In chat with Merkel, Netanyahu says Israel worried about rising anti-Semitism

Congratulating the German chancellor on her election victory, PM refrains from direct comment on rise of far-right AfD

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

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,  at the Chancellery in Berlin (AP/Wolfgang Rattayl)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Chancellery in Berlin (AP/Wolfgang Rattayl)

Israel is concerned about the rise of anti-Semitic elements within German politics, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, in an apparent first allusion to the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party in Sunday’s Bundestag elections.

In a telephone call with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was reelected to lead the country for a fourth term, Netanyahu called on the next German government to assume “historic responsibility” and reject efforts to deny or marginalize the Holocaust.

He did not denounce the Alternative for Germany, known in Germany as AfD, instead highlighting Israel’s concern about rising anti-Semitism from various corners.

“I called on the to-be-formed government to act in order to strengthen the forces in Germany that accept the historic responsibility,” he said, according to a somewhat cryptic readout of the conversation provided by the Prime Minister’s Office.

“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.”

The Jewish state not only rejects Holocaust denial, but also any attempts to deny “responsibility,” the readout went, noting that the two were different things.

The comment on ostensible efforts to evade responsibility for the Holocaust may have been a reference to controversial statements made by AfD politicians.

In January, Thuringian AfD leader Björn Höcke derided the Berlin Holocaust memorial as a “monument of shame,” and called for a “180-degree reversal on the politics of remembrance.” National party leaders have sought to oust Höcke over those statements.

Last week, senior AfD leader Alexander Gauland raised eyebrows when he said Germans have the right to be “proud” of the soldiers who fought for their country in the two world wars.

Leadership members of the hard-right party AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel meet prior to a press conference on the day after the German General elections on September 25, 2017 in Berlin. (AFP PHOTO/John MACDOUGALL)

The Jewish community largely condemned the election victory of the far-right party, which garnered nearly 13 percent of the vote in Sunday’s national poll, making it the country’s third-largest faction in parliament.

The AfD, derided by critics as anti-Semitic and racist, is the first openly anti-immigrant, far-right party to enter the Bundestag since World War II.

Merkel cruised to a fourth term with 33 percent of the vote, even though the head of the center-right Christian Democratic Union lost significantly compared to the last elections. According to political scientists and various polls, many traditional CDU voters flocked to the AfD.

After the election results were announced late Sunday, Netanyahu congratulated Merkel, calling her a true friend of Israel.

A day later, Netanyahu hinted that Merkel’s victory bodes well for his own prospects of reelection. “It’s good that someone wins for the fourth time, it’s an omen for a fifth,” Netanyahu said at a toast for the Jewish New Year at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. Netanyahu has been elected four times and announced that he intends to run for a fifth term in 2019.

Until Tuesday’s call with Merkel, however, he had not even alluded to the AfD’s rise. During their conversation, Netanyahu congratulated Merkel again, praising her as a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people.

“The State of Israel is confident that under her leadership the special relations between Germany and Israel will continue to deepen and flourish,” according to the PMO.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu give a joint press conference at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem on February 24, 2014. (Olivier Fitoussi/POOL/Flash90)

Merkel told Netanyahu that she wants to hold an intergovernmental meeting between the German and Israeli cabinets as soon as her next government is formed. Due to her party’s losses and the AfD’s rise, she is facing weeks of grueling coalition negotiations. She has ruled out sitting in coalition with the AfD.

The so-called G2G consultations were originally planned for May 2017, but Merkel asked for a postponement. The official reason for the delay was the chancellor’s need to dedicate time to her election campaign, but sources in Berlin at the time hinted that Merkel was angry at Netanyahu for a series of hawkish moves vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

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