Germany Expected To Put Right-Wing AfD Under Surveillance For Violating Constitution

Of note (perhaps the USA could consider a similar initiative for those that disputed the election results in Congress and the Senate):

Germany’s Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, is constantly on the lookout for potential threats to Germany’s democratic constitutional system, and it has wide-ranging powers when it finds them.

“This agency has the power — and not only to do surveillance on fringe groups, domestic terrorist threats, but also to keep an eye on any political institution, like a political party,” said Melanie Amann of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel and the author of a book about the Alternative for Germany, or AfD.

“Like if their program becomes more radical or if they notice that a political party, maybe that’s even sitting in the parliament, goes into a direction that might be harmful to our political system.”

The agency has wrapped up a two-year investigation into the Alternative for Germany, the country’s largest right-wing opposition party, and is expected to announce soon that it will place the entire party under surveillance for posing a threat to Germany’s political system and violating the constitution. The unprecedented move would mean that all AfD lawmakers, including several dozen in Germany’s parliament, would be put under state surveillance.

The driving force behind the creation of the Verfassungsschutz agency and its surveillance powers was the American-led Allied forces, who, after World War II, helped write a new German Constitution with an eye toward preventing the return of Nazi ideology. That’s why the first article of the constitution guarantees the right to human dignity — an article that the agency determined a far-right branch of the AfD violated. It placed that group, known as der Flügel (“The Wing”), under surveillance nearly a year ago.

Amann said the agency has identified instances of AfD politicians denigrating Muslim migrants to Germany. “They were all treated as potential terrorists,” she said. “They were dehumanized in the speeches. They were compared to animals. The [agency] report made it quite clear that these people had crossed a line.”

Some AfD politicians have also trivialized Germany’s Nazi past. Speaking at an AfD event in 2017, the leader of the Flügel wing, Bjorn Höcke, called the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin a “monument of shame.” A year later, AfD parliamentary leader Alexander Gauland likened Germany’s Nazi era to “a speck of bird s*** in more than 1,000 years of successful German history.”

“If you look at how the AfD has been behaving for some time now, it’s clear it’s acting against our democracy and our constitution,” said Social Democrat parliamentarian Thomas Hitschler, a member of the parliamentary committee that reviews Germany’s intelligence agencies. He said the Verfassungsschutz agency has spent two years gathering evidence to inform the decision that is expected to put the entire AfD under watch.

But AfD politician Georg Pazderski claims the process is political. The agency is run by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, staffed with members of her own conservative Christian Democratic Union party. Pazderski said the CDU is worried about how fast the AfD has become a presence in Germany’s parliament; the party now has 88 members of 709 in the Bundestag, more than 12% representation.

“If you have an opposition party which is very successful within a very short time, we become a danger for the ruling parties,” Pazderski said, “especially for the conservative CDU. And this is a reason why they are trying to stigmatize us and to really put us in the Nazi corner and also to spread strong rumors.”

Hitschler insists the process is not political and the agency’s findings must withstand tough legal scrutiny.

“Its decision must be so watertight legally that it will stand up in the courts,” he said. “The AfD has legal recourse to contest the decision, and the agency isn’t about to lose face in court with a poor case.”

The AfD is already preparing for the decision. This week, the party published a position paper that represents a U-turn in how it sees immigrants, insisting that it is a party for all Germans, even naturalized citizens.

AfD politician Jens Maier, already under surveillance for being part of the Flügel, told NPR by email that last year’s decision to put his section of the party under surveillance has had real consequences.

“A lot of members fear for their civil reputation or even their jobs, especially if they are employed in public service,” he wrote. “This is clearly an unfair method to lower the election results of the AfD.” Germany’s federal elections are scheduled for September.

Der Spiegel’s Amann says tightened surveillance on the AfD will affect civil servants such as police officers and military personnel, who may cancel their membership out of fear of losing their jobs.

While the Verfassungsschutz agency is able to tap phones and use informants to gather information on whomever it monitors, Maier said he hasn’t noticed the surveillance. But he said it has changed the way he and his associates communicate.

“We don’t talk about confidential topics on the phone or online anymore and people from the outside contacting us do so with care now, knowing that somebody is possibly listening,” he wrote.

When Germany announces the AfD is under surveillance, Pazderski said it can expect an immediate lawsuit challenging the decision. And that, he said, may take years to resolve.

Source: Germany Expected To Put Right-Wing AfD Under Surveillance For Violating Constitution

Anti-Islam Pegida rally meets resistance in Dresden

Of note:

Thousands of people rallied in the eastern German city of Dresden on Monday to protest against Germany’s anti-Islamic and xenophobic Pegida movement.

Pegida supporters, including Bjorn Hocke of the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), gathered for the group’s 200th demonstration in the city.

Hundreds of anti-Pegida demonstrators arrived in Neumarkt square, with posters carrying slogans such as “Red card for Nazis” and “Grandmas against the right.”

Organizers of the counterrally said earlier on Monday that they had expected around 1,000 people to attend, but 90 minutes into the event, they estimated that 2,500 people had arrived, according to German news agency DPA.

Local media reported that Pegida leaders complained and threatened to cancel planned speeches due to the level of noise from counterprotesters.

Nazi rhetoric

The Pegida movement, created in 2014, is led by Lutz Bachmann,who has previously been convicted for incitement.

As one of the AfD’s most contentious figures, Hocke has been accused of using Nazi rhetoric in his speeches.

Pegida stands for “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West.”

Local chapters of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the state of Saxony called for a counterrally under the slogan “Democracy needs backbone.”

Both parties have the support of Saxony’s Association of Jewish Communities, the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church.

State premier Michael Kretschmer, and a number of his ministers, have offered their support in a private capacity.

Bjorn Hocke has been accused of using Nazi rhetoric in his speeches.

AfD presence

AfD executive board member Alexander Wolf told the DPA news agency that Hocke’s rally attendance was risky ahead of elections in the northern German city of Hamburg on Sunday.

“As legitimate as the issue may be, a demonstration does always hold risks because you cannot control who takes part,” he said.

Thousands of anti-Pegida protesters took to Dresden’s Neumarkt square

The Pegida movement has also had the support of Hocke in the past.  In 2016, he said in a speech that: “Without them, the AfD would not be where it is.”

Pegida held its first rally in Dresden in October 2014, calling for an end to the “Merkel dictatorship” and protesting against Islam and refugees

During the movement’s peak, tens of thousands of people participated in Pegida rallies.

Source: Anti-Islam Pegida rally meets resistance in Dresden

Germany’s Post-Nazi Taboo Against the Far Right Has Been Shattered


Sometimes, it takes an earthquake to reveal what’s below the surface.

In the eastern German state of Thuringia this week a regional election displayed the disastrous state of Germany’s political center — and how far the country now stands from the anti-fascist consensus it proclaims to maintain.

On Wednesday, the state Parliament of Thuringia elected Thomas Kemmerich of the Free Democratic Party as the new governor. The only reason Mr. Kemmerich was able to win, though, was because he received the backing of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, known by its German initials AfD. The Free Democrats in Thuringia, along with members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, agreed to the deal to ensure Mr. Kemmerich took office.

In doing so, the center-right parties broke a taboo that has been in place in German politics since the end of the Nazi era. Mr. Kemmerich became the first high-ranking German politician since World War II to be elected by relying on votes from a far-right party.

The centrists’ decision to side with the far right is especially worrying in Thuringia, where the AfD is not only the second strongest party in the regional parliament, but also more extreme than in any other state. The AfD’s boss there, Björn Höcke, is the leader of a hard-line movement inside the party known as “Der Flügel” — The Wing. In a 2018 book, he warned of the “coming death of the nation through population replacement.” Last year, a court ruled that he could legally be termed a fascist.

The events in Thuringia have shaken German politics. Ms. Merkel called the outcome “unforgivable.” Lars Klingbeil, the secretary general of the Social Democrats, spoke of a “low point in Germany’s postwar history.” Even the conservative tabloid Bild called the result a “disgrace.” After a wave of public fury — including protests across the country — Mr. Kemmerich announced on Thursday that he would resign in order to allow new elections. (It’s far from clear that a new election wouldn’t produce even stronger results for the AfD, however.)

But what led to these shameful machinations goes far deeper: the increasing normalization of the radical right in German politics. Even if Germany’s conservatives and liberals have not previously entered into formal agreements with the far right at the federal level, and are unlikely to let the AfD into a future government, they have nonetheless helped it gain power and far too often set the agenda. That dynamic won’t disappear soon.

This was not the first time that centrists have collaborated with the AfD. There have been at least 18 cases in which Ms. Merkel’s party has cooperated with the AfD on a local level, it was reported last fall. In the state parliaments of Berlin and Brandenburg, for example, the two parties have voted together on legislation. Leading Christian Democrats from several states have declared their willingness to work with the far-right party. In Saxony-Anhalt, the two parties teamed up in 2017 on an “inquiry on left extremism.” And in the same state, two Christian Democratic members of Parliament wrote a position paper last year in which they considered a coalition with the AfD. “We must reconcile the social with the national,” they stated, echoing neo-Nazi rhetoric.

The AfD has grown consistently since its founding in 2013 and is now present in the parliaments of every one of Germany’s 16 states. The parties of the center, meanwhile, have all shifted rightward. Both the Free Democrats, under their leader Christian Lindner, and the Christian Democrats have moved their policy platforms in an anti-immigrant direction. Neither Ms. Merkel nor the party’s new leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, have created clear boundaries between their party and the far right. But many voters, especially in the east of Germany, would rather buy the original product than its copies.

How did it come to this? One major factor is the obsession of many German centrists with the so-called horseshoe theory of politics, where the far left and the far right are equivalent.

Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats have been guided by this theory. In an official resolution, the party stated that it will never enter coalition with either the Left Party or the AfD. In Thuringia, it was this unmovable opposition to the left — demonized in its entirety by conservatives and liberals, citing the Left Party’s history as successor to the East German Communist Party — that laid the groundwork for the latest scandal. To prevent a relatively moderate and highly popular Left Party politician, Bodo Ramelow, from taking power in a minority government, the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats instead colluded with the AfD.

One day after the disaster in Thuringia, Friedrich Merz, a Christian Democratic politician whom some believe could be the next chancellor, appeared on a late-night talk show. After condemning his party’s decision to collaborate with the AfD in Thuringia, Mr. Merz also felt the need to warn of the “left scene” in Berlin torching cars; he went on to equate the Left Party with the AfD. Should Mr. Merz really become Ms. Merkel’s successor, we can expect a red scare to become ever more part of the centrist program.

For the far right, this week has been an outstanding success. AfD’s leaders have long predicted — and hoped for — a convergence with centrist and conservative parties. On Wednesday, when shaking hands to congratulate the newly elected Thuringia governor, Mr. Höcke smiled. The scene reminded many Germans of a famous picture from 1933 in which Adolf Hitler greets Paul von Hindenburg, Germany’s president at the time.

Germany in 2020 is not Germany in 1933. But German politics have shifted in recent years in a disturbing way. Centrists and the far right share talking points on immigration. They share what they perceive as a common enemy in the left. And now, for the first time in decades, they even share a governor.

Source: Germany’s Post-Nazi Taboo Against the Far Right Has Been Shattered

Germany’s anti-immigrant AfD rejects shift further right

Better than the alternative but not by much:

The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) on Saturday opened a two-day conference where, as it seeks to build on recent election successes, it rejected a swerve to the extreme right.

After delegates voted on Saturday evening, the relatively moderate candidate Jörg Meuthen secured another term as co-chair, while compromise candidate Tino Chrupalla was elected to replace outgoing co-chair Alexander Gauland.

Internal power struggles had been expected to dominate the halls of the conference center, where 600 party delegates, in addition to choosing co-chairs, were voting on 13 members of the executive committee.

An extreme-right faction known as the Wing (Flügel) had been hoping to boost its representation on the executive council and make a bid to swing the leadership in its direction.

The two-day gathering in the city of Braunschweig comes on the heels of state elections in eastern Germany in recent months that saw the AfD surge to second place in Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia with more than 20% of the vote.

Meuthen used the moment to revel in the declining support for Germany’s traditional center-left Social Democrats and center-right Christian Democrats.

“We are experiencing the implosion of formerly dominant forces with the simultaneous strengthening of new forces … I believe that government-building without us will become more and more difficult, until it does not work at all anymore,” he said.

All parties represented in Germany’s federal and state parliaments have refused to work with the AfD.

As Meuthen expressed ambitions to enter government, some 20,000 protesters gathered outside the conference. Some shouted “all of Germany hates the AfD” and “no place for Nazis.”

Extreme right of the AfD

The Wing’s influence in the AfD has been strengthened after two of its key figures — Björn Höcke and Andreas Kalbitz — scored significant electoral victories in regional elections in eastern Germany this year. By some estimates, up to 40% of party members are sympathetic to the Wing, giving them a prominent role in choosing the executive council and co-leaders.

Chrupalla, who won the support of 54.5% of delegates, was viewed as a compromise candidate acceptable to moderates and radicals. He was ultimately able to battle off a challenge from a more hard-line lawmaker, Gottfried Curio.

At a press conference, Chrupalla disputed the idea that the AfD used incendiary rhetoric to win votes, saying “we have used reason” to gain centrist voters, which “requires no drastic language.”

Founded in 2013 as a euroskeptic party, the AfD has drifted to the right as it seized on the 2015 refugee crisis to promote an anti-Islam, anti-foreigner and pro-family program. Despite scoring above 20% in eastern Germany, it has stalled nationwide at about 13-15%.

Moderates within the party want to appeal to a broader political base and disgruntled voters by shedding its far-right image in a bid to capture support from other parties, particularly the ruling conservative Christian Democrats and their center-left Social Democrat coalition partners.

The battle over the future direction of the AfD is not only a strategic question, but an existential one.

It comes as Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has put some local AfD offices under further scrutiny. There is great concern within the party that its national associations could be put under observation if it swings too far to the extreme right.

Source: Germany’s anti-immigrant AfD rejects shift further right

Germany’s Far Right Tightens Its Grip in the East


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.


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.”

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