The inaugural "Jews in the AfD" group is set to meet in Offenbach on Sunday, ostensibly calling out anti-Semitism – and the irony cannot be ignored. Guest columnist Armin Langer recommends Jews pursue other associations.
Jews in the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany Party (AfD)? This initially sounds absurd — the party has shown repeatedly that it has an anti-Semitism problem. The AfD is the party which, according to its manifesto, wants to introduce a ban on shechita (the method of producing kosher meat under Jewish law), which will make many Jews' lives more difficult. It is the party whose deputy parliamentary group leader in the Berlin-Marzahn district council praised "the clever policies of SS chief Heinrich Himmler's head deputy Reinhard Heydrich," the organizer of the Wannsee Conference on the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question."
The party's parliamentary leader in the Thuringian state parliament, Björn Höcke, described Berlin's Holocaust monument as a "memorial to shame" and called for a "180-degree reversal on the politics of remembrance." These are just a few of the anti-Semitic scandals in recent years. And yet it is precisely this party, the AfD, that is offering itself as an election option for Jews. The reason? Because the AfD pays special attention to anti-Semitic acts of violence committed by young people of Arab descent and advocates restricting immigration from the Islamic cultural region.
Anti-Semitic "friends of Jews" across Europe
The phenomenon of right-wing populist parties acting as Jewish communities' allies is not new but can be observed across Europe. Marine Le Pen, head of the French Rassemblement National – known for decades as Front National until its softer rebranding this past June – has expressed her sympathy with Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-National Liberal Movement, a center-right to right-wing political party in Israel. Geert Wilders of the Dutch "Party for Freedom" uses his trips to Israel for the same purpose. According to Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) chairman Heinz-Christian Strache, his party resolutely opposes hatred of Jews. And Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has justified his anti-migration agenda by his alleged fight against anti-Semitism, among other things. A similar strategy is used by other right-wing parties such as the Swedish Democrats, Belgiums Vlaams Belang (a right-wing populist Flemish nationalist political party) and Italy's right-wing to far-right populist Lega Nord.
But sooner or later the mask will drop: Orban has been campaigning for years against American-Jewish investor George Soros, who finances various human rights organizations, accusing him of "de-Christianizing" Europe by promoting Islamization. This conspiracy theory operates with the cliche of the Jewish puppeteer dictating world politics from behind the scenes. Johann Gudenus, leader of the Viennese FPÖ parliamentary group, also believes that Soros "tried with a lot of capital power to finance all possible revolutionary tendencies." This anti-Semitic conspiracy theory is also disseminated by the portal Die Freie Welt (the free world) which belongs to the network "Zivile Koalition" (civil coalition, an online portal which claims to carry out "civil society initiatives and actions on various current issues") and which is run by the deputy AfD parliamentary group leader Beatrix von Storch.
An alliance between Jews and right-wing populists cannot work in the long term. This is because right-wing populists will only take a stand against anti-Semitism if they can use it to promote their anti-migrant agenda. It is certainly not about (supporting) Jews. The AfD is not establishing a Jewish group because the Jewish constituency is important; the number of Jews in Germany is far too small for that. In reality, it is all about gentiles justifying their fear of supposed Islamic land grabbing with the Jews' fear of Muslim anti-Semitism. Jews are merely being used as a means to an end.
Seek alliance with other minorities
If the AfD were really concerned with combating anti-Semitism, it would also have to condemn the anti-Semitism within the party and among traditional Germans. But the focus is solely on anti-Semitic crimes committed by migrants. At the same time, all the Jews' natural opponents are welcome in the party: from anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists and relativists to even Holocaust deniers. Jews in Germany and Europe should therefore under no circumstances engage with right-wing populists, but rather seek alliances with other marginalized minorities threatened by right-wing populists — not least with Muslims. Because initiatives that threaten minorities' religious freedom, such as the restriction of kosher and halal slaughtering demanded by the AfD, could very soon challenge Jewish and Muslim communities together.
Armin Langer studied philosophy and Jewish theology in Berlin, Jerusalem and Budapest. He is the founder of the Salaam-Schalom Initiative, a community interfaith alliance in Berlin; author of the book "Ein Jude in Neukölln - Mein Weg zum Miteinander der Religionen" ("A Jew in Neukölln: My Path to Religious Coexistence"); and editor of the anthology "Fremdgemacht & Reorientiert" ("Strange Made & Reoriented").