Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated German Chancellor Angela Merkel on securing a fourth term as the German leader on Sunday night, hailing her as a “true friend of Israel,” while remaining silent so far on the entry of an anti-immigrant, far-right party into parliament for the first time since World War II.
“Congratulations to Angela #Merkel, a true friend of Israel, on her re-election as Chancellor of Germany,” Netanyahu posted on social media late Sunday.
A member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, MK Yehuda Glick, appeared to defend the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, tweeting to “all those panicking about the election of a right-wing party in Germany, you should know that Frauke Petry, who leads the party, is operating intensively [to remove from the party] anyone suspected of anti-Semitism.”
Exit polls credited the AfD with around 13 percent of the vote, making it the third-largest political force in Germany — a stunning result for a party that was founded just four years ago.
Almost immediately after the exit polls were released, several major Jewish groups expressed alarm and dismay at the anti-migrant party’s rise, which has also been condemned by Germany’s established political parties, but celebrated by Europe’s far-right leaders like France’s Marine Le Pen and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it had no immediate comment on the election results.
German Central Council of Jews President Josef Schuster said the party “tolerates far-right thoughts and agitates against minorities.”
He said he expects Germany’s other parties will “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 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 AfD’s feat also sparked protests in several German cities, including hundreds of people in Berlin who shouted “Nazis out” in front of a club where the party was celebrating.
The World Jewish Congress also congratulated Merkel on the victory, praising her for her friendship toward Israel and the Jewish people, and commending “her sincere and unyielding commitment to combating anti-Semitism and defending the State of Israel.”
WJC President Ron Lauder said in a statement Sunday that anti-Semitism “is rising across the globe, including in parts of Germany,” and that it was “abhorrent that the AfD party, a disgraceful reactionary movement which recalls the worst of Germany’s past and should be outlawed, now has the ability within the German parliament to promote its vile platform.”
In addition to being openly hostile to immigration, the AfD’s platform includes challenging Germany’s culture of atonement over World War II and the massacre of six million Jews and others in the Holocaust.
Lauder added that “Merkel has shown remarkably strong signals of dedication to protecting the Jewish citizens of her country and cracking down on hateful rhetoric and action.”
Israeli MK Nachman Shai from the Zionist Union said that the election of AfD parliament should send a “warning to Israel and the Jewish people.”
“Xenophobia, racism and extremism have conquered a significant part of the German public,” said Shai, chairman of the Israel-Germany Parliamentary Friendship Group, adding that Merkel would be tasked now with “stopping the far-right.”
Going after Merkel
One of AfD’s top two candidates, Alexander Gauland, said earlier that the party “will change this country,” pledging to “go after” Merkel’s government.
After the results were announced, the AfD promised that it would make it a priority to launch a parliamentary probe against Merkel over her decision to let in a million asylum seekers since 2015.
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 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.
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily called the election “a watershed in the federal republic’s history, comparable to the first vote of a unified Germany in 1990, although that case was a welcome event.”
“For the first time in more than 50 years, a nationalist, extreme-right, broadly racist party will sit in the Bundestag… That is sad, shameful and will change the climate in the country,” the paper’s lead editorial read.
The AfD began life as an anti-euro protest party but then shifted focus to capitalize on misgivings over the record one million asylum seekers who have arrived in Germany since 2015.
Its tone turned increasingly extreme in the last stretch of election campaigning, with one of its two leading candidates saying Germany should be proud of its war veterans and claiming that terror was grounded in Islam.
‘Le Pen pales in comparison’
Critics say widening social inequality is also playing into the hands of AfD populists, especially in the de-industrialised heartlands of the former communist east.
The party captured close to one in four votes in the east, where it was the second strongest party.
Thorsten Benner, head of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, said the AfD’s rise shows that “our population is no more virtuous than the French population,” and that “even Le Pen pales in comparison”.
The AfD “will challenge key themes” in parliament, he said, pointing to Germany’s culture of wartime remembrance and debate on cultural identity.
Gauland recently called for Germans to stop atoning for the past.
He also said integration commissioner Aydan Ozoguz should be “disposed of in Anatolia”, suggesting she will never be German because of her Turkish origin.
The presence of the AfD “will very much change the tone of debate in parliament,” Benner warned.
Manfred Guellner, who heads the opinion poll institute Forsa, predicted that the AfD will self-destruct in the Bundestag.
“The AfD will disintegrate because that’s what happens to sectarian groups from the right,” he told Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung.