Where Anti-migration and anti-Semitism Meet: How Germany's AfD Came to Be

Party leader Frauke Petry made significant gains in a recent vote and she's calling for a ban on religious practices including circumcision. But the AfD wasn't always seen as a threat to the Jewish community.

Frauke Petry, chairwoman of the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) arrives for a news conference in Berlin, Germany, March 14, 2016.
Frauke Petry, chairwoman of the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) arrives for a news conference in Berlin, Germany, March 14, 2016.Credit: Reuters

The new, ultra-nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party dealt Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) a sharp setback on Sunday by gaining seats in three state legislatures across Germany.

Observers regard the vote for the AfD as an indication of rising anti-migrant frustrations across the country - a phenomenon shared by other European countries and the United States.

The AfD campaigned heavily against Merkel's liberal immigration policies, which have seen some 1.1 million register as asylum-seekers in the country in 2015. But the right-wing party has set its sights on more than the rejection of Middle Eastern refugees, and somehow, Jewish traditions have been caught in the cross-fire.

In a draft of the AfD manifesto due to be published on April 30, the party calls for a ban on Muslim minarets and public calls to prayer, but also rejects the circumcision of boys as "serious violations of fundamental rights," according to a Politico report in early March.

The call against circumcision, easily viewed as targeting the Jewish community, came as a surprise to some who've seen the party stick to the issues of Islam and migration in their steady repetition of right-wing positions. In reality, it wouldn't be the first time in its short history that the AFD has broken out of a shell to change the established party line.

According to the BBC, the AfD's historical roots rest on economic issues in wake of the Eurozone crisis. Founders Bernd Lucke, Alexander Gauland and Konrad Adam railed against Germany's economic policies of bailing out other European countries engulfed in the financial crisis and called for withdrawal from the Euro.

Lucke's run as party leader was short lived.

He quit the position in July 2015, citing increasing xenophobia in its message and among its members. After the internal power struggle that resulted in Lucke's resignation, Frauke Petry took over as party leader and fit the new right-wing profile carved out by party members.

Suddenly the party's official line attacked refugees and migrants rather than economic policies and their associated technocrats. Petry event suggested that German police should shoot at migrants "if necessary" to keep them out of the country.

Now Petry has led her party from anti-migration to worrying signs of anti-Semitism. Only time will tell how many Germans share these sentiments and how far the right-hand fork in the road will lead Petry and her AfD.

Besides a long history of being singled out in times of instability, Jews can observe in political parties like the far-right that protectionism, anti-Islamic sentiments, and border-line anti-Semitic proposals are not mutually exclusive.

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