Jerusalem — The success of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Germany’s weekend elections was met in Israel with a mix of concern and restraint, with the two countries’ close relations a factor.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated German Chancellor Angela Merkel on winning a fourth term in Sunday’s elections and expressed concern at growing anti-Semitism, but did not mention the AfD party by name.
"Israel is concerned over the rise of anti-Semitism in recent years among political elements from the right and left, as well as from Islamist elements," Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying in a phone call with the German leader. He also "called on the new government that would be formed to act to strengthen the forces in Germany that accept the historic responsibility" of the Holocaust.
Israeli survivors of Hitler’s Europe said that they were shocked and worried by the result — in which the AfD won about 13%, the best showing for a nationalist force since the Second World War.
"We have an enemy in Germany," said Saul Oren, a former inmate of the Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen concentration camps, who moved to Israel in 1968. "I am worried, but nothing can be done to prevent this from happening in Europe," he said.
Results showed the anti-Islam, anti-immigration AfD emerging as Germany’s third-biggest political force, after Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc and the opposition Social Democrats.
"I am very shocked," said 86-year-old Berthe Badehi, who was in hiding throughout the Nazi occupation of France.
"It’s like cancer spreading. It’s shocking that it’s happening in Germany," she told AFP.
She said it was a reminder of the fear she felt when she encountered German soldiers as a child. "When I heard the results I recalled it," she said. Badehi and Oren now live in Jerusalem.
Avi Primor, Israel’s ambassador to Germany between 1993 and 1999, wrote in the Maariv daily on Monday that the swell of support for the AfD reflected a global disillusionment with mainstream politics.
"That same disappointment, incidentally, is typical of the entire western world as a result of the changes that came too fast in modern life and modern economies, and was also what brought Donald Trump to power in the US," Primor wrote.
"The majority of those who voted for the AfD party undoubtedly do not exhibit neo-Nazi tendencies, although there are such people in the party."
The New York-based World Jewish Congress said anti-Semitism was on the rise worldwide. "It is abhorrent that the AfD party, a disgraceful reactionary movement which recalls the worst of Germany’s past and should be outlawed, now has the ability within the German parliament to promote its vile platform," congress president Ronald Lauder wrote on its website.
Germany faced its "biggest challenge" since the birth of the federal republic in 1949 with the entry into the legislature of "a party that tolerates far-right views in its ranks and incites hate against minorities", the Central Council of Jews in Germany said.
Former Israeli Labour party leader Amir Peretz called it "a dark day for German democracy with the entry into the Bundestag of a racist and anti-Semitic party".
But AfD number two, Alexander Gauland, told reporters his country’s Jews had nothing to fear. "There is nothing in our party or in our programme that can or should in any way whatsoever worry Jews living in Germany," he said.