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Far-right lawmaker stripped of parliamentary role

Kyra Levine | Christoph Strack
November 13, 2019

In a move unprecedented in modern German history, lawmakers on Wednesday stripped a far-right politician of his role as a parliamentary committee chair. He had made comments widely condemned as anti-Semitic.

Stephan Brandner, member of the Bundestag for the far-right AfD
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. I. Bänsch

Stephan Brandner, a lawyer and member of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, had served as head of the legal affairs committee in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament.

All parliamentary groups within the Bundestag, except his own party's, voted for Brandner's removal from the post. "The dismissal of Brandner is a clear signal against incitement and hatred — we are finally returning dignity to the office," said Jan-Marco Luczak, deputy parliamentary spokesperson for Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats (CDU). Johannes Fechner, a parliamentary legal expert for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), said "Mr. Brandner was simply no longer acceptable."

In addition to numerous condemnations from politicians, professional groups, including the German Bar Association and DJB lawyers' association, had issued a statement that Brandner was "not able to meet the demands of his office" or to "always guarantee respect for people."

No such dismissal has happened in the Bundestag's 70-year history.

AfD: A platform for grievances

AfD's history of controversial statements

In early November, Brandner had been castigated and told to quit by politicians from across the spectrum for having tweeted that popular singer Udo Lindenberg, who had been awarded Germany's prestigious Federal Order of Merit, got a "Judas reward" for his outspoken stand "against us [the AfD]." The German equivalent, "Judaslohn," is used to mean a traitor's reward, like that paid to the figure of Judas for his betrayal of Jesus, as depicted in the Bible.

The far-right populists have often been criticized due to many of its top politicians' use of Nazi-era terms, such as "Volksverräter," or "traitor of the people," or for suggesting some groups of people should be "entsorgt," or "disposed of," a parallel to the Nazi mass murder of Jews, Poles, Roma, and many other groups during the Holocaust. Conservative politician Luczak had previously said that Brandner "toyed quite deliberately with anti-Semitic terminology." 

Read more: 'You are a racist,' Germans tell AfD politician

In October, following a right-wing extremist's failed attempt to carry out a massacre on a synagogue in eastern Germany, Brandner had also retweeted a post asking why politicians were "hanging around" mosques and synagogues with candles when the two people killed in the attack had been Germans. His "Judas" statement was then widely interpreted as being anti-Semitic, and was apparently the final straw for his fellow lawmakers.

After his ousting, Brandner cast himself as the victim. "Whatever we do, the other parties just want to kick the AfD in the shins." Party co-leader Alexander Gauland condemned the move and had no problem with Brandner's previous comments. "I don't know where the scandal is … This [dismissal] is an affront to democracy." Gauland himself has repeatedly come under fire for his own statements, including referring to Nazi Germany's mass murder of millions as "just a speck of bird shit in 1,000 years of successful German history."

Read more: Nazi 'bird shit' and the limits of free speech in Germany

Far-right gaining ground

The dismissal takes place amid growing concern about radicalism in the ranks of the AfD. Founded in 2013, the party swept into the Bundestag for the first time in 2017 following public anger over Merkel's previously open-door policy on refugees. It has steadily gained seats in several state parliaments across the country.

Their success coincides with rising xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in Germany. In a recent survey, 27% of German respondents agreed with a range of anti-Semitic statements and stereotypes about Jewish people, and over 800 religiously motivated attacks on Muslims were reported across the country last year.

The far-right populists are now the third-largest party in the Bundestag and gained record levels of support in three state elections this autumn. AfD politicians also sit atop the budgetary and tourism committees in the body.

White-washing German history

Deutsche Welle Strack Christoph Portrait
Christoph Strack Christoph Strack is a senior author writing about religious affairs.@Strack_C
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