By Zahava Moerdler
On July 5, 13 of the 23 members of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) parliamentary group in the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg stepped down after a showdown over antisemitic comments made by an AfD member, and the remaining members of the parliamentary group officially split into two factions.
Founded in 2013, AfD gained headway in regional elections in March through a racist and xenophobic platform, winning 15.1 percent of the vote in Baden-Wurttemberg. According to the German government, 90 percent of antisemitic attacks last year were carried out by far right supporters, and much of AfD’s base holds antisemitism views. The party itself, which has no official stance on antisemitism, has endorsed some members who have made antisemitic comments, while denouncing others.
This tension is evident in a recent feud that erupted over comments made by an AfD lawmaker in Stuttgart, Wolfgang Gedeon. A few years ago Gedeon published a book containing a number of blatantly antisemitic ideas. He wrote that Judaism was the “domestic enemy” of the Christian West and criticized the creation of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, claiming that “certain crimes” were given too much attention. He has asserted that Holocaust denial is a legitimate form of speech—yet in Germany, Holocaust denial is a criminal offense.
When Gedeon’s book received public scrutiny, AfD co-leader Jorg Meuthen and others quit the party after Meuthen could not get enough votes to remove Gedeon. The episode also created tension between Frauke Petry, the party’s controversial member from Saxony, and Meuthen, who leads in Baden-Wurttemberg. When Petry intervened in Baden-Wurttemberg, she came under fire within the party. Some called her intervention a mistake because it pushed questions of power to the fore and diminished focus on the issues themselves.
Germany has made countering antisemitism and promoting tolerance a priority for its tenure as Chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In June, government experts from the 57 OSCE states met in Berlin to discuss their efforts to combat antisemitism. Now Germany’s preparing for an important intergovernmental conference on human rights this fall—the OSCE’s annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).
The time is ripe for the United States and Europe to renew their commitment to combating antisemitism and other forms of hatred. The United States should increase funding for democracy and governance programs to reinforce those countries struggling to rein in the hatred fueled by far-right parties and others. Also, as extremism grows in Europe, American officials should be mindful not to use similar hate-stoking rhetoric. The ability of the United States to lead internationally depends on its willingness to lead by example.