It is often said that politics make strange bedfellows. This happens when some common link or goal between two groups is strong enough to overcome other factors on which they diverge. But one occasionally comes across developments that are surprising even if one is accustomed to such unexpected alliances, such as this report that the extreme right political party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has announced that it wishes to be seen as a viable alternative for German Jewish citizens.
For instance, party leader Alexander Gauland stated quite recently that “Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of birds in over 1000 years of successful German history.” Last year, leading AfD figure Björn Höcke called Berlin’s Holocaust memorial a “memorial of disgrace” and urged Germans to stop feeling guilty for Nazi crimes. Then there’s AfD politician Martin Hohmann, who just celebrated his return to Parliament after more than a decade’s absence following his expulsion from the mainstream conservative CDU party over anti-Semitic remarks.
Yet, on October 7, the AfD is expected to launch its first Jewish association, in a move that has triggered a fierce backlash among other Jewish organisations. The announcement comes as the AfD’s popularity is growing, with polls showing it is ahead of the centre-left Social Democrats as Germany’s second-most-popular party.
The controversial launch of the AfD’s Jewish association also comes after months of anti-Semitic incidents that have rattled German Jewish communities. Even though top AfD officials have publicly condemned the incidents, Jewish organisations have accused the far-right party of playing into the hands of anti-Semites.
In fact, there are apparently a fair number of Jewish supporters of the AfD in Germany.
Many Jewish communities in postwar Germany were formed by Russian immigrants who stayed behind after the Soviet Union was dismantled. Today, Germans with Russian origins are some of the AfD’s most loyal voters, said Jewish AfD MP Wolfgang Fuhl in an interview with public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk. His party has boasted that a significant number of its supporters are Jewish.
Even though such claims have not been backed up with data, Fuhl is far from being the only Jewish politician who has run for office with the support of the AfD. In the federal state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, four of its 38 parliamentary candidates last year were Jewish, and the party hopes to grow its Jewish base further, despite a fierce backlash from some Jewish groups.
This has caused some consternation among existing Jewish organizations.
“It is difficult to grasp why Jews would campaign actively for a right-wing party that refuses to take action against anti-Semitism and xenophobic hatred in its ranks,” Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee in Berlin told The Washington Post.
“The party has yet to censure those in its ranks, including politicians, who have made anti-Semitic statements and who propagate Holocaust revisionist views.”
Amid its surge in popularity, especially among younger voters, Jewish organisations warned about a novel target in its outreach campaigns: Jewish retirement homes.
“Don’t be fooled by the AfD’s anti-Muslim, inflammatory rhetoric,” the committee subsequently warned in a letter to its members.
What seems to be driving this union is a shared antipathy towards Muslim immigrants. It is the old “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” carried to a startling extreme.