The result of the German election should, but may not, end the blasé and naive narrative that the rise of the far right in Europe has peaked. Following the Dutch and French elections commentary suggested the results proved it had. The figures suggest otherwise. In both countries, the extreme right’s share of the vote and seats increased. Now comes the Alternative for Germany (AfD) – storming into the Bundestag with over 5 million votes and more than 90 seats, to become the 3rd largest party.
Chancellor Merkel will remain in office, but her grip on power is diminished and she has overseen the far rights re-entry into Parliament after an absence of half a century. Without doubt this is the result of her open doors immigration policy of 2015. Inadvertently she also opened the Bundestag door to the far-right. It seems unlikely she will stand again for a 5th term meaning that within a couple of years her CDU party will engage in a leadership campaign to find someone with the ability to stop the far-right in its tracks at a time when stability and clarity are required.
The leaders of Germany’s 200,000 strong Jewish community are wholly against the AfD despite it being supportive of Israel. When polled, its supporters agree that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitic attacks in Germany have increased 4% so far this year compared to 2016 and there are suggestions that this is partially down to increased Muslim immigration. That might have given cause for a degree of Jewish support for AfD, but anti-Jewish remarks by some senior leaders, and equivocation about WW2 and Holocaust education militates against that. In a recent poll only 38% of AfD supporters ‘tend to ‘agree that learning about the Shoah is important.
Germany’s Jews could not have missed the virulently anti-immigrant AfD posters during the election campaign and drawn their own conclusions about the parties underlying attitude to minorities. They included an online poster depicting a pig and the words ‘Islam – Doesn’t fit our cuisine’. When challenged the AfD pulled the poster on the grounds that it might upset children who cared about the pig.
Charlotte Knobloch, chair of Munich’s Jewish community described the result as a ‘nightmare come true’ and warned that AfD, in collaboration with other far-right parties now had the strength to threaten the country’s democratic foundations.
Some will dismiss this as hyperbole. Already you can find articles pointing out that 80% of Germans voted for centrist parties. However, this complacent view requires confidence that the upward trend in far right voting across the continent will stop despite no evidence to support it.
Mrs Merkel must now pull together a coalition government which has to deal with millions of voters who are deeply upset with her whilst simultaneously acting to ensure the extreme right does not grow and dominate mainstream politics. All this while she’s also supposed to be concentrating on Brexit and leading Europe. Good luck Mutti.
From an article originally published in the Jewish Chronicle.