A small Jewish group has set itself up within Germany's far-right AfD party despite scorn from 17 Jewish organizations. Critics say the AfD remains anti-democratic and harbors hatred to the point of Holocaust denial.
The small group founded Sunday in Wiesbaden by 19 Jewish members of the AfD would call itself Jews in the AfD (JAfD), said Wolfgang Fuhl, chairman of a southern German branch of the far-right anti-migrant party. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) has opposition seats in 14 regional state assemblies and Germany's federal Bundestag parliament.
Fuhl said 2017 federal parliamentary candidate Vera Kosova, who last year contested a seat near Stuttgart, had been elected as chairperson of the JAfD to be based in Berlin. He himself would be its deputy.
Inclusion, said Fuhl, was dependent on the member already belonging to the AfD, which he described as a "pro-Israeli party," and having ethnic or religious affiliation to Judaism.
Five more recruits would bring the JAfD up to 24 members, a third originating from the former Soviet Union, said AfD Hesse spokesman Klaus Herrmann.
Kosova, who originates from Uzbekistan, told reporters in Wiesbaden that "the AfD distances itself from racism and anti-Semitism in every form."
The party already has a group formed in 2013 called Christians in the AfD (ChrAfD), whose manifesto deplores "severe persecution" of Christians in "Islamic stamped states of the Middle East," including Egypt and Syria.
Accusations of 'PR ploy'
The JAfD's formation — one week before a shakedown election in Bavaria — prompted further condemnation Sunday, including a rally called by the Germany-based JSUD Jewish student union in Hesse's commercial hub Frankfurt, 40 kilometers (25 miles) away. Police said there were 250 protesters taking part.
JSUD student union president Dalia Grinfeld said the AfD could "under no circumstances" be considered friendly to Jews. "You won't get a kosher label from us," she said, referring to the AfD.
The director of Frankfurt's Anne Frank anti-racism education center, Meron Mendel, described the new JAfD as a peripheral event that amounted to a PR ploy, adding that Jews too were "not immune to racist, anti-Muslim, homophobic or other inhuman positions."
"With provocative statements such as that the AfD is the only party that deals with Muslim hatred of Jews without trivializing it, the AfD has once again "landed" a PR coup," said Mendel.
Condemnation from Jewish groups
Sunday's AfD move in Wiesbaden, the capital of Hesse state, which elects its next assembly on 28 October, had been preempted last Thursday by a joint statement from 17 umbrella groups, including the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the sports federation Makkabi.
"The AfD is a party in which hatred of Jews and relativization through to denial of the Shoah [Holocaust] is located. The AfD is anti-democratic, contemptuous of humanity and in large parts right-wing radical," declared the 17 organizations, adding that in no way did the AfD represent Jewish interests.
AfD 'hostile to Jews'
Charlotte Knobloch, a former Central Council chairperson who survived the Holocaust as a teenager, told the news magazine Spiegel on Saturday that the AfD remained hostile to Jews.
"Just as a person can have Jewish friends and despite that remain an anti-Semite, so there is still no guarantee that a party with Jewish members will not exhibit anti-Semitic tendencies," said Knobloch, a Jewish community leader in Munich.
Asked by Spiegel if the AfD was a Nazi-party? Knobloch replied: "how should one otherwise call a party that makes Jewish life impossible," and then added "we're standing in front of a monster."
'Anti-migration, anti-Islamic, pro-family'
Germany's Catholic KNA news agency, reporting in detail Sunday on the Wiesbaden formation, said the JAfD's statement of principles cited two motives: the "uncontrolled mass immigration of young men from the 'Islamic culture circle' and the "destruction of traditional, monogamous families through 'gender-mainstreaming" and 'premature sexualization'."
In a guest commentary for Deutsche Welle, Jewish theologian and author Armin Langer said an alliance between Jews and far-right populists could not function.
"That's because right-wing populists only stand up against anti-Semitism if they can thereby promote their anti-migrant agenda," said Langer.
Lamya Kaddor, an Islamic studies researcher prominent in Germany, writing a guest commentary on German web outlet t-online, described the JAfD's formation as a "tragedy."
'Sham,' says Merkel aide
Conservative federal parliamentarian Stephan Harbarth described the JAfD formation in Wiesbaden as a "sham".
"The AfD systematically talks down the violent crimes of the National Socialist [Nazi] era," said the Heidelberg-based parliamentarian. He is deputy chair of Chancellor Angela Merkel's 246-strong conservative grouping within the Bundestag federal assembly that comprises her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU).
"Anyone who calls the Holocaust a 'bird shit' in German history is not fighting anti-Semitism, but mocking its victims, and he is certainly not on the side of the Jews," Harbarth told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
Harbarth was referring to a campaign slur uttered in June by AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland, who until 2013 was a functionary in Merkel's CDU party.
Between 1987 and 1991, Gauland was an influential state secretary in the main office of the then CDU Premier Walter Wallmann, who previously had been mayor of Frankfurt, Hesse's commercial hub.
ipj/jm (KNA, dpa, epd)