Far-right populism rising in Germany following elections

The elections in Germany held last Sunday, Sept. 24, resulted in victory for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who won a fourth term in power, but also for the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD). 

Winning nearly 13 percent of the vote, this is the first time a far-right party will sit in Germany's national parliament since the end of World War II. Formed in 2013 by conservatives -- many from Merkel's own center-right Christian Democratic Union -- they opposed the CDU's perceived shift to the center and the use of German funds to support a bailout of Greece. 

Also, Merkel's decision to accept a million migrants, the majority of whom are Muslim, shifted the focus of AfD to national security and immigration. Candidates repeatedly have called the refugees "invaders" and Merkel's policy "the beginning of the destruction of the German nation." Most alarming the tone has become more nationalist, populist, racist, and anti-Semitic. 

Leaders of the party have promised to restore a sense of national pride and strengthen domestic security, eliciting charges that party officials are flirting with Nazism. Statements by party officials who will now sit in parliament have called on Germans to stop feeling guilty and apologizing for the actions of the Nazis, and Alexander Gauland, a founder and co-leader of the party, has said Germans have "the right to be proud of the German soldiers in two world wars." 

Gauland added that he hadn't met with Jewish leaders, but was "ready at any time" to do so, claiming "there is nothing in our party, in our program, that could disturb the Jewish people who live here in Germany." Implicit in such a formulation is that German Jews are not fully German, but merely reside in the country. 

He also questions Merkel's strong support for Israel's security. Gauland claimed such a commitment would need to include sending troops to the Middle East to defend Israel, adding that this was a "difficult topic." 

Chancellor Merkel will now begin the task of building a governing coalition. The Social Democratic Party, which formed a coalition with Merkel's Christian Democratic Union after the last election, declared it will sit in the opposition this time, thus depriving the third place AfD from leading the opposition and the platform in parliament such status provides. Merkel will thus need to reach an agreement with the liberal Free Democrats and the Green party, a much more challenging coalition for her to lead. 

Protests against Alternative for Germany erupted throughout the country following the announcement of the election results. 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!"

Charlotte Knobloch, chair of the Munich Jewish community and a former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said "I am greatly concerned about democracy in our country. This result is a nightmare come true, a historical change. For the first time [since the end of WWII], an extreme-right party will be strongly represented in parliament."

The election of AfD follows the rise of other populist, extreme right-wing parties in France, Holland and Austria, and assuming power in Hungary and Poland, whose democratic institutions have been severely weakened. 

JUF, along with colleagues in the national organizations, will continue raising concerns with the leaders and representatives of these countries and with elected officials. We will continue to monitor the situation on the ground, educate the community and maintain strong relationships with European-Jewish brothers and sisters.

Steven Dishler is JUF's Assistant Vice President of International and Public Affairs.

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