Germany’s Left Party, Jewish leaders meet to discuss rise of populism, anti-Semitism
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Germany’s Left Party, Jewish leaders meet to discuss rise of populism, anti-Semitism

(JTA) — Fears about an increase in populist and right-wing extremism were at the top of the agenda for Jewish leaders in Germany in their first ever meeting with leaders of the Left Party.

In a joint statement, the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Left Party called on civil society and government to take a stand against a “worrying tendency” toward xenophobia and anti-Semitism as Germany prepares to enter a national election year.

On the table in Thursday’s two-hour meeting in Berlin were trends among some extreme groups toward denial of Israel’s right to exist, as well as hate crimes directed at recent refugees from war-torn countries in Africa, the Middle East and South-Central Asia.

Participants also discussed the rise of the right-populist Alternative For Germany party, which has gained seats in 10 of Germany’s 16 state parliaments. Several more state elections precede the national election in September, in which Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union party will stand for reelection to her fourth term.

“The social climate and the impending super-election year make it more important than ever for all democratic forces to stand together,” Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council, said in the statement, adding that the leadership of the Left Party had “responded openly to our concerns. We appreciate that.”

Katja Kipping, head of the Left Party, said the meeting had been “very interesting and productive,” covering current trends in Jewish life in Germany as well as political issues. “The Central Council of Jews is an important partner in the fight against the swing towards the right wing, against anti-Semitism and for a society that is solidly against discrimination,” she said.

Held at the Left Party headquarters in Berlin, the meeting was remarkable in that the party has come in for criticism by Jewish leaders for its extreme criticism of Israel, including sending lawmakers on the ill-fated Mavi Marmara vessel in 2010 and support for the BDS, or Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement against Israel

The Left Party assumes the mantle of Socialist parties of the East German communist era and immediate post-unification period. It has 64 seats out of 630 seats in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament.

In addition to Schuster, the Central Council was represented by vice presidents  Abraham Lehrer and Mark Dainow, board members Küf Kaufmann, Milena Rosenzweig-Winter, Vera Szackamer, Barbara Traub and executive director Daniel Botmann. For the Left Party, Kipping was joined by her co-chair Bernd Riexinger, members of the party’s board of directors and the vice president of the German Bundestag, Petra Pau.