BERLIN (JTA) — Electoral gains by Germany’s strongest far-right party has Jews and Muslims here worried.
Winning 23.4 percent of the vote in Sunday’s parliamentary election, the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany, or AfD party — propelled by male voters and those under the age of 60 — is now the second strongest party in the former east German state of Thuringia.
“Something has fundamentally gone off the rails in our political system,” former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, told reporters on Sunday.
AfD politicians have “trivialized the Nazi era, [expressed] open nationalism and fomented hatred against minorities, including the Jewish community,” Knobloch said, accusing the party of “preparing the ground for exclusion and right-wing extremist violence.”
AfD has also finished second in parliamentary elections this year in the states of Saxony and in Brandenburg. Some pundits suggest AfD is grabbing a protest vote against mainstream politics, while others see a rise in populism, in part driven by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal approach to migration.
Some have blamed anti-migrant, nationalistic rhetoric for the Yom Kippur attack by a neo-Nazi on the synagogue in Halle, in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. Two people on the street were killed.
In the election, AfD finished behind the Left Party and surpassed the mainstream party of Merkel, the Christian Democratic Union. The Christian Democrats are said to be considering creating a coalition with the Left Party in order to block the far-right party from power.
In general, mainstream parties have sworn off any coalitions with AfD.
Aiman Mazyek, head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, in a tweet said that so many voters supporting “a right-wing radical party … is much worse than merely a warning sign.”
The executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, Christoph Heubner, said in a statement that Holocaust survivors see AfD’s climb up the political ladder as “a renewed signal of terror, which gives rise to fears that right-wing extremist attitudes and tendencies in Germany will continue to consolidate.”
Meanwhile, a newly released study shows an increase in open anti-Semitism in Germany.
Felix Klein, Germany’s commissioner on fighting anti-Semitism, said that while anti-Semitism was present previously, people are now expressing it more openly. He accused AfD of contributing to the problem.
In 2018, the Central Council and numerous other German Jewish organizations were part of a joint statement titled “AfD — not an alternative for Jews” after a small group of supporters called themselves Jews for the AfD.
“The AfD has been trying for some time to score points with its alleged solidarity with the State of Israel and its alleged concern for the security of the Jewish community in Germany,” the statement read in part. In fact, it continued, “The AfD is a party in which Jewish hatred and relativization up to the denial of the Shoah have a home. The AfD is anti-democratic, contemptuous of humanity and in large parts right-wing extremist.”