Over the last decade, Germany has been the indisputable leader of Europe, with its strong economy, liberal democracy, close partnership with the United States, and in recent years, its dominant role in steering the continent through one catastrophe after another: first the euro crisis and the bailouts of Greece, Spain, Portugal and others, followed by the refugee crisis, which saw the largest wave of migration since the Holocaust.
However, as populist movements on both sides of the Atlantic gain ground, the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) poses a threat to the liberal order in Germany. Founded in 2013 by Euro-skeptic but mostly liberal economists, the AfD went from being a marginal political party that couldn’t even cross the 5 percent threshold to enter national parliament when federal elections were last held in 2013, to what is now the third-most-popular party in Germany. The AfD skyrocketed to its current level of success by serving as the only political party to vigorously condemn Angela Merkel’s policies toward the refugee crisis. That position led the party’s original founder to quit in protest of “Islamic and xenophobic” elements within. Yet it attracted a large following of voters who had until then felt that there was no political home for opposition to accepting over a million mostly Muslim immigrants.
Frauke Petry has been the leader of the AfD since 2015. Under her stewardship, the party now holds seats in 10 of Germany’s 16 state parliaments, up from five a year ago. Federal elections will be held in September, and the latest polls predict that this time the party will have no trouble entering the Bundestag, Germany’s national parliament. If polls are to be trusted, the party will win 12 percent to 15 percent of the vote, which will make it the third largest political party in Germany—and the first overtly nationalist party in the German government since the Third Reich.
The party’s focus on limiting immigrants and preserving German identity has led the AfD to become somewhat of a pariah in German society. And while its focus is predominantly on curtailing the influence of Islam in Germany, some party members have been linked to anti-Semitic groups and individuals, leading some politicians and journalists to label the AfD and its leaders as neo-Nazis. Germany’s larger parties have so far opposed the prospect of aligning themselves with the AfD in a coalition government. Still, the prominence of a nationalist movement in modern Germany is worrisome to many—especially to Jews.
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