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Germany’s new fascism puts Jews, Israel in a tough spot

An interesting and complicated situation is going on in German politics right now.
In the last few years, Germany has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other parts of the Middle East, causing major political upheaval, as many Germans are now taking polarized sides. Many people welcome these refugees and believe that Germany has a duty to provide refuge to those fleeing a deadly conflict.
Others favor a more limited approach to immigration. They don’t want to see it eliminated, but they do want stricter control – fewer people allowed in to the country and more vigorous vetting.
Still others want to close the borders completely. They want no refugees in and, in general, they want the lives of Muslims already there made even more difficult.
It is this third group, as represented by the AfD political party that is gaining considerable traction and is now the third largest party in Germany. AfD, boasting its anti-immigration agenda, has even tried to move the country away from its historic guilt for World War II.
This phenomenon is not unique to Germany. Far right political parties with similar platforms are making strides in Sweden, France and The Netherlands, and have even assumed power in Austria and Hungary.
The Jewish communities in these countries are rightly upset by this trend. In Germany, only 13 percent of the Jewish community supports AfD (although there are indications that this number could be growing). “This is a nightmare come true,” said Charlotte Knobloch, leader of the German Jewish community, after a recent election and the large vote for this party.
World Jewish leaders are equally outraged. Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, called AfD “a disgraceful reactionary movement which recalls the worst of Germany’s past and should be outlawed.”
However, a complicating factor for Zionist Jews is the stridently pro-Israel stances these parties adopt. According to a recent poll, most AfD politicians support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, insist on Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, and agree with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s statement that “Israel’s security is Germany’s raison d’etre.”
Over half of the AfD members polled totally agreed that BDS is anti-Semitic, and 77 percent agreed that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism.
Where should Israel stand on all this? Well, it depends on your point of view.
Believing that Israel must take the moral high ground and oppose these parties on principle is quite legitimate. Believing that Israel, surrounded by enemies, needs all the friends it can get and should play a little realpolitik instead of high-minded beliefs, is also legitimate.
This second scenario was played out recently in Hungary, where its leader, Viktor Orban, accused George Soros, a Jewish billionaire and Holocaust survivor who was born in Hungary and gives money to progressive causes around the world, of surreptitiously trying to affect the election by supporting the left-wing opposition…clearly an anti-Semitic dog whistle. The government of Israel at first condemned the statement, but then very quickly did an about face and embraced Orban because of his pro-Israel bona fides. (Orban has since gone to Israel, was warmly received and made a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum.)
I am not sure what the right answer is for Israel and I rightly admit my views might be very different if I lived there, but as Israel holds itself out as the Jewish state we should demand that it act in accordance with Jewish values.

(Matt Goldberg is director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.)

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