(JTA) — Jewish leaders congratulated Angela Merkel on her election to a fourth term as German chancellor, while decrying the rise of Germany’s newest right-wing populist party, which for the first time will enter the national parliament.
The Alternative for Germany Party, or AfD – founded in 2013 – came in third, with 13.1 percent of the popular vote, according to early election results. The party is likely to have 94 seats in the 631-member Bundestag.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union won with a weak 32.9 percent of the vote, followed by the Social Democratic Party, with what observers have called a poor showing of 20.8 percent.
Speaking to the Tagesspiegel newspaper in Berlin, Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, called the AfD a “party that agitates against minorities.” For now, their target is Muslims, he noted. “But I am convinced that when the topic of Muslims is no longer interesting, and it becomes politically and socially opportune to switch to another minority, they could easily do so. And I include Jews in that number.”
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder congratulated Merkel on her victory, calling her “a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people.” He also sharply denounced what he termed the “disgraceful” reactionary party AfD “recalling the worst of Germany’s past.”
Moshe Kantor, president of the Brussels-based European Jewish Congress, also welcomed the election news, saying Merkel had “shown tremendous courage and conviction in her support of the revival of Jewish life in Germany” as well as being a “strong supporter of the State of Israel.”
Kantor also expressed concern about the strong showing of the AfD. “We trust that centrist parties in the Bundestag will ensure that the AfD has no representation in the coming governing coalition,” he noted.
Talks will soon begin to form a coalition government, most likely between the Christian Democratic Union and two of the smaller mainstream parties – the Free Democratic Party and the Greens (Alliance 90/The Greens), which came in with 10.6 percent and 8.9 percent of the vote, respectively.
The Social Democratic Party is likely to remain the chief opposition party, weakening the political impact of the AfD despite its third-place showing, said Sergey Lagodinsky, a political activist with the Green Party and member of the Berlin Jewish Community Council.
Lagodinsky told JTA the rise of the AfD was lamentable and yet not a surprise, given public discontent on economic and political levels. Chief among their concerns are the way the government has handled the influx of more than 1.5 million refugees since mid-2015, a majority of them Muslim. Another major concern is the economic future of Germany’s industrial regions.
“The AfD places more emphasis on majorities than on safeguards for minorities, and this is the difference between their outlook and the outlook of many parties,” Lagodinsky said, adding that the party has racist undertones and “appeals to people who feel that their future is not secure.”
For Jews, what’s especially significant about the AfD is its position against ritual circumcision and ritual slaughter, which affects both Muslims and Jews.
“It is also a party that wants a 180-degree turn around of the commemoration policy” of the crimes of the Holocaust, Lagodinsky noted. “They want Germany to feel more proud again… [Party leader Alexander] Gauland said… that they should be proud of the Wehrmacht soldiers. Any anti-liberal party that challenges human rights and civil rights is also a challenge for Jews.”