Former Chancellor Schröder joined Jewish groups in condemning an anti-foreigner campaign by a leading conservative in Chancellor Merkel's party, further inflaming a charged debate over juvenile crime.
Schröder said the anti-foreigner campaign was damaging Germany's image
Wading back into German politics after a long break, former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder this week launched a blistering attack on Chancellor Angela Merkel and Roland Koch, the conservative premier of the western state of Hesse, charging them with inciting racial hatred and damaging Germany's image.
At a conference of his Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Hamburg, Schröder lashed out at Koch's verbal attack on foreigners and his calls for deporting "criminal foreigners" as he struggles to seek a third consecutive term as leader of Hesse.
Koch's statements have been supported by some members of Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU), which governs with the SPD in a grand coalition at the federal level, and Merkel too has not publicly reined in the 49-year-old. She has called the debate on juvenile crime a necessary one and supported conservative calls to tighten laws.
Koch is no stranger to controversy
Schröder, who is still a prominent figure in the SPD, accused Merkel for ignoring the mounting neo-Nazi attacks on foreigners in Germany.
"Young German far-rightists commit on the average three violent acts a day -- mostly against people with other skin color," Schröder was quoted as saying. "You won't hear anything about that ... from Mrs. Merkel."
Koch seized on a violent attack by two young immigrants on a 76-year-old pensioner on a Munich subway over the holiday period to make crime, in particular offences by youths from immigrant backgrounds, the centerpiece of his campaign.
"How much are we prepared to take from a small proportion of violent youths, who frequently have a foreign background?" Koch, once a rising star but now struggling, told mass circulation tabloid Bild last week. "We have spent too long showing a strange sociological understanding for groups that consciously commit violence as ethnic minorities."
Jewish group slams Koch
Schröder's criticism of Koch, who has used the anti-foreigner card in previous campaigns too, was echoed by Germany's Jewish community this week.
Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said Koch was using the same slogans as the far-right anti-immigrant NPD party of Germany.
"The standard of Premier Roland Koch's election campaign hardly differs from that of the NPD," Kramer said. "It is irresponsible when a politician plays with fire."
Kramer also criticized Koch's calls for tougher sentencing of juvenile criminals by courts.
"Yet again, politicians try to find quick solutions instead of analyzing the causes," Kramer told German news agency DDP. "That is populism, not policy."
The president of the Central Council of Jews, Charlotte Knobloch on Wednesday, Jan. 9, played down Kramer's comments, saying one couldn't compare a democratic party such as the CDU with the NPD.