European Jews pan appointment of neo-Nazi to EU parliament

Udo Voigt is notorious for praising Adolf Hitler and downplaying the Holocaust, served a year in jail for incitement to hate

Udo Voigt, chairman of the German right wing National Democratic Party NPD, April 5, 2009. (photo credit: AP/Gero Breloer)
Udo Voigt, chairman of the German right wing National Democratic Party NPD, April 5, 2009. (photo credit: AP/Gero Breloer)

BERLIN — European Jewish leaders slammed the appointment of a German neo-Nazi lawmaker to the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee.

Udo Voigt, the former head of the far-right National Democratic Party, was named this week to the parliamentary committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. Voigt, 62, has lauded Adolf Hitler and is notorious for his relativization of the Holocaust.

“It is surreal and the ultimate insult to the Jews of Europe and to the European Union itself,” Moshe Kantor, head of the Brussels-based European Jewish Congress, said in a statement Tuesday. He urged all lawmakers “to refuse to allow this man to participate in the workings of the committee.”

Kantor added that none of this would have happened if Germany had banned the NPD, which has some 7,000 members nationwide.

Voigt gained his seat in the European Parliament in May when the NDP won about 1 percent of the German popular vote — the new threshold for admission to the body.

World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer said “it was already bad enough that Voigt was able to get elected” after Germany removed the 5 percent vote threshold for international elections this year. His appointment to the committee is “disgraceful and unacceptable,” Singer said, joining calls for the EU to establish a higher threshold to prevent extremist fringe groups from gaining a foothold. The next such election is scheduled for 2019.

“The idea of a neo-Nazi as a guardian of European human rights is sickening,” said Stephan Kramer, newly appointed director of the American Jewish Committee’s European Office on Anti-Semitism, based in Brussels and Berlin.

Germany’s last official attempt to ban the NPD failed in 2003, after it turned out that government informants had incited some of the illegal actions for which the party was being investigated.

After the NPD reached the threshold in May, Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said he felt justified in pushing for a new attempt to ban the party. Skeptics have warned that a second failure would only benefit the extremists and hurt all future attempts.

Just prior to his election, Voigt received a one-year suspended sentence in Germany for incitement to hate.

Kantor also took aim at France Tuesday in his appeal to Europe to take tougher action against anti-Semitism on the continent.

French citizens are suspected in the two deadliest attacks against European Jewish institutions in the past few years — a shooting at the Brussels Jewish Museum in May, and an attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse, southwestern France, in 2012.

And French Jews are emigrating to Israel in record numbers, in part because of a fear of rising anti-Semitism from the far right and extremist Islam.

“The situation in Europe and in France — especially I can say in France — is very much in tension,” Kantor said.

Still, Kantor said other European governments could learn from France. He praised the French government’s hard line on anti-Semitism, and notably on Dieudonne, a French comic who popularized a gesture that recalls a Nazi salute.

Kantor called for laws to make a link between security and tolerance, saying no minority can feel secure in an intolerant environment.

“We say we should stop racism, we should stop xenophobia and we should stop anti-Semitism not on the level when somebody starts to kill us,” he said. “We should stop them when we hear their speeches of hate … because otherwise we’ll have more and more every year of the Toulouse and Brussels cases.”

French President Francois Hollande hosted Kantor on Tuesday and pledged to try to make French Jews feel safer, Kantor said afterward.

“He told us that he accepts if French Jews are leaving France because of Zionism, or because of business motivations, or because of some family relations, but not because of a shortage of security,” Kantor told The Associated Press.

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