The Israeli government has stayed largely quiet on the Alternative for Germany’s (AfD) march into the national parliament, despite the upset it has caused among Holocaust survivors.
In Germany and internationally, the news that the AfD won 12.6 percent of the vote in the national election on Sunday was met with shock among Jewish associations.
Ronald S. Lauder, President of the Jewish World Congress, said it was “abhorrent”. He described the AfD as a “shameful movement” which recalls the worst times in German history.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany (ZJD), has repeatedly criticized the party in the past, due to historical revisionist comments made by senior AfD members.
“Unfortunately our worst fears have come true: a party which tolerates extreme right-wing opinions in its ranks and which incites against minorities has made it into the national parliament,” said ZJD President Josef Schuster on Sunday.
But in Israel the reaction has been more ambivalent. While Holocaust survivors in the Jewish state have expressed horror at the emergence of a strong far-right party in Germany, the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been reluctant to pass judgement.
Netanyahu’s initial response to Sunday’s election was to congratulate Angela Merkel, while making no mention of the AfD.
On Tuesday the right-wing Israeli leader eventually addressed the issue, albeit indirectly. In a statement, he expressed concern “at increasing anti-Semitism in recent years among political elements on the right and left in Germany, and among Islamists there.”
Efraim Zuroff, a Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem sees Israel “in a dilemma in relation to certain right-wing populists parties which have sympathies for Israel but also have anti-Semitic roots.”
“That’s a problem that isn’t unique in Germany,” he said, describing similar phenomena in Australia, France and the Netherlands.
While the AfD have as yet said little on their official position towards Israel, lead candidate Alexander Gauland stated on Monday that “of course we stand on Israel’s side.”
At the same time, the populist party have often stressed the threat posed to German society by radical Islam, a position which chimes with Netanyahu’s right-wing government.
German-Israeli historian Moshe Zimmermann isn’t surprised at Israel’s reluctance to criticize the AfD.
“To put it simply, the yardstick for Israeli policy is how a person or party sees Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory,” the professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem said.
“If there is criticism of the occupation then they try to associate their critics with anti-Semitism. If there seems to be support then they even ignore antisemitic positions in the party.”
According to Zimmermann, this explains why Netanyahu ignored Donald Trump’s controversial response to neo-Nazi marches in Charlottesville this summer. The Israeli government also kept quiet when Trump failed to mention Jews during a speech on Holocaust memorial day in January, Zimmermann points out.
“Whoever is against the left and Muslims can’t be against Israel,” he said, explaining Netanyahu’s thinking.