Holocaust denial during a visit to Yad Vashem; a call to blow up the Hassan Bek Mosque while strolling through Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market; and a question about the "Jewish gene” in Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People. This is what the far-right German version of a trip to Israel looks like.
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A writer for the German magazine Neon snuck onto a tour of Israel by supporters of populist anti-immigrant parties in Germany last November. The article, which the magazine published this week, documents the week spent up close with Holocaust-denying, racist and Islamophobic Germans. They describe themselves as Israel supporters, who came to see how “the only democracy in the Middle East” deals with “the Muslim problem” that has gripped Germany recently.
The tour was organized by the popular German blog Politically Incorrect, which is identified with the far-right. The blog invited its readers to Israel for eight days under the title “Modern Israel: Politics, Army, Society and Fun.”
The blog attracts 100,000 readers every day, with Neon correspondent Marco Maurer calling it “the most influential blog in Germany. I visit it from time to time to see what the right is thinking. When I saw the ad for the trip, I thought that a visit to Israel is so politically charged, it’s the perfect opportunity to understand how the right thinks.”
Maurer says he went on the trip with an open mind, to figure out once and for all if the people hiding behind Germany’s extremist websites are anti-Semites, racists or perhaps not as harmful as people think they are.
His conclusions should bother Israelis – mainly those politicians who have drawn closer to the European far-right under the pretense of sharing a common enemy, radical Islam, without understanding that these people are actually also claiming that Germany was not responsible for the Holocaust.
Maurer, a journalist from Munich, pretended to be a doctoral student of Germanic Studies from Frankfurt identifying with Germany’s young, right-wing hipster movement.
The tour organizer is a German who goes by the alias “Merkava” (like the Israeli tank). He claimed in a conversation with the group that Israel is his home. He signs his emails “With Zionist blessings.” He revealed during the trip that he was formerly a member of the far-right, anti-Muslim German Freedom Party.
Merkava told the group at the beginning of the trip why Muslims bothered him. He said his parents were German diplomats in Cairo, where he learned that Muslims “are all misogynists, violent and corrupt.”
The local tour guide, who took the group around Israel, presented herself as the daughter of divorced parents from Germany, and that her grandfather was murdered in Buchenwald.
On the second day of the tour, at Tel Aviv’s Beit Hatfutsot, one of the participants asked the tour guide, “Is there a ‘typical Jew’ genetically?” Later, at a restaurant in central Tel Aviv, “two darkskinned men,” as Maurer put it, entered and a member of the tour group said he would have felt better armed. “A man needs to be able to protect himself from ‘invaders,’” he explained, while eating tabbouleh.
Meet at the mosque
The tour proceeded to the Carmel Market, where participants had free time for shopping. The tour guide made the nearby Hassan Bek Mosque the meeting point. Merkava protested, unclear if he was trying to be funny or serious as he wondered aloud: “Does it have to be there?” Another participant added, “Aren’t we better off blowing it up?”
“I didn’t hear that!” shot back the tour guide.
Over Saturday morning breakfast at their hotel in Tel Aviv, Maurer’s ears caught the following sentence from one of the visitors: “The SS was like an anti-terror organization that worked against socialism.” Members of the group received warm regards from Michael Stürzenberger, a popular blogger and former chairman of the German Freedom Party. He became famous after he called Islam a “cancer” and was fined 1,200 euros ($1,270). He couldn’t make the tour because he had to appear in a Munich court, where he is standing trial for insulting a religion.
“They want to turn us into Muslims,” one member of the group said during a meal. Another participant asked him if he believed that “Muslims will attack us” and he responded, “It will happen.” He backed it up by explaining Muslim “racial” traits. He then added that Germany must “amass weapons” to protect itself from “the enemy taking control.”
The fourth day of the tour began with a bus ride to Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood. Pointing at African migrants, Merkava said, “The ‘invaders’ already took control of this neighborhood,” and warned that Germans can expect the same thing.
The trip eventually reached Gush Etzion’s Caliber 3 “security training academy.” Tour members think Israeli soldiers are greeting them at the shooting range there because of their fake-IDF fatigues. The itinerary includes playing in a “game” in which terrorists try to take over a market. Participants take them out by shooting them in the head or attacking them with German shepherds. On another part of the range, they fire at simulated targets. “It was fun! Now we’ll be able to shoot at Antifa activists and Arabs,” said one participant, referring to the anti-fascist movement.
The fifth day is the highlight of the tour: a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. Answering a question about the number of Jewish Holocaust victims, the tour guide explained that “these numbers were proven scientifically.” One of the participants tells Maurer he doesn’t believe the “six million” number is correct, and that the real number of Jews murdered by Germany is 500,000. “The rest died and were murdered by others,” he says. Others in the group threw out a host of conspiracy theories – the main one placing responsibility for the Holocaust on the “American establishment.”
The Politically Incorrect blog describes itself as a news site “against the Islamization of Europe.” The site constitutes a virtual meeting ground for supporters of the anti-Islamic, nationalist Pegida movement, which spreads hatred and incitement against immigrants. German reports about the blog link it to far-right parties like Pro NRW, which is under surveillance by German intelligence agencies. The blog proclaims itself “Pro-Israel” and stressed that it “supports a strong and secure Israel, and admires its values.”
The tour members were a representative sample of the German far-right in the early 21st century. They came from different social, geographic, occupational and political backgrounds. Some of them have voted for the far-left Die Linke party. Others supported Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, and one voted for the Social Democratic Party. Today, most of them are united under the banner of Alternative for Germany, the populist and Islamophobic party.
The group included a 40-year-old supporter of Alternative for Germany, who said he came to Israel to learn “what we can do against the invasion of our homeland.” Group members also called Muslim immigrants “barbarians.” It is no coincidence that they chose Israel for their tour. “They see Israel as an example, because it is in a long conflict with its Muslim neighbors,” says Maurer.
The group also included a 50-year-old woman who is active in the German Freedom Party leadership; a 71-year-old man from Cologne who was a member of the board of directors of a drug company; and a 73-year-old man from Frankfurt who works as a business consultant and was a member of the Federal Convention that elects the German president. The senior member of the group is Jörge Henke, 55, a member of the Thuringian parliament for Alternative for Germany.
The blog called the visit a success, and is already advertising its next trip here, which will take place on May 22-29.
“Solidarity with Israel is not expressed only in words but also in acts,” the announcement about registration stated. The next trip will also include a visit to the “supposedly occupied territories,” including “supposed settlements,” as well as a view of the Gaza Strip – in order to show visitors the truth about the “starvation of the Gaza Strip by Israel.”
Attractions will include a visit to Mount Herzl, “where the brother of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Yonatan, who was the commander of the successful and daring operation to free hostages in Entebbe, is buried in the military section.”