(photo credit: REUTERS)
One important takeaway for Israel from this week’s election in the Federal Republic is the brutal fact that, for the first time, Israel cannot take newly reelected Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Germany for granted.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s congratulatory message to Merkel was notable for mentioning that Israel is worried about rising antisemitism, without singling out the rise in Germany of the far-right Alternative for Germany Party, better known as the AfD.
Instead, according to a cryptic announcement by the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu “called on the to-beformed government to act in order to strengthen the forces in Germany that accept the historic responsibility.”
Speaking in general terms, Netanyahu said “Israel is worried about the rise of antisemitism in recent years among political elements on the Right and on the Left, as well as among Islamist elements.”
The announcement solemnly rejected Holocaust denial, but also attempts to deny “responsibility.” This might be interpreted as a reference to controversial statements made by AfD politicians, such as one in January by Thuringian AfD leader Björn Höcke. He derided the Berlin Holocaust memorial as a “monument of shame” and called for a “180-degree reversal on the politics of remembrance.”
Just last week, senior AfD leader Alexander Gauland appealed to the party’s right-wing base by declaring that Germans have the right to be “proud” of the soldiers who fought for their country in two world wars.
Many of Israel’s citizens expected our prime minister to justifiably use the opportunity of his congratulatory chat with Merkel to make a strong statement against this ominous rise in antisemitism. Astoundingly, out of some sudden scruples about advising world leaders on the existential challenges to the Jewish people, Netanyahu merely congratulated Merkel, praising her as the true friend she is of Israel and the Jewish people.
“The State of Israel is confident that under her leadership the special relations between Germany and Israel will continue to deepen and flourish,” concluded the Prime Minister’s Office. Meanwhile, many Israelis are caught between self-restraint and expressing shock at this sudden spike in German nationalism.
Holocaust survivors cannot help but be reminded of the 1930s rise of the Nazi Party, especially in the new Germany where the anti-Islam, anti-immigration and antisemitic AfD wins 12.6% of the vote in a federal election – the best showing for a nationalist movement since World War II.
“We have an enemy in Germany,” said Saul Oren, a former inmate of Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen who moved to Israel in 1968. “I am worried but nothing can be done to prevent this from happening in Europe,” he told AFP.
“I am very shocked,” said 86-year-old Berthe Badehi, who lived in hiding throughout the Nazi occupation of France.
“It’s like cancer spreading, it’s shocking that it’s happening in Germany,” she told AFP. Both Badehi and Oren now live in Jerusalem.
“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,” World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder wrote on its website.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany called AfD its “biggest challenge” since the creation of the Federal Republic in 1949, labeling it “a party that tolerates far-right views in its ranks and incites hate against minorities.”
Israeli politicians were quick to join the outcry, with former Labor Party leader and defense minister Amir Peretz calling it “a dark day for German democracy with the entry into the Bundestag of a racist and antisemitic party.”
Former justice and foreign minister Tzipi Livni called on moderate forces throughout the world to unite against “the rise of extreme right-wing neo-Nazi parties.”
Fortunately, the history of nationalist parties in Europe may not bode well for the AfD, which faces much internal strife. A day after becoming Germany’s third-largest parliamentary force, AfD co-chief Frauke Petry announced she would not sit with the party in parliament because of “dissent.”
The first major far-right party to sit in the Bundestag since 1945 will have its hands full just keeping all its diverse strands united as they seek to further its goals of attacking Islam and rejecting Germany’s culture of atonement for its Nazi past.