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September 26, 2021 6:16 pm

Jewish Leader Urges Renewed Fight Against Extremism as German Exit Polls Show Tight Race for Merkel Successor

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avatar by Sharon Wrobel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressing a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Photo: Bernd von Jutrczenka/Reuters.

As Germany voted on the shape of its next government and on who will succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel after 16 years in office, the head of the Jewish community called for a stepped-up fight against right-wing populism and extremism.

According to Sunday’s first exit polls from Germany’s parliamentary elections, the center-left Social Democrats may have a slight edge over Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, leaving the race of the frontrunner too soon to call. Germany’s mail-in ballots, which are not included in the exit polls, may also swing the balance who will lead Germany’s next government. The country’s main far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which entered the Bundestag national parliament for the first time in 2017, is likely to have lost support.

“Today’s election is an expression of a vibrant democracy,” commented Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. “The anti-democratic forces have not received majorities and the AfD is on a downward trend. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the AfD’s presumably double-digit performance in the federal government and in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is a clear signal that the fight against right-wing populism and right-wing extremism must be stepped up.”

“It must remain the goal of all democrats to banish the AfD from the Bundestag and from all state parliaments,” he argued.

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Schuster lamented that in the election campaign, important social issues, including the fight against antisemitism, racism and right-wing extremism played a subordinate role.

“This makes it all the more important for the new federal government — regardless of its composition — to meet this challenge quickly. This also includes a more comprehensive fight against hate speech on the Internet. Strengthening the foundations of our democracy and stopping radicalization on the right is an urgent task of the new coalition government,” Schuster demanded.

Commenting on the first election projections Charlotte Knobloch, vice president of the European Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress, said: “Unfortunately, it is clear that a right-wing extremist party will continue to disrupt parliamentary operations in the Bundestag. That is not a good omen for the next four years, and it is bad news for democracy.”

“The next government must promote democratic cohesion so that nobody in Germany will be afraid to stand by his belief. The defensive democracy must become more defensive. Anyone who thinks that the status quo can be lived will be surprised,” added Knobloch, who previously served as president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

German Ambassador to Israel Susanne Wasum-Rainer said that although election results were still open-ended, “all possible future governing parties share commitment to Israel’s security and strong ties between our countries.”

During her 16-year leadership, Germany’s outgoing Chancellor Merkel has been acknowledged for her “solidarity” with Israel, her advocacy for religious freedom, and her commitment against antisemitism.

David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) thanked Merkel for her “inspiring 16-year leadership, unwavering defense of democracy, strong stance against antisemitism, ironclad commitment to Israel’s security and cherished friendship.”

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