Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

AfD and the Jewish community

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Shmuel Levin

The big news of Germany's recent election is the rise of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) with 12.6% of the vote. AfD is regularly described as far-right and has campaigned strongly on an anti-immigrant and anti-Islam platform. Despite some overtures by AfD leaders towards the Jewish community, Jewish community leaders both inside and outside of the country have sounded the alarm.

A statement from Dr Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said: "Unfortunately, our worst fears have come true: a party that tolerates far-right views in its ranks and incites hate against minorities in our country is today not only in almost all state parliaments but also represented in the Bundestag." Schuster also called on other German political parties to dissociate themselves from AfD.

Similarly, the European Jewish Congress has urged the other German political parties to "ensure that the AfD has no representation in the coming governing coalition". These sentiments were also echoed by Ronald Lauder, president of the New York-based World Jewish Congress. Lauder stated that "It is abhorrent that the AfD party, a disgraceful reactionary movement which recalls the worst of Germany's past and should be outlawed, now has the ability within the German parliament to promote its vile platform."

The AfD's history of antisemitism

The Jewish community can point to some solid reasons for their concern over AfD.

In 2016, a state-level AfD member of parliament played down the Holocaust as a "certain shameful deed" and suggested that Holocaust denial in Germany was legitimate. In response, 12 AfD representatives resigned from the party after they failed to get a two-thirds majority to force his resignation.

Additionally, Dirk Hoffmann, a former AfD executive, once wrote an article alleging that Zyklon B, the gas used by Nazis to murder Jews in mass-extermination camps, was used to protect lives and that not a single Jew was killed by it. Hoffman subsequently resigned voluntarily to prevent harm to the party.

Another AfD executive equated Israel's actions to the Holocaust and was subsequently elected to the state parliament of Saxony-Anhalt. As Jan Riebe of the counter-extremism foundation the Amadeu Antonio Foundation argued at the time: "Sometimes the party takes a clear stance when anti-Semitism arises from within, but the AfD often does not say anything. The AfD has not taken a clear stance against anti-Semitism". Unlike other major political parties in Germany, the AfD's manifesto also makes no mention of fighting anti-Semitism or supporting Israel.

According to Riebe, "familiar anti-Semitic stereotypes can repeatedly be found within the AfD". For example, "it is also popular within the AfD to blame Jews, in general or as individuals, for migration to Europe - i.e., the refugees who come to Europe. It is said that this is a Jewish plan." Concerningly, a leaked AfD strategy document also states that AfD members "should not shy away from diligently planned provocations".

More recently, AfD politicians have appeared to champion Germany's role in World War Two. Leading AfD politician Alexander Gauland stated in the run up to the election that Germans "have the right to be proud of the achievements of the German soldiers in two world wars" and appeared to compare Hitler to Churchill, Nelson and Napoleon.

Elsewhere, Björn Höcke, who leads the party in the eastern state of Thuringia, called for a "180-degree turn" from the tradition of remembering and atoning for the Nazi era and described the Holocaust memorial in Berlin as a "monument of shame".

Israel and the AfD

Gauland has also questioned Germany's relationship with Israel. Gauland argued that supporting Israel should not be considered part of Germany's national interest on the grounds that this would require Germany to send soldiers to Israel's defence. In fact, however, Germany's constitution makes it extremely difficult to send German troops anywhere in the world and there is no reason to think that Israel's Defence Forces would ever seek direct support from German soldiers.

For its part, Israeli officials have remained relatively silent. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's initial response to the election results was to congratulate German Chancellor Angela Merkel without commenting on the AfD. However, Netanyahu did address the result indirectly in a statement expressing concern "at increasing anti-Semitism in recent years among political elements on the right and left in Germany, and among Islamists there".

According to Efraim Zuroff, a prominent Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem, Netanyahu sees Israel "in a dilemma in relation to certain right-wing populist parties which have sympathies for Israel but also have anti-Semitic roots." Notwithstanding the above, polling released by a group promoting Israel-Germany relations demonstrates that "most AfD politicians profess to care deeply about Israel's security, support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, reject unilaterally recognizing a Palestinian state, and generally support a stronger relationship between Jerusalem and Berlin". AfD leaders have also stated that the Jewish community has nothing to fear from AfD and offered to meet with Jewish community leaders.

However, other Israeli leaders have spoken out more strongly against AfD. Former Israeli Labour party leader Amir Peretz called it "a dark day for German democracy with the entry into the Bundestag of a racist and anti-Semitic party". Tzipi Livni, who served in the past as foreign minister and justice minister, called on moderates around the world to unite against "the rise of extreme right-wing neo-Nazi parties".

In Israel, Holocaust survivors have described their reactions to the news as a painful reminder of past trauma.

Only time will tell whether the AfD is a temporary phenomenon or a dangerous new part of Germany's political scene. But, as Israel's Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked stated, it can only be "hoped that the German people learn carefully the history of Germany and remember the Holocaust and all the... reasons that led to this tragedy.


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