Not the return of Nazi Germany, but a cause for concern

The passage of time and the frail human memory gradually diminish the impact of the Holocaust on arresting racist, xenophobic and antisemitic ideas and movements in Europe and elsewhere.

September 26, 2017 14:37
3 minute read.
Demonstrators protest the anti-immigration party Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) after elections

Demonstrators protest against the anti-immigration party Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) after German general election. (photo credit: WOLFGANG RATTAY / REUTERS)


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Germany of 2017 is definitely not post-World War I Germany. The economy is one the world’s strongest, no hyperinflation followed by deflation as in the last years of the Wiemar Republic, and the more than seven decades that have passed since the elimination of Nazi Germany erased most of the resentment Germans felt when, not without reason, accusing fingers, real or imaginary, were pointed at them.

The Treaty of Versailles, which imposed heavy financial penalties on Germany for initiating WWI, has no parallel today.

Yet in this week’s elections in Germany, we witnessed the loss of almost a quarter of the support for the two main streams of German politics, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists.

The steady hand of Germany and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in German, European and international affairs is weakened, at a time of mounting tension and instability. The specter of some 80 rowdy, vulgar, xenophobic and racist revisionists and ultra-nationalist members of the Alternative for Germany Party in the Bundestag, attacking every move of the government in domestic or external affairs, is frightening.

The list of issues that will require hard choices and difficult decisions by Merkel’s next government is awesome.

It includes the restriction of immigration to Europe and specifically to Germany – the very reason behind the AfD’s success in the elections. Tough on Merkel, who likely will end up forming a coalition with two liberal parties, the leader of one, of which is Cem Ozdemir, himself a son of Turkish immigrants.

Russia posed a challenge to Germany and its EU/NATO allies when Merkel was in a much stronger political situation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin must be relieved watching UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron wobbling.

US President Donald Trump’s digging himself deeper in domestic and external mud may add to Putin’s satisfaction, but also certainly adds to Merkel’s and the rest of the world’s concerns. With an erratic, unpredictable US president and a weakened German chancellor, who is to lead the “Free World” and who is to maintain some stability in a fragile international environment?

And then there’s Brexit. Under any circumstances that was going to be a very difficult test for Europe, dealing with one of the major EU member states leaving the union. What line should Merkel recommend to her European colleagues now that more than 10% of her own parliament is vehemently opposed to the very same principles on which the EU is predicated? It may be the time to negotiate Britain’s continued stay rather its departure, but such a strategy needs political courage and strength, and obviously a willing Britain.

Jews have every reason for concern. The passage of time, and frail human memory gradually diminish the impact of the Holocaust on arresting racist, xenophobic and antisemitic ideas and movements in Europe and elsewhere. Though 2017 is not 1933 and the over 10% won by the AfD is less than the 19% with which Hitler entered the Bundestag, there is no reason to that this is just a temporary protest against illegal immigrants and that as soon as the immigrant issue is settled the AfD will evaporate.

Israel and the major Jewish organizations in the Diaspora will have to agree on a comprehensive strategy to deal with, and react to the very existence of, a sizable party like the AfD in the German parliament.

While it is true that in Holland a similar party has not succeeded, the French presidential parliamentary elections showed that in France as well there is significant public support for the same ideas that brought the AfD into the German parliament.

Whatever the strategy adopted by the Israeli government and the Jewish organizations is, it is important to coordinate that policy with the German government and EU institutions. We need to combat the consequences of the German elections together.

The author is a former ambassador of Israel to the EU and currently a senior researcher at the Institute for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv.

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