Rise of nationalist AfD cause for ‘great concern,’ Israeli envoy says
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This doesn't fit with 'long way Germany has come' since WWII

Rise of nationalist AfD cause for ‘great concern,’ Israeli envoy says

Ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff highlights ‘series of anti-Semitic statements’ by Alternative for Germany leaders

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff on March 20, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)
Ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff on March 20, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)

Israel’s ambassador to Germany expressed “great concern” over the rise of the Alternative for Germany party, which earlier this week became the first far-right faction to enter the Bundestag since the end of World War II.

“The election result of the AfD causes us great concern,” Jeremy Issacharoff told the Die Welt daily on Tuesday, referring to the party by its German acronym. His remarks were the first public comment by a senior Israeli diplomat on the success of the AfD, which is considered by many Jews to be anti-Semitic but purports to have pro-Israel positions.

“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. For instance, AfD leader Alexander Gauland recently said that Germans could be “proud” of their soldiers who fought in World War II, he 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.”

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.

Issacharoff, who became ambassador in Berlin in August, spoke optimistically about the Germany-Israel relationship. “I am convinced that the unique relations between Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany will further deepened and strengthened under Chancellor Angela Merkel,” he said.

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)

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Merkel, who was reelected to lead the country for a fourth term, on the phone and discussed with her German-Israeli relations, including Jerusalem’s concerns about the rise of anti-Semitic elements within German politics. He called on the next German government to assume “historic responsibility” and reject efforts to deny or marginalize the Holocaust, but did not explicitly denounce the AfD.

“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.

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 third-largest faction in parliament.

Merkel cruised to a fourth term with 33% 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 a 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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