Opinion

Why Israel Won't Condemn the Shocking Success of Germany's Far-right Extremists

After its improper, evasive, even complicit responses to Charlottesville, to Trump and to Hungary's anti-Semitic anti-Soros campaign, it's no surprise that Israel's response to neo-Nazis in the Bundestag is a deafening silence

"Stop Islamization" - an Alternative for Germany election campaign poster in Marxloh, a suburb of Duisburg with a large Turkish migrant population, September 13, 2017.
WOLFGANG RATTAY/REUTERS

Everybody in Germany got the message: the outcome of last Sunday's elections meant more than just adding another new political faction to the Bundestag.

That a radical right-wing party, Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD), entered the Bundestag is an alarm signal, an unprecedented challenge to post-Nazi Germany.  For 68 years the German political system warded off all substantial attempts by right-wing extremists to get into parliament.

>> Day After Election Success: Far-right AfD Leader Questions Germany's Special Relationship With Israel

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That era is over, definitively, and Germany has now joined many other democratic nations in allowing anti-democratic movements to send representatives into their national legislative assemblies.

The rise of right-wing populist parties and the new authoritarian tendencies in current politics threaten the democratic system all over the globe and should have been considered a major challenge also for the Jewish state.

AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) leaders address a Berlin press conference on the day after the German General elections. September 25, 2017
ODD ANDERSEN/AFP

In the past, the fight of Jews against anti-Semitism went hand in hand with the fight against ethnocentric nationalism, xenophobia and anti-liberalism. Having this experience in mind, one might have expected the Jewish state to continue to be consistent with this strategy today. Now, when the AfD has entered the Bundestag, it is high time to ask whether Israel is acting up to expectations.

Unfortunately, the answer so far is no.

The experience of the last few months proves the absence of a clear-cut Israeli condemnation of populist parties and tendencies: Netanyahu's cautious reaction to the Charlottesville Nazi demonstrations and to Trump's moral-equivalence response, on the one hand and Netanyahu's approach to the anti-Semitic anti-Soros campaign of Hungary's Prime Minister Orban, on the other hand, are two good examples of official Israel's improper, evasive handling of the problem.

Not that Netanyahu or other fighters for the Jewish cause miss a chance to smell what seems to them to be an anti-Semitic rat: When the German foreign minister visited Israel and met representatives of the Breaking the Silence NGO, he and his Social Democratic party were accused of being anti-Semitic. 

Protesters outside an election night event of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in Berlin after the general election on September 24, 2017
JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP

When the Mayor of Berlin (also a Social Democrat) was not quick enough in condemning the BDS movement he was even threatened by the Wiesenthal Center to be put on the list of top ten anti-Semites worldwide. 

In short, anti-Semitism is attributed primarily to those who do not support the Israeli government's policy.

The old misfortune of being blind on the right side is repeated by Israel and its mouthpieces, but not by them alone. The head of the Jewish community in Germany used the opportunity of sharing his thoughts about the situation on the eve of Rosh Hashana with his community only a few days before the German elections, but, amazingly, without mentioning the AfD by name. Only after the results of the elections were announced did the German-Jewish leadership publish a strong declaration condemning the anti-democratic AfD.

It is time to wake up.

In a few weeks another right-wing populist party, the Austrian one, will be on the verge of entering the government. Is Israel going to disregard the racist character of this party too, and tolerate its entry into the government only because its leader declared his sympathy for Israel's policies?

A demonstrator's placard reads: "13 percent is a disgrace", referring to the electoral gains made by the far-right anti-immigration Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) party. Berlin, September 24, 2017
WOLFGANG RATTAY/REUTERS

In Germany no party will even consider letting the AfD join the government; protecting the democracy against the new racist faction in the Bundestag is a matter of principle for all other parties and will guide them in parliamentary life every day for the next four years.  

Here Israel cannot waver: The AfD politicians pulled the usual trick – they were also eager to show their support for Israel or brag about Jews joining the party, and on top of it referred to the "common adversary": the mainly Muslim refugees/infiltrators 'flooding' into Germany. Will this bear-hug do the trick?

No objective observer can have any doubts: This alleged alliance against Muslims or Arabs, suggested by the AfD and other populists, is a pitfall which Israel must avoid at all costs. Not only is it an imagined alliance; it is a betrayal of the fight against anti-Semitism and of the basic human values of Zionism. Israelis should have shown more esteem for Angela Merkel's welcome gesture towards the refugees.

A blind eye to racism and intolerance in Germany, in Europe, for the sake of getting support for the present Israeli policies in the occupied territories is a disgrace. The AfD is more than just another populist, racist European Party. It is a movement that intends to turn the clock back on democratic Germany's effort to learn from its terrible past for the sake of an enlightened and tolerant future.

Official Israel must to join the anti-AfD majority in Germany in its fight against the enemies of an open society.

Moshe Zimmermann is a historian and Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Shimon Stein is a former Israeli ambassador to Germany and Senior Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University