German Politicians Squabble As Jewish Leader Warns of Extremism

Germany’s Jewish leader is calling on politicians to band together to tackle right-wing extremism instead of bickering over its causes. Paul Spiegel spoke out this week after Edmund Stoiber, head of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union, blamed the economic policies of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his Social Democratic Party for increasing right-wing extremism.

The German public recently was shocked when legislators from the far-right National Democratic Party, or NPD, walked out of a Holocaust remembrance ceremony in the eastern state of Saxony, suggesting that German suffering in the war had been given short shrift.

But many observers suggest Stoiber’s statements are politically driven and could even help the NPD indirectly.

Stoiber, who lost to Schroeder in the 2002 national election, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper Sunday that Germany’s poor economy today is similar to that during the Weimar Republic, which historians say paved the way for the Nazi rise to power. Joblessness is particularly high in the eastern states.

Stoiber’s party and its sister party, the Christian Democratic Union, have come under fire in the past for failing to distance themselves from certain far-right sentiments that overlap with mainstream conservatism, such as negative views of immigrants and rejection of a national Holocaust memorial.

In 2003, legislator Martin Hohmann was ejected from the Christian Democratic Union’s Parliamentary fraction over a speech in which he said Jews could be called a “nation of perpetrators” for their supposed role in the Bolshevik revolution.

Party chief Angela Merkel came under fire for failing to eject Hohmann from the party completely.

The debate comes as unemployment in Germany stands at 5 million, and as Schroeder attempts to scale back the country’s legendary social safety net. With studies showing links between right-wing extremist attitudes and socioeconomic conditions, the field is ripe for political haymakers.

Stoiber got a nod of approval from historian Michael Wolffsohn of the German Army University in Munich. Wolffsohn, who is Jewish, told the Sachsischen Zeitung newspaper that millions of people voted for the Nazis “not in order to kill millions of Jews but in order to solve unemployment and other systemic crises.”

But Spiegel, head of the Central Council of German Jews, said the causes of right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism are manifold and require careful analysis. It “reflects neither the facts nor experience to reduce the causes to the economic level,” he told the Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper.

In any case, he said, the political confrontation over the issue is pointless, and he called on “all democratic parties to join forces in facing this question, which is so important for all Germany.”

Germany’s president, Horst Kohler, agreed with Spiegel. Just back from a state visit to Israel, Kohler told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper that it was important that all democratic parties close ranks to fight right-wing extremism.

Kohler reportedly expressed support recently for banning the NPD. The federal government tried to ban the party in 2003, but failed after it emerged that some witnesses were paid informants.

Meanwhile, Parliament President Wolfgang Thierse of Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party said he doubted whether a new attempt to ban the NPD would succeed. But he told Die Welt newspaper that it was important to point out the demagoguery and populism the NPD is tapping, and warned that “right-wing extremists are already in the middle of the society.”

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