German far-right MP pushes recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Though boycotted by Israel, Alternative for Germany lawmaker Petr Bystron says he’s planning to visit later this year with a Bundestag delegation

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Alternative for Germany MP Petr Bystron (Courtesy)
Alternative for Germany MP Petr Bystron (Courtesy)

A lawmaker from the far-right Alternative for Germany party has been urging the government in Berlin to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In a press release, Petr Bystron, one of the party’s chief foreign policy spokespeople, explained that his faction is strongly supportive of the State of Israel and US President Donald Trump’s December 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“What is the capital of Israel? (Please only respond with the name of a location). Please answer this question in writing,” Bystron asked in a written query filed with the federal government on Tuesday.

The German government has a week to reply to his query.

Official Israel boycotts the populist opposition party, known by its German acronym AfD, due to its nationalist and xenophobic policies.

Similar to other far-right parties in Europe, the AfD formally rejects anti-Semitism and professes to strongly support Israel, seeing a common enemy in radical Islamism. However, the party is largely rejected by the local Jewish community, which argues that it promotes xenophobia and fails to adequately distance itself from anti-Semites within its ranks.

In his press release, issued last week, Bystron noted that the AfD in December criticized the German government for voting in favor of a United Nations General Assembly resolution that called Trump’s Jerusalem recognition null and void. Rather, his party “voiced its support for a strong and free Israel with Jerusalem as its capital,” he recalled.

Bystron, a Czech-born MP from Munich, noted that last month, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met in Jerusalem with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Since the new foreign minister was just in Israel, which I hope to visit in summer with a Bundestag delegation, I’m sure Mr. Maas will be able to answer this simple question,” said Bystron. “What is the capital of Israel?”

The “mainstream media” likes to portray the AfD as right-wing or even anti-Semitic, “but sees itself as a staunch supporter of Israel and President Trump,” the press release concluded.

MP Petr Bystron’s query asking the Federal Government about Israel’s capital

In response to a Times of Israel query on the government’s position on Jerusalem, a spokesperson for the German Embassy in Tel Aviv referred to the coalition agreement that serves as the foundation for Berlin’s policies.

“The status of Jerusalem, as well as other final status issues, will only be settled in the course of negotiations in order to be permanently accepted and durable,” reads the agreement between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Conservatives and the Social Democrats.

Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reiterated that Berlin will not accept any changes to Jerusalem’s status in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. “That means that the government does not share a position that creates facts prior to that,” he said during a visit to Jordan.

Prime Minister Netanyahu meets with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, March 26, 2018 (GPO / Kobi Gideon)

Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon declined to comment on Bystron’s comments and his plan to visit to Israel, but stressed that “our policy is no contacts with the AfD.”

A spokesperson for Bystron, Collin McMahon, told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee is planning a trip to Israel this year “in conjunction with the Israeli government,” though he said that no date had been set.

Bystron is the spokesperson of the AfD delegation in the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Before the September 24 election, Bystron was surveilled by the Verfassungsschutz, Germany’s domestic intelligence service, due to his praise for the white nationalist so-called Identitarian movement.

As opposed to the Austrian Freedom Party, which has deep Nazi roots, Israel never formally announced a “no contact” policy with the AfD, though the Israeli ambassador in Berlin, Jeremy Issacharoff, said the party’s strong showing in last year’s election was of “great concern” to Jerusalem.

“In the AfD, you have a party that is now the third-largest force in parliament and from whose ranks came a series of anti-Semitic remarks,” Issacharoff said.

Alexander Gauland, co-leader of the far right “Alternative for Germany” party (AfD), poses prior to an interview with AFP journalists on November 23, 2017 in Potsdam. (AFP/John MACDOUGALL)

For instance, AfD leader Alexander Gauland said that Germans could be “proud” of their soldiers who fought in World War II, Issacharoff noted. “This doesn’t jibe with the long way the Federal Republic of Germany has come since it assumed responsibility for the Holocaust and for the special relations with Israel.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu has never publicly commented on the AfD, but in September called on the next German government to assume “historic responsibility.”

“Israel is worried about the rise of anti-Semitism in recent years among political elements on the right and on the left, as well as among Islamist elements,” he said, according to his office.

Felix Klein, the German government’s newly installed special envoy for Jewish life and combatting anti-Semitism, this week lamented that the AfD condones its members’ anti-Semitic sentiments.

“As a whole it is not anti-Semitic,” Klein told the Bild daily in an interview, “but it tolerates that important representatives make anti-Semitic statements. That’s unacceptable.”

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