Two German lawmakers from the right-wing populist AfD party visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Tuesday, prompting criticism of the Holocaust memorial and museum for allowing the visit to take place.
The politicians, Matthias Moosdorf and Marc Jongen, represent AfD, or Alternative for Germany, in the Bundestag, the German federal parliament.
Their visit to Yad Vashem allowed the party to “make progress in its mission to gain legitimacy in Israel and Germany,” Yoav Lewy, an Israeli journalist who covers German politics, wrote on Twitter to Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan.
“This is a party that proudly features figures who call for legalizing Holocaust denial, whitewashing the record of the accursed Hitler and the removal of the Berlin Holocaust monument,” Lewy wrote. “I find [the visit] a very sad event.”
Dayan replied, “Mr. Lewy, you’re pushing on an open door. AfD is a party with a tendency for antisemitism and Holocaust denial. Yad Vashem does not engage with it or its members.”
“No one from the institution’s leadership has met them, or will. We turned down without hesitation the German embassy’s request to have a ceremony at the Memorial Hall. But the entrance to Yad Vashem is free to all. That’s the whole story,” Dayan wrote.
In an earlier tweet, Dayan said, “Yad Vashem is open to all, especially to those in need of intensive Holocaust education. The AfD and its members still have a long way to go in understanding the Holocaust and addressing German responsibility of this past.”
AfD, which has Jewish members and candidates, has denied such characterizations, arguing it rejects antisemitism and sanctions members caught engaging in it.
Jongen said to Dayan on Twitter that he was “deeply moved” by the visit to Yad Vashem.
“We were given a guided tour in perfect German by a young Israeli researcher. Glad to see how human and cultural bonds between Jews and Germans are being reestablished after the monstrous Nazi crimes. Sad to see prejudices on AfD,” Jongen said.
AfD opposes immigration from Muslim countries and wants Germany to leave the European Union. Its critics call it radical, inherently xenophobic and antisemitic.
Jewish community and Israeli officials have shunned the party, citing multiple antisemitic and other xenophobic incidents involving its members.
Some party members have said they want to see less focus placed on the Holocaust in German society.
Alexander Gauland, the party’s honorary chairman, in 2017 said that Germans “don’t have to be held accountable anymore for those 12 years [of the Nazi regime]. They don’t affect our identity today any longer. And we’re not afraid to say so.”
“We have the right to be proud of the achievements of German soldiers in two world wars,” Gauland said.
The following year, he called the Nazi era “just a speck of bird poop in more than 1,000 years of successful German history.”
The party’s advocates, including Marcel Yaron Goldhammer, a German Jew who is gay and also a citizen of Israel, argue that AfD, which received more than four million votes in the 2021 elections, has a diversity of views on the subject.
AfD’s tough stance on immigration is “a healthy reaction to far too many people who came to Germany but had no desire to integrate,” Goldhammer said in a 2021 interview during his failed bid to represent the party on Berlin’s city council.
Goldhammer also said in the interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “AfD has milder views than many other right-wing parties in Europe, but it is being singled out because it’s German.”