Germany’s far-right party AfD on Sunday launched a “Jewish” group within its ranks, which it says will battle against mass immigration of Muslim men with anti-Semitic views, sparking an outcry.
At an event in Wiesbaden, near Frankfurt, party activist Vera Kosova — an Uzbek-born Jewish physician — was announced as the chairwoman of the new Jewish grouping within AfD’s ranks.
The party said a group of 19 have formed the “Jews in the AfD” group, and that anyone joining must be a card-carrying member of the party who is either ethnically or religiously Jewish.
The move drew a backlash from Germany’s Jewish community, which blasted the AfD as a “racist and anti-Semitic party.”
Some 250 people, many from Jewish organizations, also held a protest Sunday in Frankfurt against the new group.
“You won’t get a kosher stamp from us,” said Dalia Grinfeld, who heads the Jewish students Union in Germany, at the protest.
Leading members of the AfD have come under fire repeatedly for comments that appear to play down the Holocaust.
Party co-leader Alexander Gauland in June described the Nazi period as a mere “speck of bird poo in over 1,000 years of successful German history.”
Another leading AfD politician, Bjoern Hoecke, has criticized the sprawling Holocaust memorial in Berlin, branding it a “monument of shame.”
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on Sunday declined to comment, saying the group’s founding was an internal German matter.
Israel’s Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff reiterated his strong opposition to the AfD, given past statements by leaders of the party that were highly offensive to the memory of the Holocaust.
“My position has been very clear since I arrived in Berlin: this party is problematic. It cannot cover up its anti-Jewish tendencies with a professed support for Israel,” he told The Times of Israel. “I have not met with representatives of the AfD, and I don’t intend on doing so now.”
Issacharoff added that he has yet to receive specific information regarding the identity of Jews are that are publicly promoting the party.
Likud MK Yehudah Glick, however, indicated that Israelis should be open-minded regarding the AfD.
“While I have not investigated the matter of the AfD in depth, I have met with leader Beatrix von Storch and I appreciate her strong support for Israel,” he told The Times of Israel on Sunday.
“It is a shame that in Germany, when there are pressing issues that concern the Jewish community, such as German support for the Iran deal and for anti-Israel NGOs, that Jewish organizations choose to attack their fellow Jews. Rather than attack, why not have an open forum of discussion about the issues of Jewish concern?”
Glick has been an outspoken advocate of Israel establishing ties with Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, arguing that the party is pro-Israel and is tackling radical Islamists. But the Israeli government is formally boycotting the party over its failure to sufficiently distance itself from its neo-Nazi past.
“If the Jews in the AfD believe they can form a positive line of communication within the party, addressing what may be problematic issues, such a development should be welcome. I call for civil discourse rather than infighting and shaming,” Glick said.
“I think that the main concern of Jews today in Germany should be terror of Muslims and anti-Zionism of the left wing parties,” he added.
Ahead of Sunday’s launch, Jewish organizations including the Central Council of Jews in Germany issued a statement describing the AfD as “a racist and anti-Semitic party.”
“The AfD is a party that provides a home for hatred for Jews as well as the relativizing, or even denial of the Holocaust,” it said.
The nonpartisan Jewish-German “Values Initiative” has warned the new Jewish group will merely be used as “a fig leaf for coarse AfD racism.”
Most Jews would avoid association with the AfD, Sergey Lagodinsky, Green Party politician and member of Berlin’s Jewish Community Council, told JTA.
“Though there is a high level of anxiety among Jewish communities” from the refugee influx, “there is still a high moral threshold preventing formal forms of engagement” with a far-right party, Lagodinsky said.
The AfD’s deputy parliamentary group leader Beatrix von Storch hit back in an interview published Sunday by broadsheet Welt am Sonntag.
Taking aim at the Central Council of Jews, von Storch compared it to “official churches,” which she dismissed as “part of the establishment.”
The AfD positions itself as a group offering voters an “alternative” to mainstream established parties.
Capitalizing on discontent over an influx of asylum seekers in 2015-2016, the AfD is now the biggest opposition party in Germany, with more than 90 seats in parliament.
The deputy parliamentary group leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party, Stephan Harbarth, called the AfD’s bid to start a Jewish wing “hypocrisy.”
“Whoever calls the Holocaust a speck of bird poo in German history does not fight anti-Semitism, but mocks its victims, and definitely does not stand on the side of the Jews,” Harbarth told Sunday’s edition of daily Bild.
JTA, Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.