Dr.Gerstenfeld’s article on why the German and Austrian far-right are not identical was published in the Jerusalem Post, and republished here with the author’s consent.
THE GERMAN AND AUSTRIAN FAR RIGHT : NOT IDENTICAL
In recent parliamentary elections the far right German AfD and the Austrian FPȌ improved their positions substantially. Concerning both Jews and Israel more detailed analysis is necessary to understand differences in attitudes between these two right wing parties. Many media outlets often lump these parties together as if they are identical. Israeli and local Jewish interests concerning these parties are also not necessarily the same.
With 12.6 percent of the votes in the September 24 elections, the AfD has entered the Bundestag — the German parliament — for the first time, becoming the third largest party. Part of its present leadership seems to aim for long-term opposition. As a result, some key figures are able to take extreme positions and the AfD feels no pressure to expel dubious representatives.
One AfD member who has returned to parliament is Martin Hohmann. In 2003, the Christian Democrats (CDU) expelled this Bundestag member months after he called Israelis ‘a nation of criminals.’ He used the expression “Tätervolk” —“a nation of perpetrators”— a term commonly reserved for Nazi Germany.1
Joint AfD leader, Alexander Gauland, is also a former CDU member. He wants to draw a final line under the Nazi past even as superficial analysis shows how this past continues to influence contemporary Germany in many ways.2 This reality has been strengthened as a result of the many negative reactions to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy of welcoming more than a million refugees.
Gauland has praised the German soldiers who did their duty in the First and Second World Wars. He made it clear that he did not deny the Holocaust or the war crimes committed by the Wehrmacht, the German Army.3 Gauland also stated that Jews have nothing to fear from his party.4 Several German Jewish leaders disagree.
The AfD leader in the Thuringia region, Björn Höcke, has called Berlin’s Holocaust memorial ‘a monument of shame.’ He has also denied that Adolf Hitler was absolute evil. Höcke added: “We know that there is no black and no white in history.” His position was attacked by several other members of the party, yet he is not the only one in the AfD to have made remarks that distort and abuse the meaning of the Holocaust.5
One should note that Frauke Petry, a previous AFD joint leader, has left the party. She wanted the AfD to be conservative, free of antisemitism and a potential coalition partner. At Petry’s request I wrote an opinion affirming the anti-Semitic nature of a series of statements by Wolfgang Gedeon, an AfD member, of the regional parliament of Baden–Württemberg.6 Thereafter Petry convinced Gedeon to leave the AfD faction.7
The future of the AfD remains unclear. Most likely there will be ongoing tensions between radical nationalists and more moderate figures. Yet it is doubtful that AfD supporters will replace part of the Muslims in Germany as the country’s major antisemites. However, Germany is a federal state and the positions of regional AfD representatives are not necessarily identical to those of the national leaders. Holocaust distorting and antisemitic remarks may occur again. The German Jews can protest but will have to live with that. Indications are that most of the AfD leadership is pro-Israeli.8
In Austria the situation is partly different. The conservative ȌVP, led by 31 year old Sebastian Kurz came first in the October 15 parliamentary elections taking 31.5 % of the vote. Kurz has decided to enter into coalition negotiations with the FPȌ, led by Heinz-Christian Strache. This far right party came in third in the elections with 26% of the vote, just behind the socialist SPȌ led by current Prime Minister Christian Kern.
Kurz has stated that zero tolerance of antisemitism is very important for him. He told the FPȌ that he expects from them a commitment against antisemitism. He added that “this is a precondition for a coalition under my leadership.9
If the coalition is realized it will not be the first ȌVP-FPȌ government. From 2000-2005 the two parties were already in such a coalition under ȌVP Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel. Earlier, in 1970, the Socialist Chancellor Bruno Kreisky appointed four former Nazis in his cabinet of eleven ministers. He both legitimized and whitewashed them. Kreisky was a self-hating Jew who said that the Jews were not a people and if they were a people they were an ugly people.10
The Austrian Jewish community has expressed opposition against the entrance of the FPȌ into the government. Oskar Deutsch, the chairman of the Vienna Jewish community has written an open letter to the ȌVP and the SPȌ. In a statement about the FPȌ, he said: “When the wolf puts on a sheep’s fleece he changes his appearance but not his essence.”11 When Deutsch wrote against the FPO on his Facebook page he received a flood of antisemitic reactions.12 The previous Jewish community chairman, Ariel Musicant, has on several occasions said that the FPȌ has a nucleus of Nazis in its cellars.13
The current reality of the AfD will not require Israel to have any official contacts with its representatives. If the FPȌ enters the Austrian government, its ministers may contact Israeli representatives or visit the country. If Israel’s government does not boycott the ministers of the Dutch D66 left-liberal anti-Israel inciter party there is no reason to boycott FPȌ ministers unless they make antisemitic remarks. That would also get them in trouble with Chancellor Kurz.
10 Robert S. Wistrich, From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012), 496.