(JTA) — A far-right populist party in Germany claimed it is the last best hope for Jewish life in the country, spurring outrage from Jewish leaders there.
Frauke Petry, co-chair of the anti-immigrant Alternative Party for Germany, or AfD, told the Die Welt newspaper on Thursday that her party is “one of the few political guarantors of Jewish life, also in times of illegal anti-Semitic migration to Germany.”
Petry was responding to an interview with Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress, who told the same newspaper that the AfD is a “disgrace for Germany” for “pandering to the extreme right.”
Petry’s indirect retort to Lauder drew swift and indignant responses from German Jewish leaders.
“We can do without such guarantors,” Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement, accusing the AfD of fomenting extreme right-wing sentiments and stirring hatred against minorities.
Charlotte Knobloch, who heads the Jewish community of Munich and Bavaria and a former leader of the Central Council, condemned Petry’s “audacity and mendacity … abusing the legitimate concerns of the Jewish people about anti-Semitism among Muslims in Germany for their own purposes.”
Knobloch, who is the WJC commissioner for Holocaust memory, also called the AfD an “anti-modern, anti-democratic and xenophobic” political force for which Jewish people should not vote.
The AfD has ridden a wave of anger toward Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy that has seen the arrival of more than 1 million refugees from war-torn areas in the Middle East and Africa since 2015, including many Muslims.
The party has managed to win seats in 10 of the 16 German state parliaments.
Prominent AfD members have been accused of belittling the Holocaust and using supposed Jewish concerns to legitimize an anti-Muslim stance. The party officially opposes halal as well as kosher slaughter, and is unofficially opposed to ritual circumcision, which affects Muslims and Jews.
Lauder in his interview said AfD “has no place in Germany. I hope they soon disappear from the political stage.”
While Schuster has urged Merkel to confront possible anti-Semitic attitudes that some refugees may have brought from their home countries, he also has decried generalizations about the migrants and supports Jewish volunteer programs with refugees.
Meanwhile, support for AfD appears to be faltering: The party is polling now between 7 percent and 11 percent, down from a high of 15.5 percent at the end of last year, with national elections scheduled for September.