Opinion

Populism Is to Blame for Netanyahu’s Silence on Right-wing Rise in Germany

The prime minister hasn’t said a word about Alternative for Germany's worrying success

Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland, newly elected parliamentary party leaders ofthe hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, in Berlin on September 26, 2017
STEFFI LOOS/AFP

When Germany held general elections in May 1928, the ambitious Nazi Party received a pathetic, disappointing 2.6 percent of the vote, which gave it 12 seats in the Reichstag. In the next election, September 1930, the Nazi Party won 18.3 percent of the vote, which gave it 107 seats in the Reichstag and turned it into Germany’s second largest party. This paved its way to power, and the rest is written in the history books.

In 2013, an extreme right-wing nationalist party called the Alternative for Germany contended in Germany’s general election for the first time. It didn’t manage to cross the electoral threshold. But this week, it became the third-largest party in Germany after winning 12.6 percent if the vote. It is expected to have about 90 delegates in the Bundestag.

Faithful to its populist campaign messages, its leaders have already promised to “haunt” Chancellor Angela Merkel and “change the face of Germany.” The next day, Ofer Aderet reported that the party’s media adviser also worked on the latest campaigns run by Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mark Twain is credited with the saying that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. There are circumstances that allow us to cling to the hope that Twain was right. The Weimar Republic was run by the Social Democratic Party, which was riven by internal strife and even more at odds with its allies. Hitler and his friends found it easy to eat away at its base of support, given the global economic crisis and the effects of the Treaty of Versailles.

Modern-day Germany, in contrast, is governed by the Christian Democratic Union, a conservative, moderate-right party led by a popular chancellor. Germany is relatively prosperous and economically stable, and it is seen as a global success story and the leader of the European bloc. Nevertheless, a disastrous populist current is bubbling beneath the surface.

This is an ugly current of global dimensions. It is always based on the same core principles, which haven’t changed since the 1930s: nationalism, racism, hatred of foreigners, anger and disgust at state institutions, deep contempt for the values of liberal democracy (equal rights, a free press, the supremacy of the justice system, empathy for migrants and refugees). And anti-Semitism also emerges from beneath all these.

The great difference between then and now, of course, is the establishment of Israel. We ought to expect Israel to function as a beacon of opposition to racist, nationalist populism worldwide, a kind of light unto the nations.

But modern-day Israel, in a shameful irony of history, is itself led by this populist current.

The ideological marker of the governing coalition is the Habayit Hayehudi party, which preaches racial purity and superiority, extra rights for the Jewish people and suitable Lebensraum in which to expand. Recently, to wring the last drop from the historical joke, its leader has even accused his opponents of being self-loathing Jews.

Our reckless prime minister has been pulled along and borne aloft by the support of the local populist current. Just this year, he lent vigorous support to radical nationalist right-wing governments in Eastern Europe and rolled out a red carpet of flattery for the populist American president, a racist who hates foreigners.

His son, who is de facto in charge of his propaganda machine, recently claimed that the danger posed by American neo-Nazis is less than the danger posed by the left and shared an anti-Semitic cartoon that portrayed the leaders of the anti-Netanyahu protests in Petah Tikva as one link in the food chain of global Jewish capital. The American neo-Nazi right warmly embraced him in response.

His father didn’t call him to order, and he never apologized. No wonder the Israeli prime minister’s lame response to the results of the German election began and ended with congratulating Merkel, with not a word about Alternative for Germany and its worrying success. He clearly doesn’t want to get into trouble with the rotten fruit that has grown in his own house, or with his successful media advisor and his rejoicing colleagues overseas.