Though Angela Merkel’s conservative party retained its control over German parliament in Sunday’s elections, the unprecedented success of the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has raised major fears and anxieties among Jewish groups and Germans alike.
AfD, which campaigned on a nationalist platform many saw as anti-Semitic and xenophobic, became the third-largest party in the Bundestag, German parliament, winning 13 percent of the vote. Merkel’s party, in contrast, took only 33 percent of the vote, the lowest margin by which the German chancellor has won in four elections.
AfD’s success represent the first time since World War II that an openly nationalist party will join the government. It is a stunning victory for a party formed only four years ago.
Critics and protesters say the hard-right party is anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi, and racist, and that in light of Germany’s history, the victory is a tragedy for the country.
“They are like the Nazis under Hitler,” a German citizen who lived through the Holocaust told the BBC. “I was born in 1939. I’m a war child. I grew up in the ruins and now we get this again. They are criminals.”
German Jews in particular were horrified by AfD’s win. “This result is a nightmare come true,” said Charlotte Knobloch, chairwoman of Munich’s Jewish community and former president of Central Council of Jews in Germany, the Times of Israel reported.
The AfD will bring “exclusion, inwardness, aggression, contempt for humanity, conspiracy theories, volkisch nationalism, neo-Nazism, violating the constitution, Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism, racism, anti-religiousness, hostility toward the media and Europe, revisionism and historical relativism” into the German government, she said.
Israeli lawmaker MK Nachman Shai, chair of the Knesset’s Israel-Germany Parliamentary Friendship Group, called the election results “a great warning sign” for Israel and the Jewish people.
“The rise of the extreme right in Germany is indicative of dangerous moods that are growing stronger,” he said. “Xenophobia, racism and extremism have conquered a significant portion of the German public.”
Word Jewry echoed the dismay. Ron Lauder, Word Jewish Congress president, called the party “a disgraceful reactionary movement which recalls the worst of Germany’s past and should be outlawed”, and lamented the fact that the party now has the ability to “promote its vile platform” in parliament.
To many Germans, parallels to the rise of the Nazi party were clear, right down to the AfD’s celebratory vow to “take back the country and the people”.
Party leaders have said that Germany should be “proud” of its war veterans, and have questioned the idea that Germany should admit and bear guilt for the Holocaust.
“For the first time since the end of the second World War, real Nazis will sit in the German parliament,” said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.