Although the AfD has repeatedly claimed it has nothing against Jews, its members have a record of making anti-Semitic comments or declining to condemn those who do, and associating with anti-Semites. Last year, the party’s Björn Höcke called Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial a “memorial of disgrace” and said Germans should stop feeling so guilty over Nazi atrocities. Alexander Gauland, one of AfD’s co-leaders, recently said that “Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of bird shit in over 1,000 years of successful German history,” a remark that the German president condemned as an attempt to “deliberately reopen old wounds, and foment hatred.” In August, prominent AfD members were caught on camera marching beside neo-Nazis at an anti-immigration rally in the city of Chemnitz, where protesters flashed Nazi salutes and shouted “foreigners out!” AfD leaders later defended the rally.
In the lead-up to the launch of the Jewish group, member Dimitri Schulz explained that the AfD’s approach to Muslims is part of the attraction. “The AfD is the only party in Germany that focuses on Muslims’ hatred for Jews, without playing it down,” he said in a statement. Local Jewish leaders were quick to slam that logic as “difficult to grasp” or “completely baffling.” Yet it echoes the logic that has driven some Jews to support far-right parties in other European countries, such as France, Austria, and the Netherlands.
Germany has recently seen a worrisome spike in anti-Semitic incidents. Some of these incidents are carried out by Muslims, though police statistics cited by NPR indicate the vast majority are not. The AfD, which has campaigned hard against the influx of Muslim migrants welcomed by Merkel in 2015, has capitalized on the fear of anti-Semitic violence to try to appeal to German Jews. Last year, for instance, the AfD’s then-leader told the newspaper Die Welt that the party is “one of the few political guarantors of Jewish life, even in times of illegal anti-Semitic migration to Germany.”
Although some Jews, like Schulz, may believe that, the majority of the German Jewish community condemns the AfD and the idea of a Jewish group within it. “Don’t be fooled by the AfD’s anti-Muslim, inflammatory rhetoric,” the Central Council of Jews in Germany warned its members in a letter shortly after plans to launch the group were announced. Another German Jewish group, the non-partisan Values Initiative, pleaded with Jews not to become a “fig leaf” for the AfD.
The AfD has claimed that it has a significant number of Jewish supporters, though there is no data to back up that assertion. What is clear is that the party has sponsored several Jewish candidates for parliament—successfully, in the case of the Jewish AfD member of parliament Wolfgang Fuhl. When I asked Fuhl why he supports the AfD, he, too, cited concerns about Muslim anti-Semitism. “The AfD is the only party that opposes any form of anti-Semitism. All other parties speak out strongly and do little against Islamic and radical-left anti-Semitism,” he wrote to me in an email. “I became a member of the AfD as early as 2013 because I am convinced by the conservative orientation of the AfD.”