The Situation in Germany Is Deteriorating for Jews — and Everyone
“The twelve years of national socialist rule was a speck of bird poop compared to the more than thousand years of Germany’s glorious past.”
This graphic statement was made by Alexander Gauland, the co-chairman of the German extreme right-wing AfD party, at an official party conference earlier this month.
A German government spokesman called Gauland’s remark shameful, and the statement also led to condemnations from a variety of politicians, media outlets, and others. It was criticized from within the AfD as well.
Gauland reacted by saying that he did not deny Germany’s responsibility for the crimes of the Nazis. He also remarked that his words expressed extreme repugnance for National Socialism, since he compared it to animal excrement.
Yet as so often happens, this issue was treated largely as an isolated incident rather than seen in a much wider context.
The impact of Holocaust-related traumas reemerges regularly in Germany in many different ways. Now Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “welcome policy” on immigration has added another recurring problem: the partly insolvable challenges that will result from Germany’s massive refugee influx.
Since September 2015, at least 1.3 million asylum seekers — mainly Muslims from countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan — have entered Germany. In the September 2017 elections, the AfD received 12.6% of the vote and became Germany’s third largest party. Without Merkel’s immigration policy, this right-wing anti-Islam party would probably have had difficulty passing the 5% parliamentary entrance threshold.
As a populist and nationalist party, the AfD promotes extreme national identity and rejects supranational Europeanism. Yet Gauland’s remark and the many negative reactions from his colleagues show that the party knows it must tread carefully.
Still, popular support for the AfD continues to increase. A recent poll gave it 16% of voters’ support, close to that of the country’s declining second party the SPD socialists. German acquaintances keep telling me that numerous people in the mainstream intend to vote for the AfD. Part of the reason is that they see no other alternative to express their wish to stop the inflow of refugees.
Although Merkel has walked back her refugee policy somewhat, many Germans remain dissatisfied, partly because the media publicity about murders and other major crimes committed by Middle Eastern immigrants is widespread.
The stable Germany of recent decades is changing and Germany is becoming a country in flux. Domestic and international problems have piled up rapidly. The government parties no longer have a majority in the polls. The national refugee agency BAMF is under scrutiny for a major scandal; the head of the agency has been fired. There are also important policy and personal tensions between the two Christian parties — Merkel’s CDU and the Bavarian CSU.
When it comes to Germany’s foreign relations, the situation is deteriorating as well.
In Italy, a populist government wants to transgress the European Union’s financial rules. The United Kingdom is negotiating its departure from the EU. Donald Trump’s decision to cancel the nuclear agreement with Iran has led Tehran to threaten to abandon its commitments under the deal unless the Europeans compensate it for American sanctions. The newly imposed US tariffs on steel and aluminum may soon be followed by tariffs on cars, which will hit Germany hard. Trump also has so little respect for Germany that he has even stated that the country’s citizens don’t support the government on the immigration issue.
A strong Germany is crucial for Israel’s position in Europe. Internal tensions can become bad for the country’s Jews. All one can conclude is that developments in Germany should be watched closely by both Israel and local Jewish organizations.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank.