It may just be the result of a scheduling necessity that German Chancellor Angela Merkel began her visit to Israel, including bilateral cabinet consultations, on October 3 - but it certainly is a remarkable historical coincidence.
Ever since 1990, as the Berlin Wall fell, that date has been known as the "Day of German Unity," and has become synonymous with a country finally regaining its unity in a freedom it had not enjoyed for more than a half-century. Since reunification, extensive festivities are held every year on this day, celebrating Germans peacefully overcoming their country’s dark past and opening the way for a brighter future together.
It would seem only fitting that also on this day, Chancellor Merkel would leave for what is essentially another display of unity, this time with the Jewish state. What better symbol could there be for a Germany that has left behind all its authoritarian and anti-Semitic tendencies?
What might at first appear like a steady march towards enlightenment has however taken a worrying turn over recent years. On this October 3, I am sad to say that Germany’s much-praised Einheit [unity] has never been in shorter supply.
While difficulties have made themselves felt long before, the violent demonstrations in the southeastern city of Chemnitz this summer have shone a painfully bright light on the extensive societal divisions Germany faces today while also showcasing how disruptive a reinvigorated radical right can be, if it so chooses.
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- German Far-right Claims to Protect Jews by Opposing Muslim Immigration
- We German Jews Ask: Why Is the U.S. Ambassador Aiding the Far-right?
- Anti-Semitism Growing in Germany, State Premier Tells Haaretz
And even though some reports may have gone somewhat overboard in their coverage of the events, it seems safe to say that at least for a time, Chemnitz was in effect under mob rule. A small group of far-right protesters even attacked the city’s only Jewish restaurant, injuring its owner and chanting "Jewish pigs, get out of Germany."
Some commentators have elected to chalk all of this up to the vivid history of neo-Nazism in the former East and particularly the state of Saxony, which Chemnitz is in. While this interpretation is certainly not wrong, it conveniently, and in my opinion wrongly, absolves the old "West" of any wrongdoing.
The sad truth is that today, the far-right Alternative for Germany party – whose members and functionaries marched alongside known neo-Nazis in Chemnitz – can count on considerable electoral support all throughout the country. It easily entered the Bundestag last year and is settling in second spot in the national polls today; and this month it is poised to enter the last two state parliaments in which it has no current representation, including in my native Bavaria.
The polarization wrought by this openly radical-right party continues to poison our public discourse and pit the citizens of our country against each other. This rift is unlike any other the Federal Republic has ever seen, in that it goes deeper and is much more fundamental.
In the past, Social and Christian Democrats always bickered about policy, but they were united in the liberal, pro-Western, democratic consensus of post-war German democracy. Between these traditional parties on the one side and the AfD on the other, however, there is virtually no common ground.
What can there even be to talk about when one side seeks to maintain the liberal status quo and the other is dominated by vile, conspiracy theory-peddling kooks who detest liberalism and praise countries like Hungary and Russia as role models for a nationalistic, ethnically pure and more-than-slightly authoritarian Europe?
One should note that not every problem the AfD addresses is necessarily made-up. For instance, there is no denying that Germany’s efforts at integrating its sizable Muslim population has not been a success story, starting long before 2015. The notorious anti-Semitism rampant within many Muslim communities today is part of that problem.
The AfD’s ethno-nationalist "solutions" are surely the last thing that will alleviate the situation, but they hold an appeal for those who panic about an impending "Islamization." This sadly even includes some Jews who have joined the Alternative’s ranks and are, this Sunday, intending to create a "Jews in the AfD" platform.
The AfD’s Jews (and pseudo-Jews)’ PR coup notwithstanding, the vast majority of Germany’s Jewish population, myself included, can only rub their eyes in wonder at those Jewish individuals who would look the other way when AfD officials march alongside neo-Nazis; who stay silent when the party chairman describes the Nazi era as a "speck of bird shit in German history"; or who will bend themselves into pretzels trying to explain how every single one of Germany’s problems allegedly boils down to Muslim immigration.
It does not seem to matter that the AfD’s idea of Germany would not allow for much of a Jewish presence, either. The Bavarian AfD already calls for a ban on circumcision and ritual slaughter.
I have lived in Germany all my life, and I would not wish to live anywhere else. Germany is still a strong, wealthy, and politically stable country – something we should keep in mind at the time of such a resonant national holiday as this.
However, as a German and as a Jew, it pains me to see how far the divisions have progressed in our society. Once more, I am witnessing the rise of a party on the far right, and I see anti-Semitism on the rise again, not least because of it.
Germany is a long way from "unity in freedom" today.
Born in Munich in 1932, Charlotte Knobloch survived the Holocaust by hiding on a farm in northern Bavaria. She has been head of the Jewish community in Munich since 1985 and served as the World Jewish Congress's Vice-President and Commissioner for Holocaust Memory and as head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. She was awarded the Grand Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2008. Twitter: @Cha_Knobloch