Germany’s populist AfD party is splitting in the wake of an anti-Semitism scandal, Reuters reports:
Wolfgang Gedeon, a former doctor turned AfD lawmaker, triggered outrage by saying that denial of the Nazi Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed, was a legitimate expression of opinion. Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany.
On Tuesday evening he said he hoped to prevent the split within the party by tendering his resignation from the parliamentary group following a meeting with AfD national leader Frauke Petry, according to German media reports.[…]
Thirteen lawmakers from the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the southern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg had earlier quit the AfD’s regional parliamentary group after ten other members did not support a motion to expel Gedeon.
Joerg Meuthen, the leader of the AfD parliamentary group in Baden-Wuerttemberg and the party’s co-chair at the national level, led Tuesday’s split. He and 12 others left the regional parliamentary group, which originally comprised 23 lawmakers.
“Anti-Semitism cannot and must not have any place in the AfD,” Meuthen said.
Meuthen said Gedeon’s resignation did not change the fact that other members had supported him and was quoted by ARD public broadcaster as saying the split remained a “painful but necessary step”.
The AfD parliamentary group had previously rejected an attempt by Meuthen for Gedeon to be expelled from the party. Instead, they suspended his membership pending an independent review of his written work.
The national leaders of the AfD said in a statement that there was no room for anti-Semitism in the party and criticized those in the state who resisted Gedeon’s expulsion.
“The board distances itself from those members who do not leave the parliamentary group with Joerg Meuthen. From now on we recognize only Joerg Meuthen and the lawmakers who join him as representatives of the AfD in the Baden-Wuerttemberg assembly,” said the board in a statement.
No matter how the populists try, this sort of thing seems to keep popping up. In April, France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen was fined again for calling the Holocaust “a detail.” This weekend, Donald Trump tweeted a picture of Hillary Clinton superimposed over a pile of cash and a Star of David graphic bearing the phrase “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” that appears to have originated on a white supremacist message board. And now this in Germany.
Nor is this just a problem for right-wing populists. Britain’s Labour Party is undergoing an existential struggle right now between a populist faction backing its Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the majority of its Members of Parliament, who have voted overwhelmingly that they have no confidence in Corbyn. While the cause of that split wasn’t anti-Semitism, it has been made worse by Corbyn’s drawing an equivalence between ISIS and Israel and standing by while an activist attacked a Jewish MP about an alleged media conspiracy while at an event to address a previous anti-Semitism scandal in Labour from this spring. It has been clear throughout that there has been a correlation between Corbyn supporters and the visible anti-Semites.
We said “no matter how the populists try”; and they have indeed been trying hard. As Charles Hawley wrote in the pages of TAI this fall, Europe’s far-right has been working hard to overcome its anti-Semitic past. In Trump’s campaign, the ouster of Cory Lewandowski as campaign manager was supposed to install a greater professionalism and more centrist tone. And Corbyn had after all commissioned the anti-Semitism review, chaired by the head of Liberty (think, the British ACLU) at which he was speaking.
But unfortunately, there is undeniably an element in the populist base that is anti-Semitic, and that the leaders varyingly either sympathize with, tolerate, or feel needs to be pandered to. In smaller populist parties, such as the AfD, this is almost by definition a larger proportion of the membership; in older and more established parties such as the Republicans or Labour, it’s a small but in this season very vocal minority.
Something ugly is stirring—and too many leaders are feeding the trolls.
[Update: This post has been edited since its initial publication.]