BRUSSELS/BERLIN (Reuters) - Jewish groups in Europe and the United States expressed alarm at the success of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in Sunday’s parliamentary election and urged other parties not to form alliances with it.
But a leading member of the AfD, which won 12.6 percent of the vote in the federal election to become the third largest party in Germany’s lower house of parliament, said Jews had nothing to fear from his party’s success.
The far-right has not been represented in parliament since the 1950s, a reflection of Germany’s efforts to distance itself from the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust.
Ronald Lauder, president of the New York-based World Jewish Congress, called Chancellor Angela Merkel a “true friend of Israel and the Jewish people” and decried the AfD’s gains at a time when anti-Semitism was increasing across the globe.
“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,” Lauder said.
Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also expressed concern about the AfD’s success: “I hope that the German people learn carefully the history of Germany and remember the Holocaust and all the ...reasons that led to this tragedy.”
The AfD, which has surged in the two years since Merkel opened Germany’s borders to more than 1 million migrants mainly fleeing Middle East wars, says immigration jeopardizes Germany’s culture but denies it is racist or anti-Semitic.
“There’s nothing in our party or in our program that could or should in any way concern Jewish people who live here in Germany,” Alexander Gauland, the AfD’s top candidate, told reporters on Monday.
Gauland also cited Germany’s strong diplomatic support for Israel, suggesting that it should also be ready to send troops if necessary to help defend the country as it faces off against the Palestinians and hostile neighboring states.
Volker Beck, a member of the Greens, said Gauland’s comments suggested that he was questioning Germany’s support for Israel - a fundamental principle of its post-war foreign policy.
“The message to his anti-Semitic fans is clear: There’s no need for the NPD because the AfD is your political home,” Beck said, in a reference to the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), which Germany’s Constitutional Court has said resembled Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party.
Gauland provoked outrage during the election campaign when he said Germans should be proud of what their soldiers achieved in two world wars.
The European Jewish Congress urged other German political parties to stick to pre-election vows and not to consider any coalition talks with the AfD.
“Some of the positions it has espoused during the election campaign display alarming levels of intolerance not seen in Germany for many decades and which are, of course, of great concerns to German and European Jews.”
The Central Council of Jews in Germany said the election results had confirmed its worst fears and urged other parties to remain united in opposing the AfD.
“A party that tolerates right-wing extremist thinking in its ranks and incites hatred against minorities ...will now be represented in parliament and nearly all state legislatures,” the group’s president Josef Schuster said in a statement.
“I expect our democratic forces to expose the true nature of the AfD and its empty, populist promises,” he added.
Germany, home today to an estimated 200,000 Jews, has built a reputation in recent decades as a tolerant, safe place for Jews to live, though data show anti-Semitic crimes reported to the police rose 4 percent to 681 in the first eight months of 2017 from the same period last year.
Reporting by Francesco Guarascio in Brussels, Andrea Shalal in Berlin and Daniel Pleck in Jerusalem; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Gareth Jones