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October 25, 2018 8:01 am

Are German Jews Wrong to Embrace a Right-Wing Party?

avatar by Manfred Gerstenfeld

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AfD leader Alexander Gauland addresses the German far right party’s 2018 conference. Photo: Reuters/Michaela Rehle.

Jews fulfill many functions and roles in European societies. For many centuries, they served as scapegoats for majority populations. This led to antisemitism becoming an integral part of European culture. The Jews’ symbolic role of the quintessential stranger has, however, declined since the massive influx of Arabs and Africans.

Jews are also often early indicators of societal problems. Regular verbal and physical attacks on Jews by some Muslims have helped draw attention to several of the many problems brought into Europe by significant segments of these immigrant groups.

The supermarket murder of Jews by a Muslim in Paris in January 2015 made French Jews reflect on the idea of leaving their country. Then-French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said: “France will not be France without the Jews.” The underlying message was clear: if Jews increasingly leave France because they are threatened, a legitimizing factor of French democracy will disappear.

This legitimizing role of Jews is most important in Germany. Since the 1990s, German governments have let Jews from Russia immigrate into the country, even though these immigrants had no historical connection to it. That influx numbered around 200,000, which made them by far the largest group in terms of origin in German Jewry.

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The symbolic meaning of Jews living in Germany was evident. If Jews were increasingly present in the country, despite its horrendous past under the Nazi regime, it would be interpreted to mean that Germany has become a “normal” democracy. Sometimes this has led to proud declarations that Germany is the only European country with a growing Jewish population. But the membership of Germany’s organized Jewry is shrinking, and is now under 100,000.

Nowadays, on average, four antisemitic incidents per day are reported in Germany. And there are strong indications that the real figure is substantially higher.

A rather insignificant recent event seemed to perturb the supposed “normalcy” of Jewish existence in Germany. About 20 Jews created a Jewish section in the right-wing populist and anti-Islam AfD party. None of these people held positions in major Jewish organizations, but the Jewish community greatly overreacted. Seventeen Jewish organizations came out against this Jewish AfD group. That is tantamount to almost one Jewish organization for each of its members. The umbrella organization, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, called the AfD “racist” and “antisemitic.” That may be true for some leaders, but not for all, and certainly not for sizable parts of its voters.

Partly due to the overreaction of organized Jewry, the initial meeting of the small Jewish AfD group garnered major national media interest. It might have been quite adequate if the umbrella organization had issued a statement saying that a few individual Jews do not represent the community at large.

Since the September 2017 elections, the AfD is the third-largest party in the German parliament and thus the main opposition. It currently attracts about 15 percent of the voters in polls. The AfD is shunned by all other parties who accuse it of having racists and neo-Nazis in its midst.

The Jewish AfD group’s initiators invited Beatrix von Storch, the deputy chair of the party’s parliamentary faction, to their opening meeting. She said that for many Jews, Muslim antisemitism is a major issue. Von Storch added that for these people the AfD is a natural home. She also said that the AfD was open to Muslims.

If one analyzes the German reality, it is not the AfD that has created the greatest threat to the future of Jews in the country. This huge shadow over Germany has been caused by the mainstream parties, Christians, and socialists. Their joint governments have let in millions of immigrants without much selection in recent decades, the majority of whom are Muslim.

There is yet another indirect negative impact for Jews from the non-selective immigration and criminal acts by some of the immigrants: the extreme right-wing, the longest-lasting threat to Jews, has received a major new impetus.

Jews will continue to remain indicators of many important developments in Germany. Contemporary German society is still far from “normal.” And the impact of the major immigrant influx has prolonged that “abnormality” for many years to come.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank. His latest book is The War of a Million Cuts: The Struggle against the Delegitimization of Israel and the Jews, and the Growth of New Anti-Semitism.

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