Launch of Far-right AfD's Jewish Faction Flops as Hundreds of Counterprotesters Rally Nearby

While Jews in the far-right German party celebrated in muted fashion in Wiesbaden on Sunday, some 400 demonstrators attended a counterrally and all major Jewish-German groups united to criticize the new faction

Members of the Jews in AfD faction during a press conference in Wiesbaden, Germany, October 7, 2018. The woman standing is the faction's chairwoman, Vera Kosova.
Frank Rumpenhorst,AP

FRANKFURT, Germany – Fewer than 20 people gathered in Wiesbaden on Sunday for the inauguration ceremony of Juden in der AfD (“Jews in the AfD,” or JAfD), a new faction within Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party that has been accused of anti-Semitic rhetoric and Islamophobia.

AfD deputy leader Beatrix von Storch – the granddaughter of Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, Hitler's wartime finance minister – and Joachim Kuhs, the leader of the party’s Christian faction, were among those invited to speak at the launch.

Although only 19 people attended the event in the west German city, a counterrally held the same day, 40 kilometers (25 miles) away in Frankfurt, attracted some 400 protesters. And in a first, all of the major German-Jewish organizations teamed up to release a joint statement condemning the AfD and its new faction.

The rally was organized by the Jewish Students Union of Germany, whose president, Dalia Grinfeld, said it was vital because “the AfD is using this [JAfD] group ... for its own racist ideology. It’s a tool to give the perception that the AfD believes in diversity and pluralism, which is simply not true.

“As young Jews,” she added, “we wanted to make a clear stance that JAfD only represents a handful of community members and not the majority.”

Frankfurt Mayor Uwe Becker told Haaretz he was “shocked to hear that Jews might consider supporting a party that calls the Holocaust ‘a speck of bird shit in over a thousand years of successful German history.’”

Becker added that he believes “the AfD has mutated from a movement that was criticizing EU policy into a neofascist party.”

Hannah Peaceman, one of the speakers at the counterrally and an editor at Jalta (a magazine that covers Jewish life in Germany), believes the opening of a Jewish faction in the AfD is an attempt to “normalize” the party’s image, considering that it “does not have the answers of how to solve social problems like poverty, distributive justice or infrastructural problems.”

Protesters at the rally in Frankfurt against the new Jewish faction in the far-right AfD party, October 7, 2018.
Benny Fischer

However, members of the Jewish community at the JAfD launch defended their stance.

One of the faction’s founding members, Wolfgang Fuhl, told Haaretz that “individual Jews in the AfD realized they were not alone,” so wanted to create a group with the goal of becoming “the organized conservative Jewish voice of Germany.”

Although Fuhl does not agree with the party’s ban on kosher slaughter rituals, he says he does believe in the AfD’s policies when it comes to questioning the role of the euro currency, as well as controlling and protecting borders – suggesting Germany’s immigration law “should be like Australia or Canada.”

According to German broadcaster Deutche Welle, the JAfD elected Vera Kosova, originally from Uzbekistan, as chairperson, to be based in Berlin, with Fuhl as their deputy. According to Fuhl, all of the group’s founding members were already AfD voters at the time of the JAfD’s creation.

It may have been a small affair, but JAfD’s launch event still didn’t proceed without a hitch. For starters, the group struggled to find a venue willing to host it: The initial plan to hold the event in nearby Offenbach had to be scrapped when the Jewish owner of the original venue backed out after discovering who the group was. The group also received threats and was advised by the police to move locations.

Strange love for Israel

Despite tensions between Germany’s Jewish community and the AfD, the anti-immigration party is, like many others in Europe, a staunch supporter of Israel.

Members of the AfD such as co-leader Alexander Gauland have in the past praised Israel’s fierce stand against extremism as a case for anti-immigration, especially against refugees seeking asylum in Germany. The AfD has also suggested that it represents Jewish interests due to the possible threat of anti-Semitism from Muslim immigrants arriving in Germany.

Two men waiting for the start of a press conference as part of the launch of Jews in the AfD, in Wiesbaden, Germany, October 7, 2018.
Frank Rumpenhorst,AP

However, comments from politicians like Björn Höcke, who described the Holocaust memorial in Berlin as a “monument of shame,” or former executive member Gunnar Baumgart – who reportedly said that Zyklon B was used to save the Jews and not kill them during the Holocaust – have shown how the party’s admiration for Israel is easily overshadowed by some of its members’ historical revisionism regarding Germany’s dark past.

Dr. Alice Weidel, co-leader of the AfD, told Haaretz she was “glad and satisfied that Jewish members of the AfD shall finally join together and make themselves more visible in public.” She added that “many of them play an active role in their local Jewish community.”

When asked about the critical statement from the Jewish organizations, Weidel said she wasn’t “surprised” that they responded this way, noting that mainstream German-Jewish groups claim a “monopoly on interpreting Jewish position in society” – as “many of these organizations are dependent on government money.”

She argued that having the Jewish faction within the AfD will actually “contribute to enhancing pluralism among the Jewish community in Germany.”

Although choosing not to comment on Höcke’s statements, Weidel said the AfD “strongly condemns anti-Semitism” and is not an “anti-migrant party.” Instead, she said, the party “strongly opposes ‘irregular’ migration and, especially, the uncontrolled influx of anti-Semites, criminals and potential terrorists.”

Mike Samuel Delberg, who is part of the Maccabi board in Germany, told Haaretz that “anti-Semitism is not just a problem from far-right groups, but from Muslim and other religious and social groups. Anti-Semitism doesn’t just need to be tackled as a whole, but also within the various groups that are causing it.

A speak addressing the crowd at the counterrally to the JAfd launch, in Offenbach, near Frankfurt, October 7, 2018.
Benny Fischer

“It is very dangerous for these Jews to be joining the AfD, because we can‘t work with anti-Semitic racists to solve our other anti-Semitic problems,” he said. “The better alternative is to build coalitions with other religious minorities and to tackle the problems from within the communities.”

Bavaria hosts regional elections on Sunday and Laura Cazés, vice president of the European Union of Jewish Students, referenced these in her speech at the counterrally.

Cazés said that election posters calling “for Islam-free schools in Bavaria” were warning signs that must not be ignored, because “we as Jews should ask ourselves: ‘Which tradition does this claim follow on from?’ And once the schools are free of Islam, who will be the next group to be cleaned out?” she asked.