Why you should care
Germany’s biggest Jewish groups view the Alternative for Germany as anti-Semitic. But some Jews are now attracted to it.
It is the only political party in Germany that declares “Jew hatred” as “inseparable” from Islam, and says out loud that Islamic religious dogma is “incompatible with the German constitution.” That is Dimitri Schulz’s view of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). A Jew who was born in the Soviet Union and came to Germany with his parents as a small child, Schulz is one of a small band of Jewish AfD supporters who see the party as a bulwark against the Islamic threat to Europe.
Schulz has been an AfD member for the past four years. On Saturday he will go a step further, launching a group called “Jews for the AfD” — the only party, he says, that is 100 percent committed to defending Germany’s traditional Judeo-Christian values. The chapter could end up with as many as 1,400 members, its founders predict.
Party leaders see the launch as a sign of the AfD’s increasing appeal to mainstream conservatives, regardless of their religious or ethnic identity. It comes with the AfD riding high in the polls: Some put it as Germany’s second-most popular party, ahead of the left-of-center Social Democrats and behind only Angela Merkel’s CDU.
[AfD leaders] didn’t shy away from taking to the streets with people who showed the Hitler salute.
German Jewish alliance’s statement on the AfD’s leaders
But Schulz’s initiative is contentious. Jewish leaders say Jews should not be making common cause with an organization that itself has anti-Semitic tendencies. People such as Schulz “are being used by the AfD to give it a veneer of respectability,” says Juri Goldstein, a lawyer and community leader in the east German state of Thuringia. “It doesn’t do Jews in Germany any good to be associated with this party.”
Earlier this month, an alliance of Germany’s biggest Jewish organizations put out a joint declaration describing the AfD as a “danger to Jewish life in Germany.” The party is “anti-democratic, inhuman and, to a large extent, right-wing radical,” it said.
The groups noted that AfD leaders had marched alongside neo-Nazis and skinheads in the recent protests in Chemnitz, which were triggered by the death of a local man, allegedly at the hands of Arab asylum seekers in the east German city. “They didn’t shy away from taking to the streets with people who showed the Hitler salute,” the statement said.
The launch of Jews for the AfD comes at a time of rising concern over the challenges Germany faces in integrating the more than a million refugees — many from Muslim countries such as Syria and Afghanistan — who have entered the country since 2015.
The fear among conservatives is that the newcomers will prove impervious to values such as tolerance of minorities, respect for the rule of law and gender equality. German Jews have worried about the openly anti-Semitic views of some refugees. Recently, a yarmulke-wearing Israeli was whipped by a Palestinian immigrant in broad daylight on the streets of Berlin.
Jews in other European countries have also sounded the alarm on the threats to modern, liberal societies posed by Muslim immigration. In his 2013 book L’Identité malheureuse, the French neo-conservative philosopher Alain Finkielkraut accused European societies of caving into Islamists in the name of tolerance and liberalism.
But critics of the AfD say it is no place for Jews. They identify the party with people such as Björn Höcke, a hard-line nationalist long suspected of links with Germany’s neo-Nazi movement. In a notorious speech last year, Höcke, who leads the party in Thuringia, sparked outrage by referring to the Holocaust memorial in central Berlin as a “monument of shame.”
“As long as Höcke is in the AfD, I as a Jew can’t have anything to do with them,” says Goldstein. “People like him have the party firmly under their control.”
Since its inception, he says, the AfD has shown a tendency to “relativize the Shoah,” referring to the Hebrew term for the Holocaust. Party functionaries routinely compare the Holocaust to the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945. Last June, AfD leader Alexander Gauland said Hitler and the Nazis were “just a piece of bird shit” in more than a thousand years of German history.
Such views have not deterred Wolfgang Fuhl, a Jew from the southern state of Baden-Württemberg who is one of the founders of the new pro-AfD Jewish group. He was drawn to the party by its opposition to the Greek bailouts and commitment to curbing immigration. And while Fuhl acknowledges that some AfD members might have problems with Jews, “that doesn’t mean the whole, 30,000-member party is anti-Semitic.”
The AfD’s new Jewish chapter would, Fuhl says, focus on “preserving Jewish life in Germany and Europe,” campaigning for fairer media coverage of Israel and pushing for Germany “to withdraw from international organizations that have long been infiltrated by Islamists.” The “Merkel regime” should be “forced to abandon its support for hatred and incitement,” he said.
Still, many German Jews remain puzzled by Fuhl’s enthusiasm for the AfD. “It’s completely incomprehensible how Jews can justify their membership of such a party to themselves,” says Charlotte Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor and head of the Munich Jewish community. Anti-Semites in the AfD, she says, feel “like pigs in clover.”
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