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October 16, 2019 2:16 pm

German Politicians Accuse Right-Wing AfD Party of Encouraging Neo-Nazi Violence After Attempted Synagogue Massacre

avatar by Ben Cohen

A solidarity vigil outside the synagogue in Halle, Germany, targeted by a neo-Nazi extremist on Yom Kippur. Photo: Reuters / Hannibal Hanschke.

German politicians led by the country’s vice-chancellor on Wednesday sharpened their attacks upon the far-right “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) Party — the third-largest faction in the German federal parliament — in the wake of last week’s attempted massacre at a synagogue in Halle during Yom Kippur services.

Neo-Nazi gunman Stephan Balliet, 27, murdered two people outside the synagogue after he failed to shoot his way into the building where, at just after 12 p.m. on Oct. 9,  51 people were reported to have been worshiping. While no evidence has so far emerged that links Balliet personally with the AfD, politicians from all parties charged that the far-right party, which enjoyed significant gains in last September’s state elections, was willfully fueling an atmosphere that encouraged neo-Nazi violence and terrorism.

In an interview with German media on Wednesday, Olaf Schotz — Germany’s vice-chancellor and minister of finance — declared that the AfD “should not pretend that it had nothing to do with” the outrage in Halle.

“The AfD cannot deny its responsibility on this issue,” Schotz — who represents the left-wing SPD party in Germany’s present coalition government — argued. He accused the party of playing a major role in “creating a milieu that spreads far-right slogans not just on the internet, but in the federal parliament and the state parliaments as well.”

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Moreover, the reaction of some AfD politicians to the attempted massacre in Halle exacerbated the heavy criticism aimed in the party’s direction. Although the leaders of the AfD’s parliamentary faction — Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland —  denounced the attack in Halle as a “monstrous crime,” several other party figures openly dissented from that view during the past week, with one city councilor going as far as asserting that that the entire spectacle was a “false flag” operation.

In a Facebook post that has since been deleted, Taras Maygutiak — an AfD representative on the council of the city of Offenberg — claimed that the attack in Halle had been “staged” to influence the outcome of elections in the state of Thuringia on Oct. 27.

“I’m curious to see who staged this in Halle, time will tell, it stinks to high heaven,” Maygutiak wrote. “Why am I not surprised by a mess like this before the Thuringia election?”

Those comments were in keeping with the cynical, hostile tone adopted by other AfD politicians. On Tuesday, Roland Ulbrich — one of the AfD’s representatives in Saxony’s regional parliament — made remarks that echoed the Nazi-era separation of Jews from other Germans as he dismissed the Halle attack as “property damage.”

Writing on Facebook, Ulbrich insisted that “there wasn’t even an attempt to murder the visitors to the synagogue.”

He then asked, “What’s worse, a damaged synagogue door or two Germans killed?”  — a rhetorical question that was condemned by politicians and Jewish leaders for implying that Jews could not be Germans.

“Ulbrich, in his abominable statements, belittles antisemitic terrorism from the right as harmless damage to property,” Levi Salomon of the Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism (JFDA) told the Tagesspiegel news website. The same outlet then asked Ulbrich to explain why he had insinuated that those inside the synagogue were not Germans. “I do not know which nationalities were among the visitors to the service,” he responded.

Also in the firing line for his antics on social media this week was Stephan Brandner — one of the AfD’s 91 MPs in Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, and the chair of its Legal Committee. On Tuesday, Brandner shared a Twitter post that accused politicians who attended solidarity vigils against antisemitism of “lounging in front of synagogues.” In another post, Brandner referred mockingly to Michel Friedman — a former head of the Central Council of German Jews —  as “deutschen Michel” (“German Michel”).

Other parties represented on the Legal Committee said on Wednesday that they would collectively censure Brandner.

MP Katja Keul of the Green Party said that she had “condemned the antisemitic tweets of the committee chair on behalf of the other democratic groups on the Legal Committee.”

She added that Brandner had “long ago disqualified himself” from his present position as the committee’s chair. “If he had any sense of the civic decency that he claims for himself, he would resign,” Keul said.

As part of the pushback against far-right extremism in Germany, the liberal FDP party said on Tuesday that it was urging the government to fund a 20 million euro “emergency program against antisemitism.”

That call was part of a 13-point-plan presented by the FDP to the Bundestag aimed at countering the far-right’s ideological appeal — and centered on disarming its increasingly violent followers of their guns, grenades and other weapons.

Advocating the “total disarming of the far-right scene” in Germany, the FDP argued that tough action was needed against the illegal flow of weapons into Germany from the Balkan states and the former Soviet republics.

“German citizens need to be confident that violent right-wing extremists do not have access to weapons,” the party said.

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