Germany’s Far Right Tightens Its Grip in the East

Worrisome:

The far-right Alternative for Germany party on Sunday celebrated a strong showing in the former Communist East, more than doubling its support in a state election held two weeks after an attack on a synagogue that some tied to the party’s use of hateful language.

The party won 23.5 percent of the vote in Thuringia, according to preliminary returns, up from 10.6 percent in 2014. That left it in second place, behind the Left Party but ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

The party, known by its German initials AfD, has no hope of governing, since all the other parties have ruled out cooperating with it. But its strong showing is likely to reverberate in other ways. The election outcome could further strengthen the power of Björn Höcke, the party’s leader in Thuringia and its most notorious figure.

Do Germans Know a Hate Crime When They See It?

Ongoing and disturbing:

Slowly, many would say too slowly, Germany is waking up to the threat of far right terrorism. How could it not after a gunman attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar? Unable to enter, he killed a woman on the street and a man in a kebab shop.

The shooter’s “manifesto” was a typical anti-Semitic screed, but his mother’s words, in their way, were more chilling. She told the German magazine Der Spiegel that her son “didn’t have anything against Jews in that sense. He had something against the people who stand behind financial power.”

Unfortunately, such parsing of definitions is not unique to the moms of murderers. Violent hate crimes that stop short of fatalities occur on an almost daily basis in this country, but are rarely reported or prosecuted.

In the past week alone, three right-wing extremists walked through the streets of Doebeln wearing orange jackets that said “Safe Zone,” chanting far right slogans and claiming to hunt “foreigners.” Right-wing extremist strategy is to make out that a “foreign threat,” that is, immigrants, has made streets unsafe, and that the German state has lost control of order, so it’s up to quasi-nazis to defend the streets and their country. Thus the “safe zone” reference.

In Mannheim, a 62-year-old man was arrested after shouting racist abuse at people on the train. (He was first told to leave because he didn’t have a ticket.) In Halle, someone uploaded a video of a man on the bus slurring abuse and talking about “gassing” people.

A few hours after the terror attack in Halle, police in the western city of Bonn reported that shots were fired through the window of an immigrant asylum home. The suspects drove off.

For the far right, such attacks small and large serve to instill fear in the targeted group, to drive a wedge between that group and the rest of society and thus fuel the extremists’ prophesied “war of cultures,” as Matthias Quent writes in his book Deutschland Rechts Aussen, or “The German Far Right.” And by failing to provide victims of hate crimes with justice, or declining to acknowledge that they are what they are, Germany’s democratic institutions perpetuate these aims.

In the aftermath of Halle, some measures have been announced. At a press conference, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said security measures at synagogues across the country would be improved.

But the government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, thinks that’s not enough. Speaking on ZDF television the day after the attack, he demanded that judges be allowed to recognize and give tougher sentences to anti-Semitic hate crimes. Right now the relevant law speaks of “contemptuous” motives.

“The attack began with a man wearing a shirt emblazoned with the image of Horst Wessel, a Nazi shot in 1930 and portrayed as a martyr by Josef Goebbels. ”

“I have not had one case where anti-Semitism was clearly named as the motive for a crime,” says Christina Büttner from “ezra,” an organization in Thuringia, where victims of violent hate crimes can get counselling and legal advice.

Thuringia is an eastern German state and home to the far-right AfD, Alternative für Deutschland, hardliner Bjoern Hoecke, who has called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin a “monument of shame” and said that schools should highlight German suffering in World War Two

In 2014, a group of right-wing extremists beat up six people at an art exhibition in Erfurt, a city in Thuringia. The attack began with a man wearing a shirt emblazoned with the image of Horst Wessel, a Nazi shot in 1930 and portrayed as a martyr by Josef Goebbels. That man started making anti-Semitic slurs to visitors before he was joined by seven other men who shouted “Sieg Heil.” At their court hearing, the consensus appeared to be that the offenders were “drunk and looking for a fight,” says Büttner. The anti-Semitic slurs were “brushed aside.” The fact that one of them had the face of an SS officer tattooed on his calf was only added to the case file after he appeared at proceedings in short pants.

“There are education gaps about anti-Semitism among officials, state prosecutors and judges,” says Büttner. “One cannot assume that highly educated people in Germany know what anti-Semitism is.”

According to official figures, such as they are, anti-Semitic and racist hate crimes—including online hate speech and the use of Nazi symbols—increased almost 20 percent in Germany last year. In most cases, the offender was judged to have a far right background. Büttner says her organization has dealt with one case where the offender had a Muslim background, but when it comes to violent anti-Semitic attacks, right-wing extremists “are in the majority.”

When confronted with the case of a person who may have been a victim of a violent hate crime, the police in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, where Halle is located, have been told to refer victims to independent advisory services like ezra. The legal advice of these NGOs can be useful, for example, if police refuse to provide a translator to a victim who doesn’t speak German.

“In Halle, this works very well,” says a counselor for the organization Mobile Operberatung. “But in other parts of the state, it may be that the police don’t recognize the cases or that they don’t know what they are supposed to do.”

Independent advisory services for hate crimes—mostly present in eastern Germany—record a much higher number of violent attacks than the authorities. Last year, they estimated that an average number of five people a day were attacked.

“Last year, they estimated that an average number of five people a day were attacked.”

Even more hate crimes go completely unrecorded. “Our statistics are the tip of the iceberg,” Büttner says.

In Germany, the individual police officer asked to register an assault decides whether it is a hate crime or not. Judith Porath, who counsels victims of violent hate crimes in the eastern state of Brandenburg, says that the people who come to her center often decide not to go to the police. Some worry about revenge. Others distrust the authorities. “People feel that they are not being believed, that they are being treated as the offenders,” she says.

Sometimes, a person who is targeted repeatedly by hate crimes will think there is no point in going to the police if they are still waiting for the legal proceedings against a different assailant from three years ago. One reason that proceedings are so slow is that there is a significant shortage of judges and state prosecutors in Germany.

In cases of far right violence, according to Porath, a common strategy that her organization has encountered is for gangs to first ambush a person who is alone, then accuse that person of assault. The culprits can back each other up in court. If the victim has no witnesses, the case either is dropped or the victim ends up being charged.

The fact that there are more hate crimes could be interpreted by the organized extremist movement as a sign the population is “leaning toward their ideology” and shares their definition of “enemies,” Daniel Koehler, director of the Institute on Radicalization and De-Radicalization Studies, tells The Daily Beast.

There are some signs that the German law enforcement’s sensitivity may be improving. In the ZDF interview, Felix Klein said that one reason the number of officially recorded anti-Semitic hate crimes last year increased was because more people are now going to the police.

In Halle, the number of violent attacks recorded by the Mobile Operberatung actually decreased in the past year. But in the neighboring state of Saxony, NGOs recorded a 38 percent increase in violent attacks—not least because of a series of assaults fuelled by the racist riots in Chemnitz last August.

In the wake of those riots, four restaurants were attacked, including the Jewish restaurant Shalom and the Persian restaurant Safran. These properties were destroyed, swastikas were painted on the glass and one owner was in the hospital for eight days. The state police took over the cases, citing the likelihood of a xenophobic motive. No suspects were found.

“To some extent, the affected did not feel like they were being taken seriously,” says Anna Pöhl, a counselor for victims of hate crimes in Chemnitz. This was in part because of the manner in which police investigated the attacks, for example by checking for ties to organized crime or asking whether the offenders had perhaps been shouting something in Arabic or Russian–this after being told that they’d given a Hitler salute and shouted “Sieg Heil.”

This September, the far right Alternative für Deutschland party became the second strongest party in Saxony and Brandenburg. Now, Judith Porath says “The AfD tries to discredit us, they are constantly making inquiries about us.”  Other political parties have defended the NGO, she said, so far.

Source: Do Germans Know a Hate Crime When They See It?

‘The New Germans’: Far-right AfD forms immigrant supporters’ group

Immigrants and minorities are not monolithic and while odd, it is not surprising that a few may be drawn to far-right groups and that far-right groups try to recruit them to claim that they are not xenophobic or racist.

A small group of Alternative for Germany (AfD) politicians and party members have come together to rally up support for the far-right party from a seemingly unlikely demographic — migrants and those with immigrant backgrounds.

“Die Neudeutschen” or “The New Germans” group was formed over the weekend by AfD politicians who all have immigrant roots, and was presented at a press conference in Berlin on Monday.

For Anton Friesen, an AfD lawmaker from the eastern state of Thuringia, the formation of the group was “overdue.”

“Since the AfD was founded, many German citizens with immigrant backgrounds have voted for us,” Friesen told DW. “Now there is finally an association that gives these people names and faces,” he added.

Friesen, who helped initiate the new AfD association, was born in Kazakhstan and moved to Germany with his parents when he was nine years old.

His fellow group spokesman is Alexander Tassis, the son of a Greek migrant worker who is an AfD state lawmaker in Bremen. He is also heads the “Alternative Homosexuals” — an AfD-aligned group for LGBT members.

Currently, the group has 20 members who are German citizens with Polish, Iranian and Colombian roots, as well as ethnic Russian-Germans and Romanian-Germans, Friesen said.

With European Parliament elections coming up in May, as well as several key state parliament elections in eastern German states in the fall, “The New Germans” hopes to win over potential voters by holding events on German-Polish relations and what Friesen describes as “the new, imported anti-Semitism.”

Targeting ‘patriotically-minded migrants’

Numerous political parties and rights groups in Germany have criticized the AfD for the xenophobic remarks of the party’s leaders, who have repeatedly depicted refugees and asylum-seekers as dangerous and violent.

The party has also sparked controversy over campaign slogans such as “Burka? We like bikinis” and a poster depicting a white, pregnant woman with the words: “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves.”

With the new group, Friesen hopes to “correct” what he views as an incorrect public image of the party. “The AfD isn’t xenophobic,” he said. Rather, the party is focused on people who are already in Germany.

This includes “patriotically-minded migrants” who advocate for “the protection of our western culture and our values,” Friesen adds.

Manifesto calls for ‘de-Islamization of Germany’

“The New Germans” may be targeted towards people with immigrant roots — but it doesn’t compromise on the party’s stances concerning immigration.

Members must agree to the group’s manifesto, which advocates for “harsh action against all forms of anti-Semitism” but also calls for “a comprehensive de-Islamization of Germany,” news agency DPA reported.

It also urges for an “end to illegal mass migration, which undermines the opportunities in life for socially worse off Germans.”

Jewish AfD group sparks controversy

“The New Germans” isn’t the first AfD-aligned group to raise eyebrows.

Last October, a small number of Jewish people formed “Jews in the AfD” (JAfD), despite a number of scandals in which leading AfD politicians questioned Germany’s culture of remembrance about the Holocaust.

While the members of JAfD contend that the part is not anti-Semitic, numerous Jewish organizations condemned the creation of the group. Other German politicians accused the party of using the Jewish group as a way to mask its anti-Semitism scandals.

Source: ‘The New Germans’: Far-right AfD forms immigrant supporters’ group

Germany’s Far Right Finds A New Stronghold In Bavaria, And It’s Costing Merkel

Good background for the regional election results:

German support for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservatives is at an all-time low, and in few places is that more evident than Bavaria.

A booming economy and ever fewer migrants crossing the border into the wealthy alpine state haven’t eased a populist backlash against the Christian Social Union (CSU), which is the closest ally of Merkel’s party, the Christian Democrats (CDU). The CSU has governed Bavaria for all but three years since 1946, most of the time with an absolute majority.

But its future is in doubt, with conservative Bavarian voters in the midst of a shift toward Alternative for Germany (AfD). Just 5 years old, the far-right party is currently the main opposition in the German parliament and is widely expected to win seats in the Bavarian legislature for the first time when regional elections are held on Sunday.

One of the Bavarian cities where AfD is especially popular is Ingolstadt, which is hardly a typical stronghold for the far-right faction that traditionally plays to Germany’s working class in the less affluent, formerly communist east.

Luxury cars abound on Ingolstadt’s cobblestone streets and the 137,000 residents of the medieval city, where carmaker Audi is headquartered, enjoy the highest per capitaincome in Germany. But as well off as people in Ingolstadt are, many there are nonetheless anxious about their future.

Enter the AfD, which excels at stoking such fears.

The party’s candidate in Ingolstadt is Johannes Kraus von Sande, 48, who embraces the same campaign line the AfD used to win 13 percent of the vote in last October’s national elections: Uncontrolled migration threatens the German identity, security and economy, and the mainstream political parties aren’t doing anything about it.

“As our campaign posters say: The AfD fulfills the promises the CSU makes. The CSU’s failure to keep promises has pretty much defined the whole history of that party,” Kraus von Sande said in an interview with NPR.

But what exactly the AfD plans to do to fulfill campaign promises — or to address the problems it raises — the candidate said is still being worked out.

“The city has changed a lot,” Kraus von Sande said, recalling how when he went to high school in Ingolstadt, everyone knew everyone else by name.

Now, the city and its lucrative job market is far bigger and more international. City officials in Ingolstadt, where the population has grown by more than a third in the past four decades, estimate at least two out of five residents are either immigrants or descended from immigrants. Many of those immigrants are Muslims, who until recently, thought of Ingolstadt as a welcoming place for adherents of their faith.

Kraus von Sande said he doesn’t have a problem with all Muslim immigrants: “We have the Turks and I must say they are strongly integrated in German society and some of them are critical of Islam.”

But he said the migrants coming from the Middle East and Africa since 2015 — when war and poverty, coupled with Merkel’s open-door refugee policy, led to well over a million new arrivals in Germany — are causing more problems.

He said the earlier arrivals he speaks to don’t want newcomers who don’t or can’t fit in or fail to contribute to the German economy. The law needs to change, and they are looking to AfD to help with that, Kraus von Sande said.

“That definitely needs to happen very fast.”

The 53-year-old CSU candidate for the Bavarian legislature from Ingolstadt – police chief Alfred Grob – also has concerns about more effectively managing asylum seekers who come to Germany and ensuring that newcomers integrate.

He said it would be better for his city – and his political party — if the German government wasn’t operating a large refugee processing center for asylum seekers on the edge of Ingolstadt. That center, which housed about 1,400 migrants last year, was transformed in August into an “AnkER” center – a blend of the German words for arrival, decision and repatriation — and houses new arrivals who aren’t likely to qualify for asylum so they can be processed and deported more quickly.

But Grob criticized the AfD for capitalizing on fears rather than facts. Even though crime is up 11 percent in Ingolstadt, “the reality is that we have not had such a low crime rate for 20 years now,” Grob told NPR. “The other side is that refugees are proportionally over-represented in the crime statistics.”

He said that’s easy to explain: Most asylum seekers are young men, and as a demographic, they – no matter what their racial background – are more likely to commit crimes. Grob said many of the crimes by asylum seekers are happening at the transit center. He added that German voter backlash against the CSU and other mainstream parties is about a lot more than asylum seekers or the AfD. He called it “German angst.”

“People are afraid of a societal decline,” Grob explained. “We’re doing very well here. We feel so good that many think it can’t get any better and that in fact, it’s going to go down and maybe faster.”

A diesel emissions testing scandal and other problems at Audi have exacerbated such worries, he said. So have skyrocketing rents in the city. Older residents are also struggling with pensions that aren’t keeping up with the rising cost of living in Ingolstadt.

Another reason AfD is doing well in Ingolstadt is that it isn’t a university town, says Luzia Grasser, an editor in the Ingolstadt office of the daily Augsburger Allgemeine. “Ingolstadt has a relatively conservative voter class, so protest voters may not vote in the left milieu” compared to what’s happening in the rest of Germany, where the left-leaning, environmentally friendly Green Party has climbed to the number two spot in the latest opinion poll.

Much of the support for AfD in Ingolstadt comes from a large community of ethnic Germans from Russia who after the collapse of communism, immigrated to the region in the late 80s and early 90s. The candidates here say those immigrants were less likely to vote in Ingolstadt in the past, but are now worried about their jobs, unemployment benefits and pensions being gobbled up by newer immigrants — fears that AfD has seized on.

The far-right party has put up billboards around Ingolstadt warning of Muslim hordes stripping Bavaria of its Christian identity, pensions and benefits and fostering insecurity. One such billboard showing a white woman looking back in fear at two hooded men, and urging voters to cast their ballots for AfD to “protect our women and children,” stands across the street from a grocery store frequented by the many German Russians in the working class neighborhood of Piusviertel.

The neighborhood, with its apartment buildings, pristine parks and playgrounds, is home to many of Ingolstadt’s Turkish and Middle Eastern immigrants, who are reporting more harassment and abuse — especially of women wearing headscarves — since AfD began campaigning here. The community center there offers a wide range of programs to help residents seeking employment, integration into German society and culture and language. One of the volunteers is Yeser Saygili, who immigrated to Ingolstadt from Turkey a quarter century ago and speaks fluent German.

“I help a lot of immigrant women who are looking for jobs. One office looking for a cleaning woman recently asked me if the applicant wore a headscarf,” Saygili said. “I was, like, ‘Hello, how far have we regressed?’ In the end, she didn’t get the job.”

Saygili says she fears a far-right win in Bavaria on Sunday will only make things harder for Muslims in Ingolstadt. Political observers say it could also lead to a reshuffling or worse of Merkel’s cabinet, as her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, is co-leader of the CSU party and would feel pressured to resign following a poor election result.

Source: Germany’s Far Right Finds A New Stronghold In Bavaria, And It’s Costing Merkel

On a more encouraging note:

When German organizers pulled together a demonstration in Berlin to support “an open and free society,” they had some ambitious goals. They expected roughly 40,000 people to pack the span from Berlin’s city center, from Alexanderplatz to the Victory Column, where they were holding their final rally of the day.

As it turns out, those expectations didn’t measure up to the real thing.

More than 240,000 people showed up for the march and rallies Saturday, according to the organizers behind the #unteilbar event (#indivisible in English). Local police told the BBC that the demonstrators numbered “in the low hundreds of thousands.”

Authorities shut down the 3-mile expanse where the demonstrators had gathered, and overhead photographs showed massive crowds on the tree-lined avenue.

“A dramatic political shift is taking place: racism and discrimination are becoming socially acceptable. What yesterday was considered unthinkable and unutterable has today become a reality. Humanity and human rights, religious freedom, and the rule of law are being openly attacked. This is an attack on all of us,” organizers wrote in their manifesto prior to the event.

Protesters Throng Berlin In Massive Rally To Support ‘Open And Free Society’

‘We Are Facing a Monster’ Right-wing extremism in Germany

Good and thoughtful interview:

DER SPIEGEL: Ms. Knobloch, 73 years after the end of the Holocaust, right-wing extremists in Germany are once again stretching out their right arms in the Hitler salute. Jews are being threatened in public while parliamentary opposition leader Alexander Gauland, of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, recently said that the Nazi period was nothing but a “speck of bird shit” on German history. What is your reaction to the last several months?

Knobloch: These events weigh on us heavily. By “us” I mean the members of all Jewish communities in Germany. I am actually an optimist, something I inherited from my devout father. After the Holocaust, he was convinced Germany would once again have a future. I have thought a lot about my father recently. And I hope the alarming spectacle of the last few months will somehow come to an end like many others have before.

DER SPIEGEL: You don’t sound terribly optimistic.

Knobloch: I never thought it could get so bad again. Recently, I was at a high school with 300 students and told them: Take the responsibility we hand down to you. Be proud of your country. It has achieved a lot and is continuing to achieve. And as I was speaking, I was thinking: What are you even saying? Is it true at all?

DER SPIEGEL: You have your doubts?

Knobloch: There have been worrisome developments earlier. A few years ago, for example, there was a right-wing extremist demonstration in Munich where marchers shouted, “Jews in the gas, Jews out,” and the police didn’t intervene. But it has never been as bad as it is today. For the first time, a party has made it into national parliament whose program can be summarized with the words: Jews Out.

DER SPIEGEL: You are referring to the AfD.

Knobloch: I don’t actually want to even say their name. “Alternative for Germany,” what impudence. But yes, I am referring to the AfD.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you view the AfD as a Nazi party?

Knobloch: What else are you supposed to call a party that disseminates a platform that makes Jewish life impossible? This party is opposed to ritual circumcision and seeks to ban the shechita of animals, through which meat becomes kosher for practicing Jews.

DER SPIEGEL: There are more than a few Jews involved in the AfD. How can the party be anti-Semitic?

Knobloch: Just like a person with Jewish friends can still be an anti-Semite, Jewish party members are in no way a guarantee that a party doesn’t have anti-Semitic tendencies. The simple presence of Jews, in any case, isn’t enough and a group like the one calling itself “Jews in the AfD” is no proof of the lack of anti-Semitism. Particularly since the group isn’t just made up of Jews.

DER SPIEGEL: Among the established parties in Germany, there is a significant degree of uncertainty about how they should confront the AfD. Should they go on the attack? Ignore them? Try to expose them with arguments? They are trying everything and nothing seems to be working.

Knobloch: I like how the single neo-Nazi in the Munich city council is being dealt with. He is simply completely ignored by the other parties. He files inquiries and they simply go unanswered.

DER SPIEGEL: But in Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, every deputy has rights. And with 92 members of parliament, the AfD is the largest opposition party. How can they be ignored?

Knobloch: There needs to be a consensus among all the other parties. The AfD has positioned itself outside of our liberal values. Period. It bothers me that there isn’t even consensus on this point at the moment. What other viewpoint can there possibly be?

DER SPIEGEL: The debate surrounding how to deal with the AfD recently intensified after an extremely emotional plenary speech by former Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz, who linked the right-wing populists with fascism.

Knobloch: I thought Schulz’s reaction was absolutely the correct one. Everybody needs to know who they are voting for when they cast their ballot for the AfD. Our task is to clearly draw the line. If we don’t, we are merely helping normalize the right-wing populists. I wanted to write Martin Schulz a letter, but I never got around to it because of the Jewish holidays. His dedication is admirable.

DER SPIEGEL: Among other things, Schulz said that AfD co-leader Gauland belongs on the “manure heap of history.” Should he be stooping to the level of the right-wing populists?

Knobloch: We can’t always obey the rules of politesse when dealing with a Nazi party. When politicians from the AfD refer to the Nazi period as “a speck of bird shit” in German history and refer to the Holocaust memorial as a monument to shame, then we need to strike back rhetorically. We are facing a monster. We have to fight it before it becomes stronger.

DER SPIEGEL: Following the recent riotsin Chemnitz, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier harkened to the collapse of the Weimar Republic

Knobloch: That wasn’t an exaggeration. Weimar collapsed because the democrats, who were actually supposed to be the pillars of the system, ducked responsibility. I find it extremely troubling that people today aren’t taking to the streets in large numbers to demonstrate. There are distressing parallels between then and now. You just have to listen to the things politicians from this party say without facing repercussions. It is reminiscent of the rise of the NSDAP (Nazi party). Personally, I feel like it is 1928 again.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you think the AfD should be monitored by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency?

Knobloch: I find it completely incomprehensible as to why that wasn’t started long ago. I am stunned. If the AfD was being monitored, their representative would perhaps tone themselves down in public instead of inciting the population. Instead, there are rumors that Mr. Maassen …

DER SPIEGEL: … the former head of the BfV Hans-Georg Maassen, who wasrelieved of his duties recently for allegedly pandering to the far right …

Knobloch: … may have given tips to AfD members on how to avoid monitoring from the BfV. If that is true, that would be a catastrophe from my point of view.

DER SPIEGEL: Maassen expressed doubt about the authenticity of a video from Chemnitz that showed migrants being chased down.

Knobloch: Someone in his position should not just say something like that without presenting proof. That is a break with our political culture.

DER SPIEGEL: The rise of the AfD is inseparably connected with the refugee policies of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Do you think it was the correct decision to not seal off the German border in September 2015?

Knobloch: I view the issue through the lens of my own biography. If the U.S. immigration authorities in the late 1930s had approved the visas that my uncle applied for on behalf of his brother, his mother and me, my grandmother would not have had to suffer such a horrific death. She was too old to be accepted into the U.S. There were similar fates people faced that I heard about at the time. That is why I was very much in favor of Germany taking in the people who were living in horrific conditions in the Budapest train station in September 2015. After all, we became a humane country after 1945.

DER SPIEGEL: The Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats, believes the chancellor’s refugee policies are misguided.

Knobloch: We can’t take on more than we can handle, I agree with that. First and foremost, we have to help those who have had to leave their homes to escape war. When I see the terrible images from Syria, then we can’t hesitate for a moment. But we need a migration law to decide who fits, who can be integrated, who we need on the job market.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you see a connection between Merkel’s refugee policies and increasing anti-Semitism?

Knobloch: I’m wary on that issue. We don’t have an anti-Semitism problem because people from other cultures are coming to us. That would be an extremely simplistic view.

DER SPIEGEL: You don’t see a qualitative difference between European anti-Semitism from the Christian West and Muslim anti-Semitism?

Knobloch: I didn’t say that. Muslim anti-Semitism works primarily by way of the delegitimization of Israel. And there is a specific form of anti-Semitism that has its roots in the Koran. That also has an influence over how anti-Semitism develops in this country.

DER SPIEGEL: What do you mean?

Knobloch: Anti-Semitism used to be the rejection of a certain group of people. Today, it is simply hatred of the Jews.

DER SPIEGEL: Anti-Semitism has radicalized?

Knobloch: Absolutely.

DER SPIEGEL: Is there a recipe for fighting it?

Knobloch: Not enough is being done, that is the frightening thing. We have been calling attention to the problem for years. And there are actually institutions that should be taking action. Political leaders, for example. Security authorities. Educational institutions. All of them should focus on fighting anti-Semitism, especially given our history. But not nearly enough is being done. Those who are blaming the refugees exclusively for anti-Semitism are making it too easy on themselves. These people, if you will, can’t help it. That’s how they were raised.

DER SPIEGEL: Where do you think the largest shortcomings are to be found?

Knobloch: In education. We are way behind there. You can’t fight anti-Semitism by simply talking about anti-Semitism. You fight it by learning to love your own country and by defending its values.

DER SPIEGEL: In a recent op-ed for the Israeli daily Haaretz, you sharply criticized Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, saying that he has positioned himself as an ally to right-wing populists in Europe. Why did you get involved?

Knobloch: When Mr. Grenell welcomes the rise of anti-establishment populists in a country where the extreme right has won seats in parliament, we Jews feel threatened. The fact that he apparently doesn’t see this connection is appalling. Mr. Grenell uses the same language as the AfD. This cycle of mutual encouragement is a danger to our liberal democracy. In such a situation, I don’t care if he is the U.S. ambassador or whatever else.

DER SPIEGEL: Has Mr. Grenell contacted you at all?

Knobloch: No.

DER SPIEGEL: Would you like to meet with him?

Knobloch: It would depend on the subject matter. I am happy to talk at any time with young people who have adopted different ideas and to try and convince them.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Grenell claims to be a great friend of Israel’s.

Knobloch: Friendship is a rather broad term. Many people use it to put themselves in the center of attention because they think it looks good.

DER SPIEGEL: What do you think of the Israel policies of U.S. President Donald Trump?

Knobloch: I have family in Israel: a daughter, several grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. I have a special relationship to the country and advocate for its security wherever I can. The Israeli people want nothing more than peace, I am 100 percent convinced of that. That is why I welcome the fundamental tenets of Trump’s Middle East policy. I wouldn’t, however, have moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. That is such a sensitive issue that doing so merely makes in more difficult to find the solutions to problems.

DER SPIEGEL: You belong to the last generation of Holocaust survivors. How should the memory be kept alive once all those who witnessed it firsthand are gone.

Knobloch: My hopes are very much pinned on young people who are more interested in the history of their own country than was the case 10 or 15 years ago.

DER SPIEGEL: The Berlin municipal official Sawsan Chebli has proposed making it a requirement for young people to visit a concentration camp memorial. What do you think of the idea?

Knobloch: The only camp where it is still possible to really get a sense for the tragedy is Auschwitz. Such visits, though, can only take place if there has been sufficient preparation. Young people have to know what they are visiting. And if one of them doesn’t want to, you can’t force them.

DER SPIEGEL: What do you have against the so-called “Stolpersteine,” the gold-colored paving stones placed in front of buildings in German cities to commemorate Jews who lived there until they were deported by the Nazis?

Knobloch: I find this type of commemoration to be a catastrophe. People trample on the names of those who were murdered and dogs pee on them. The Munich city council has resolved that commemoration must take place at eye level. I hope that our example is followed elsewhere.

DER SPIEGEL: Jews who live in Israel often can’t understand how Jews can continue to live in the diaspora.

Knobloch: In the diaspora or in Germany?

DER SPIEGEL: Does it make a difference?

Knobloch: Of course it does. Given recent developments, I am being asked such questions more often.

DER SPIEGEL: By whom?

Knobloch: The part of my family that lives in Israel has already come to terms with it. My granddaughter is now grown up, but when she was in the ninth grade, she visited Auschwitz with her class. In Israel, it is a visit everybody makes. Afterwards, she wrote me a six-page letter and asked me how I can live in Germany.

DER SPIEGEL: The attacks on Jews in France triggered something of an exodus of Jews fleeing the country to Israel. Do you think there is a danger of something similar occurring in Germany?

Knobloch: Yes, there is a danger. Members of the Jewish community come to me and tell me that they are afraid. It is equal parts irrational and understandable. I try to give them courage, despite everything. That is part of the optimism that I mentioned earlier.

DER SPIEGEL: Ignatz Bubis, one of your predecessors as president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said toward the end of his life that he accomplished “almost nothing.” What are your feelings when you look back on your own life?

Knobloch: He was already quite sick when he said that. I called him and said: How can you say such a thing? I know how much you have accomplished.

DER SPIEGEL: You have a more positive view than Bubis did at the end of his life?

Knobloch: It is a question I ask myself every day, when I see the terrible developments in Chemnitz and elsewhere. But then I always think: I did achieve something. It’s just a gut feeling I have.

DER SPIEGEL: Bubis never wanted to live in Israel, but he wanted to be laid to rest there.

Knobloch: He didn’t want his grave to be vandalized. And given the increasing anti-Semitism, that is a very real danger.

DER SPIEGEL: And where do you want to be buried?

Knobloch: I have our family plot here in Munich.

DER SPIEGEL: Ms. Knobloch, thank you very much for this interview.

Germany’s New Far-Right Campaign Poster Is Unsubtly Racist

Indeed. Reminder of messaging and posters under the Nazis regarding Jews:

The far-right Alternative for Germany party released a new campaign poster last week with a slogan promising “Islam-free schools” beneath a photo of smiling white schoolchildren.

Alternative for Germany, also known as AfD, released the posters in the midst of its election campaign in the southern German state of Bavaria. Recent polls show the party is on track to win the third-largest share of the vote as it saps votes from the traditional conservative party aligned with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But as AfD rallies voters ahead of Bavaria’s elections next month, the party is under intense public and political scrutiny for its links to neo-Nazi organizationsand role in encouraging far-right riots in recent weeks.

AfD’s Bavarian anti-Islam posters have added to the backlash against the party. A German teachers’ associations called the posters dangerous, and an Austrian member of the European Parliament accused the party of promoting fascist rhetoric and racially segregated schools. A British hate crime monitoring group also denounced the poster, tweeting, “Welcome to the new face of fascism.”

AFD
Alternative for Germany’s new poster, vowing “Islam-free schools!” and promoting “dominant German culture.”

AfD claims that the posters are not calling for barring Muslim children from schools, Germany’s Der Spiegel reports, but are opposed to Islamic education in schools and face veils. But some Germans on social media criticized the posters for echoing Nazi-era discrimination against Jewish students, HuffPost Germany reported.

The party has a history of anti-Islamic propaganda, and during last year’s national elections it worked with a conservative American ad agency to create a controversial series of posters, including one reading “Burkas? We prefer bikinis” and another with a photo of a pregnant white woman with the tagline “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves.”

Although AfD is often careful to distance itself from more politically toxic extremist groups and violent rhetoric, it has repeatedly provoked scandals after its officials made statements downplaying the Holocaust or siding with far-right activists. After anti-migrant riots erupted after the killing of a German man in the city of Chenmitz two weeks ago, a prominent AfD official marched with the founder of anti-Islamic extremist group PEGIDA in a demonstration against migration.

While AfD is still shut out of governing in Germany, its success has caused traditional right politicians to swing farther right in hopes of winning back voters, especially prevalent in Bavaria, where the Merkel-allied Christian Social Union is losing support and increasingly embracing anti-immigration, anti-Islamic views.

CSU leader Horst Seehofer nearly brought down the German government this year after demanding tighter border controls, and more recently he called immigration the “mother of all political problems” and said he would have joinedfar-right anti-migrant protests were he not an elected official. Bavaria’s CSU premier ordered that crucifixes be hung in all government buildings, and the party last year drafted a law banning full-face veils in public places.

Much like in several other countries where establishment parties mimic the far right, most recently Sweden, the CSU’s shift hasn’t worked, and the party is expected to lose its absolute majority government in a state where it once dominated.

Source: Germany’s New Far-Right Campaign Poster Is Unsubtly Racist

ICYMI – Islam in Germany: Muslims prefer to be talked to rather than talked about | DW | 03.10.2017

Understandable concerns of German Muslim communities:

On a day celebrating German unity, many Muslims have reason to wonder if “German unity” applies to them in light of recent federal election results. The third strongest party in the Bundestag will be the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), a party which has rejected the Islamic faith as part of German cultural identity.

October 3 is the country’s national holiday and, for many Germans, just a day to sleep in or earn some extra cash at work. For mosques around the country, however, it’s the day of their national open house: neighbors can take a tour, satisfy their curiosity about Islam and local Muslims and – of course – eat.

To be Muslim and nonpartisan

Indeed the smell of oil and charcoal wafting into the prayer room is the only indication that something different is going on at this Cologne mosque. The plush Bourdeaux carpeting of the sacred space seems to absorb all outside sounds – and our feet – as Tarik Yilmaz and Mustafa Karatas talk community outreach.

“Our religion is at the forefront of our work. Not politics,” Karatas tells DW.

Germany’s mosques began annual open houses in 1997 and have carried forth the tradition ever since. Technically, though, most mosques in Germany are open year round to the public upon appointment

Muslims have become the center of many heated debates over public safety, women’s rights and even loyalty to the German state in recent years. Hence, dispelling misconceptions is one of their priorities. However, they emphasize that this work is nonpartisan, just like their cooperation with local religious groups and charities.

“It’s a mosque community so it’s a good idea not to be politically active,” the board’s representative explains.

Yilmaz, a 27-year-old theologian who recently started working at the primarily Turkish house of worship, agrees: “People come here to pray or because they have friends here and to eat some food. We don’t really talk politics.”

Still, in a community where they have strong partnerships, what do they make of the AfD winning over 9 percent in their constituency? An answer is out of the question.

Feeling the pain of neo-Nazi terrorism

Just a few blocks away from that mosque and theology school in northeastern Cologne is the site of a nailbomb attack perpetrated by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground (NSU). It was a hit on the Turkish community and an attack on social cohesion and multiculturalism in Cologne.

The wounds of the attack lie much deeper than the shrapnel that left over 20 injured in June 2004. The terrorist attack on Keupstrasse was one of a dozen the NSU carried out between 2000 and 2007. Yet, despite the attackers’ identities being known to police in the late 1990s, it wasn’t until a botched robbery brought the right-wing terror cell to light in 2011 that officials cleared members of the Turkish community of suspicion.

The bomb planted by the NSU sent over 700 nails flying through Keupstrasse. For several years, officials interrogated locals suspecting the crime to be linked to Turkish mafia

The case has raised questions about right-wing sympathizers among police and a how large the blind spot to right-wing extremism in Germany is.

And, with the rise of the a party like the AfD – one whose leaders have made racist and Islamophobic comments, as well as relativized the Holocaust and have been known to use Nazi rhetoric – critics worry that a far-right party in parliament could embolden the country’s radical right-wing scene.

Rising violence toward Muslims

For Ahmed Erdogan, like many on Keupstrasse, the swift rise of the far-right AfD has been a shock. “Where will this lead?” he wonders.

Tucked away from the frilly bridal dress shops and bounteous bakery display cases that line Keupstrasse, the local mosque is easy to overlook. It’s one of the oldest in the Cologne neighborhood of Mühlheim, where over 40 percent of the population has foreign roots. According to Erdogan, who’s on its board, it has been and remains very active in community outreach and cooperation – making the AfD’s popularity all the more puzzling.

Infografik AfD Bundestagswahl 2017 Bundesländer ENG

This year, there have nearly 20 attacks on Muslims and nearly 400 incidents of “Islamophobic crimes,” ranging from hate speech, threats and damage to property, according to a governmental inquiry from the Left party. As it’s the first year officials have assessed the crime rate against Muslims, no previous data for comparison has been analyzed.

Meanwhile, the AfD’s rhetoric surrounding Islam has also raised concerns. In addition to dismissing the religion – one practiced by over 4 million people in Germany – as being a part of German society, the AfD also wants to prohibit minarets and the call to prayer.

“The AfD sees a great danger to our state, our society and our set of values through the spread of Islam and the presence of over 5 million Muslims, whose numbers are increasing,” the AfD said in its party platform, which states that Muslims who obey the law and are “integrated” are “valued members of society.” The far-right party denies all accusations of Islamophobic or racist rhetoric.

Given the need for dialogue these days, mosques can choose to stay out of politics, but as a Muslim it’s hard to “keep out it,” Erdogan tells DW.

The Keupstrasse mosque doesn’t participate in the national open house because it’s open to anyone everyday, just like most mosques. And if there’s one point Erdogan and his colleagues at the neighboring mosque agree on, it’s this: dialogue – and not fear – is the only way forward.

Source: Islam in Germany: Muslims prefer to be talked to rather than talked about | Germany | DW | 03.10.2017

German Elections 2017: How Russia Helped AfD’s Rise | Time.com

Interesting analysis of AfD’s support:

While fighting for a seat in the German parliamentover the last few months, Sergej Tschernow, a candidate for the right-wing Alternative for Germany, or AfD, knew that he could only rely on a few media outlets to give his party the coverage it craves: the Russian ones.

“They show our points of view in full,” he told TIME on Election Day, Sunday Sept. 24, when the AfD became the first far-right movement to enter into the German legislature since the end of World War II, winning a remarkable 13% of the vote and going from zero to more than 90 seats in a chamber of 631 lawmakers.

The party’s rise has been caused by a range of factors, not least the widespread frustrations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose political party, the Christian Democratic Union, had one of the worst showings in its history on Sunday. It won only 33% of the vote – most likely enough to secure Merkel a fourth term in office, but hardly the commanding lead the CDU anticipated.

With its nativist stance against immigration and its attacks against the European Union, the AfD has managed to siphon a lot of votes away from Merkel by harnessing the anti-establishment sentiment that has swept through Western democracies in recent years. But one uniquely German reason for the party’s success has been the broad support it enjoys among the Russian emigrant community — bolstered by the noisy partisan reporting of Kremlin-backed broadcasters, whose reports on the elections reached millions of German voters through satellite dishes, on cable and online.

Who really votes for AfD

The AfD has estimated that about a third of its support comes from Russian-speaking voters, several million of whom have settled in Germany since the 1980s; they now make up as much as 5% of the population. On Sunday night, one of the leaders of the AfD, a vocally anti-immigrant and nationalist party, appeared to concede – somewhat paradoxically – that its core constituents are themselves immigrants.

“Take a look at who really votes for the AfD, and where we have the strongest numbers,” Jörg Meuthen, the AfD party whip, told Chancellor Merkel and other leading politicians during a post-election debate on German television. “It is precisely among these migrants, among people with an immigrant background who lead integrated lives here and who cannot believe what is happening to this country.”

While he did not specifically identify the Russian community, his party has devoted substantial resources to swaying this group of voters during the race this year. It translated its fliers and brochures into Russian, ran information stands and outreach programs in Russian-speaking neighborhoods, and catered its platform to the interests of this community. Among the AfD’s core pledges on foreign policy is to lift German sanctions on Russia and seek warmer relations with President Vladimir Putin. 

Source: German Elections 2017: How Russia Helped AfD’s Rise | Time.com

Germany’s AfD Party and Its Anti-Islam Platform – The Atlantic

Good analysis of the demographics of the right-wing vote:

The party’s beginnings weren’t quite so dramatic. The AfD started out in 2013 with a Ph.D.-riddled member list and a wonky Euroskeptic manifesto that could have lulled a caffeinated squirrel into a midday nap. It called for empowering national governments to ditch the euro, limiting state bailouts, and mandating national referenda for certain EU policies, alongside scintillating stipulationsabout European Central Bank maneuvers and alternative funding for renewable-energy subsidies. Yet the huge influx of predominantly Muslim refugees in the past year, along with incidents such as the infamous New Year’s Eve assaults on women by men seeming mostly to be of North African descent, has helped radicalize group. Last month’s manifesto not only declared Islam incompatible with German legal and cultural values, but also endorsed a ban on burqas and the call to prayer.

The AfD’s founder Bernd Lucke, an economics professor, left the party last summer, condemning rising xenophobia. Many other founding members have likewise defected. So who are the new supporters that helped the party to its best-ever election performance a few months ago? Which people, specifically, want to kick Islam out of Germany?

Demographically, surveys show, AfD supporters fit a certain loose profile. First, despite having a woman at the helm in the figure of Frauke Petry (as well as trigger-happy aristocrat Beatrix von Storch, who has advocated using deadly force illegal migrants at the border, as deputy party chief), AfD supporters are predominantly male. In January, one poll found 17 percent of male respondents nationwide would vote for AfD in a hypothetical immediate election, while only 2 percent of women would. In the March regional elections in the state of Sachsen-Anhalt, 27 percent of male voters chose AfD, as compared to 18 percent of female voters. As the German daily Die Zeit pointed out, that means AfD support follows roughly the same pattern as support for the intensely anti-Islamic pan-European movement PEGIDA (“Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West”).

Theories abound as to why and to what extent men are more likely to vote for far-right or xenophobic platforms than women—a pattern that holds with Trump supporters in the United States, as well as voters for Austria’s far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer, who just barely lost that country’s election this week. But few political scientists doubt that the trend exists in some form. “That’s one finding that we all agree on,” said David Art, a political-science professor at Tufts University who studies comparative politics and right-wing extremism.

A second trend in AfD demographics involves class. Originally, professors, journalists, and business leaders dominated the party, with over half the founding members in 2013 sporting a “Dr.” in front of their names. Surveys around the March 2016 elections in three German states, however, showed the AfD drawing about a third of its support from laborers, and another third from individuals currently unemployed. Those with “higher education” were in the minority. That’s not to say that AfD supporters are entirely uneducated, or that no one with a university degree continues to support the once doctorate-led party. But in general, said Kai Arzheimer, a political-science professor at the University of Mainz who has become the go-to expert on voter behavior in the AfD, “it’s people who have done Realschule, which doesn’t qualify you for entering a university, but is still quite a respectable degree.”

Third comes age. “[AfD supporters] are youngish to middle-aged,” said Arzheimer. “Interestingly, voters over 60 seem to shy from voting for the AfD because they’re still tied to the Christian Democrats,” Merkel’s center-right party.

… What all these voters seem to share, say the experts studying them, is intense concern about immigration and Islam—issues with extraordinary capabilities for generating strange bedfellows. “Suddenly the far-right is pro-Jewish because it’s anti-Muslim,” said Lenka Bustikova, a political scientist at Arizona State University who has studied far-right movements further east in Europe. “Suddenly with the [influx] of refugees you have this new twist: You are for Western gender rights because you think the Muslims are cavemen. It’s going to be interesting to watch.”

Source: Germany’s AfD Party and Its Anti-Islam Platform – The Atlantic