against Muslims can easily change into propaganda against Jews, if it seems politically opportune to do so. So we will follow any further developments of this party closely. But I am convinced that it is possible to counter the AfD and to show its true face in democratic competition.”
Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Ramer Institute in Berlin, told JNS.org that the “hallmarks of post-WWII German democracy, including tolerance and inclusiveness, are threatened by the rise of a far right-wing group. There is considerable danger that once the lid is opened on a Pandora’s box of antisemitic stereotypes, age-old tropes will spread and multiply.”
Schuster said that the AfD “isn’t an extreme right-wing party, but a right-wing populist party which tolerates members with extreme right-wing views.”
Benjamin Weinthal, a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explained that the AfD is not a neo-Nazi party in the tradition of Germany’s National Democratic Party; he says that its members include leaders such as Alice Weidel, who is openly gay. On the other hand, he noted, some AfD members do glorify Nazism.
“Despite assurances by AfD leaders that their policies will not harm Jewish life, the climate of hostility and hatred engendered by AfD politicians does not portend well for the security of the Jewish community and other minority groups,” Berger said.
Gebert said that he does not believe that it is possible for Jews to “trust the extreme right to stop at what is only necessary for the fight against [Islamic] terrorism” and not move on to xenophobia and antisemitism.
A recent poll commissioned by the “Initiative of January 27,” a group promoting Germany-Israel relations, showed that most AfD politicians support Israeli security and Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Yet after the election, AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland questioned why the Jewish state’s existence should remain a German national interest.
“At no cost should a German government be provoked into an unnecessary debate about the importance of Germany’s relations with Israel,” Berger said. “The credibility of Germany’s post-war democratic government is at stake.”
While criticism of the right-wing AfD might be understandable given some of its members’ remarks, there is also a notable “blind spot” when it comes to the political left in Germany, Weinthal warned.
Following the latest cote, the largest opposition party in Germany’s parliament is left-wing Die Linke. Christine Buchholz, a member of parliament from the party, has referred to the terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah as “legitimate resistance” forces operating against Israel. Other party members have expressed support for the BDS movement, and some have even called for the elimination of the state of Israel.
Die Linke’s views are “not something that mainstream publications” in Germany are covering with the same intensity as AfD, “although both parties are highly dangerous for Israel and Jews living in Germany,” Weinthal said.
Regarding the AfD, Weinthal does not believe that for Jews, trying to coexist or work with such a party can guarantee their security in Germany. German Jews should self-organize and arm themselves as protection against Islamic terrorism, Weinthal said, but, ultimately, immigrating to Israel is the only move to truly “advance German Jewish security.”
Jews who remain in Germany, “must tread a fine line between legitimate security concerns and [living in a] country that might become more xenophobic.”