A top official with the far-right Alternative for Germany said Monday that Jews have nothing to fear from his party’s third-place election finish, which took it into parliament.
Speaking with reporters, co-leader Alexander Gauland told reporters “there is nothing in our party, in our program, that could disturb the Jewish people who live here in Germany.”
He added that he hadn’t met with Jewish leaders, but was “ready at any time” to do so.
The comments from Gauland came a day after several major Jewish groups expressed dismay and concern about the strong showing of his Alternative for Germany, or AfD.
While seeking to assuage the concerns of Germany’s Jewish community, Gauland appeared hesitant to endorse Chancellor Angela Merkel’s dictum that “Israel’s security is Germany’s raison d’etre.”
Such a commitment would need to include sending troops to the Middle East to defend Israel, he told reporters in Berlin, adding that this was a “difficult topic.”
Almost immediately after the exit polls were released, several major Jewish groups expressed alarm at the anti-migrant party’s rise.
German Central Council of Jews President Josef Schuster said the AfD “tolerates far-right thoughts and agitates against minorities.”
He said he expected Germany’s other parties to “reveal the true face of the AfD and unmask their empty, populist promises.”
Charlotte Knobloch, chairwoman of the Munich Jewish community and a former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, described the strong AfD showing as a “nightmare come true.”
“I am greatly concerned about democracy in our country,” she said. “This result is a nightmare come true, a historical change. For the first time [since the end of the Second World War], an extreme-right party will be strongly represented in parliament.”
The head of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, congratulated Merkel on securing a fourth term, calling her a “true friend of Israel and the Jewish people.” But he denounced the AfD as “a disgraceful reactionary movement which recalls the worst of Germany’s past.”
The Anti-Defamation League also called the AfD result a “disturbing milestone,” saying “its leaders have made anti-Semitic statements and played down the evil of the Nazi regime.”
Among the AfD remarks condemned by Jewish groups was Gauland’s recent statement that no other country has faced up to past crimes the way Germany has and that the Nazi years “today don’t affect our identity anymore.”
The International Auschwitz Committee warned that the “conglomerate of anti-Semites, enemies of democracy and nationalistic agitators” will bring “an inhuman coldness” to the glass-domed chamber of the Reichstag building.
Despite being repudiated by most German Jews as anti-Semitic, a recent poll suggested most AfD politicians profess to care deeply about Israel’s security, support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, reject unilaterally recognizing a Palestinian state, and generally support a stronger relationship between Jerusalem and Berlin.
Unlike the strong reactions from the Jewish community, Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday evening remained mum on AfD’s strong showing in the German elections, though the PMO tweeted congratulations to Merkel, calling her a “true friend of Israel.”
The party’s strong showing in Sunday’s elections has also elicited sharp responses from German politicians.
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, has warned that “for the first time since the end of the second World War, real Nazis will sit in the German parliament.” The Greens party has used the same term.
Merkel, more cautiously, urged voters to choose “the parties that are 100% loyal to our constitution,” while also saying “we want to win back AfD voters,” many of whom were disillusioned with chancellor over decision to let in over a million migrants to the country since 2015.
Following the elections, hundreds of protesters gathered in Berlin and other cities in Germany to protest the surge of the AfD.
At Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, near a victory party for AfD, protesters chanted slogans such as “Racism is not an alternative,” “AfD is a bunch of racists” and “Nazis out!”
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.