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Shir Hever discusses the new Jewish section in the “Alternative to Germany” far-right party in Germany, and the way that pro-Israeli politics are used to mask Islamophobia, racism against Jews and the xenophobia

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GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert, coming to you from Baltimore.

The far-right German party identity Alternative fur Deutschland, or Alternative for Germany, made significant gains in the 2017 elections and entered the German parliament as the country’s fourth-largest party and as its largest opposition party with 12.6 percent of the vote. The party, known by its initials AFD, recently announced that it will launch a Jewish chapter next Sunday when it holds a party meeting in the town of Wiesbaden. Although it is not clear how many, or even if any, German Jews intend to join this Jewish chapter of the party, which will be called JAFD, the German media is covering the story very intensively. Germany’s media are fascinated because of the seeming contradiction between the far right party, the AFD, that openly promotes racist policies, and the aspect of a religious minority in Germany, the Jews, who were persecuted in Germany and subjected to genocide by the Nazis.

How does the AFD plan to draw Jews into its ranks? The AFD does so by claiming to be the only party in Germany that is truly supporting the state of Israel. Josef Schuster is the head of the organization Zentralat der Juden, or Central Council of Jews, in Germany, an organization that claims to represent the Jewish community and its interests. Here is his response to the question: How do you define anti-Semitism?

JOSEF SCHUSTER: Anti-Semitism is a threat against Jewish life with words and deeds, which means the expression of vilification of Judaism, the Jewish religion. But beyond that, also especially common in contemporary and modern times, the related general criticism against Israel, especially putting the state of Israel’s right to exist in question. In my eyes there is nothing but disguised anti-Semitism.

GREG WILPERT: Joining us now to discuss the meaning of the AFD’s reaching out to Jews in Germany is Shir Hever. Shir is a Real News Network correspondent in Heidelberg. His recent book The Privatization of Israeli Security was published by Pluto Press in 2017. In addition, Shir is a board member of the organization Judische Stimme fur Gerechten Frieden in Nahost, the German sister organization of the Jewish Voice for Peace. Thanks, Shir, for being here today.

SHIR HEVER: Thanks, Greg, for having me.

GREG WILPERT: So there are numerous statements by senior members of the AFD party calling on Germany to abandon its “culture of guilt” over the Holocaust, to dismantle the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, saying also that the Nazi regime was just “a brief moment of bird dropping in a thousand glorious years of German history,” and so on. Given all of that, would a party like the AFD- why would a party like the AFD create a section for Jewish members, to attract Jews into its ranks?

SHIR HEVER: The AFD is part of a much broader phenomenon, what we often call the alt-right. And there are far-right parties in Europe which have very similar ideas. But unlike those parties, the AFD has a much deeper problem of legitimacy, and because the German political culture is based on feelings of guilt, but also feelings of fear that neo-Nazis could return to power, and that Germany might repeat the crimes of the past and because of that. Far right parties in Germany are treated with more suspicion by the general population and by the media than they are in neighboring countries like Poland or in Hungary.

But I think what we also see with them is that they have adopted many of the stereotypical beliefs Germans have a about the role of Jews in German society. And part of the very stereotypical, you even say racist view, that Jews somehow control the vast influence over German society, and that somehow German politics is determined by the desires and by the will of this very tiny Jewish minority, it makes the AFD especially interested in attracting Jews into its ranks because they believe that this is how they are going to become more legitimate in the general German public.

GREG WILPERT: And so what is the relationship between the organization Zentralat der Juden, of Joseph Schuster who we just heard, and the AFD? And why would German Jews consider joining a far-right party like AFD?

SHIR HEVER: I think what the section of, the brief section that we just heard Josef Schuster speaking, was a moment that really clarifies the problem in this kind of perception of Jews in Germany today. The German chancellor Angela Merkel said in 2008 that the reason of state of Germany is the security of Israel. And that’s a very undemocratic statement. And it’s also a transference of the German guilty feelings and political sensitivity towards the issue of racism towards minorities.

First of all, it’s a transference. There was one particular minority that was targeted during the Holocaust especially, which are the Jews, while of course forgetting that there were many other groups that were victims of the Holocaust. But much more serious than that is the same transference, where instead of feeling responsibility towards the Jewish people, the German government finds it more comfortable, more convenient to transfer its responsibility towards the Jewish state, the state of Israel.

The state of Israel did not exist during the Second World War, did not exist during the Holocaust. But it’s much easier for the German government to send weapons to the state of Israel, rather than to really deal with the issue of creating a safe space for Jewish life in Europe today. And so that’s this sort of problem, is something that has been completely adopted by these organizations and how they use them. In fact, there are many organizations in Germany which represent Jews, and which- many Jewish organizations of different kinds, and representing different ideas of religion, and nationality, and culture, and language, and which refer to the Jewish community of Germany.

But this organization, Zentrala der Juden, not only do they have a very ominous name, I think, the Central Committee of the Jews, which evokes memories of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, this anti-Semitic conspiracy against Jews, but also this is the organization chosen by the German government as the representative organization for the Jewish community, even though they don’t have the majority of Jews supporting them in Germany. And the reason that the German government chose them is because their extremely pro-Zionist position. Now, Josef Schuster, he is a man who expressed racist ideas in the name of his organization against refugees coming to Germany from the Middle East, especially from Syria. And he said that he’s concerned that Syrian refugees would bring in with them ideas of anti-Semitism into Germany. I think this statement of his is very dangerous, and very confusing, and very wrong, because in fact anti-Semitism was invented in Germany. It has been a very long, integral part, unfortunately, of German history for centuries. And the refugees coming from Syria, if they have any kind of- they have any reason, perhaps, to be angry and to have outrage against the state of Israel and its crimes. But they have no history and tradition of racism towards Jews. That’s something that Josef Schuster simply attributes to them. And a lot of Germans, non-Jewish Germans, find this statement very attractive because it absolves them of their own guilt and responsibility to racism toward Jews.

Now that he made that statement- and after he made that statement there was the election, and the far-right party Alternative fur Deutschland got so many votes. And Alternative fur Deutschland is saying very similar things. They’re saying, actually, our society of white Christian Germans is a very good society and a very healthy society. The only problem is that all these foreigners are bringing their problems with them; specifically Muslim foreigners. It’s a very Islamophobic, big party. And so for them it’s very nice to hear him say that, and to say, oh, we actually we don’t have a problem with racism towards Jews. It’s those Muslims who have a problem, and so we should keep them out, and that will be the solution.

Now with the announcement that the Alternative fur Deutschland is going to create a section for Jews, Zentralat der Juden are very concerned about this, and they’ve made several statements that they don’t really like. And the statements made by members of this party against the memorial of the Holocaust, and against remembering the crimes Germans committed against their Jewish minority. But in fact they carry a lot of the responsibility precisely for this by spreading this kind of Islamophobic hysteria in Germany. And I think because of that, a lot of German Jews are furious with the Zentralat movement, and certainly will not support neither that organisation, nor of course go Alternative fur Deutschland.

The German media is sometimes finding it very difficult to distinguish between the state of Israel and the Jewish people. But Jews do not make that mistake. And therefore Jews know that not all the Jews represent the ideas of the state of Israel. And I do not expect that many Jews are going to join the AFD.

GREG WILPERT: OK. So you’re saying that Jews are not likely to flock in large numbers to the AFD. So what kind of politics would you say is more common among German Jews?

SHIR HEVER: What we see, especially in recent years, is an awakening of political activism among German Jews. And there are several groups that comprise this varied community of German Jews. And Jews who- there are almost no Jews who have been continuously living in Germany since World War II, because that population has been either expelled or murdered. But Jews that then came to Germany, either they came back after the war, or they came from the Soviet Union, or they came from Israel or from other countries, make up for a very varied community. And these people, I think most of the Jews living in Germany, completely reject this idea that anti-Semitism is somehow distinct from other forms of racism; an idea which has become very entrenched in German politics, as if Jews deserve special treatment and special protection against anti-Semitism while other minority groups do not deserve it.

In fact, the German government has appointed a sort of czar, a government czar in charge of anti-Semitism, in charge of combating Semitism. And every one of the 16 German states has also appointed somebody to be in charge of anti-Semitism. But they don’t have anyone to deal with the problem of racism in general in German society. And of course this is something that serves the political needs of the German government, to be able to say, oh, we are very gentle to our Jewish minority, and we care about them, we don’t want them to suffer from anti-Semitism. But in fact they’re undermining the ability of Jews to form solidarity groups with other repressed minorities. And that’s where I think we see a lot of young Jewish organizations in Germany today, such as Jewish Antifa, or in English you would say Jewish Antifa, and the people who are marching in Berlin against racism, and the joint Israeli-Iranian circle of activists who reach out from Iran and from Israel to oppose conflict between these two states; and their center actually is in Berlin, not Israel, nor in Iran.

And all of these Jewish groups understand that the only real protection against racism comes from solidarity, and does not come from some kind of government appointment that is going to check who is a racist and who is not. And of course, these organizations are targeting in their activity the far right. They are consider the far right to be a threat to the diverse life in Germany, and they consider the far right party to be one of the greatest threats to German democracy.

GREG WILPERT: OK. Well, we’re going to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Shir Hever, Real News Network correspondent in Heidelberg, Germany. Thanks again, Shir, for having joined us today.

SHIR HEVER: Thank you, Greg.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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Dr. Shir Hever grew up in Israel and now lives in Germany. He has been reporting on Israel/Palestine stories for 16 years, and for the Real News specifically since 2016. He’s the author of two books and many articles, and is a committed member of several Palestine solidarity groups.