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Israeli Prime Minister Silent On Far-Right German Party
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the chancellery on February 16, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Dominik Bindl-Pool/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Silent On Far-Right German Party

One of AfD’s leaders questions close German-Israeli ties

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have a friendly rivalry going—they are vying for the title of longest-serving leader of a democratic country. Merkel has served as Germany’s chancellor for 12 years, while Netanyahu is close on her heels, having been premier from 1996-1999 and again since 2009 to the present.

“It’s good that someone wins for the fourth time, it’s an omen for a fifth,” Netanyahu said at a toast for the Jewish New Year at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, referring to his plan to run again despite a series of corruption investigations against him.

Netanyahu called Merkel to congratulate her, during which he raised concern about rising anti-Semitism in Germany. In the conversation, the Israeli prime minister “called on the new government that would be formed to act to strengthen the forces in Germany that accept the historic responsibility of the Holocaust,” according to a statement from Netanyahu’s office.

“Israel rejects any attempt to deny the Holocaust,” it added.

Netanyahu did not mention the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far-right populist party that is now the third largest in the country and will enter parliament for the first time.

“I don’t think Netanyahu should start making statements about all kinds of things which do not immediately concern Israel” Manfred Gerstenfeld, an expert on anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism told The Media Line. “At this stage the AfD is none of our business.”

Gerstenfeld also blamed Merkel for the spectacular rise of the party, which he attributed to the chancellor’s “radically mistaken” decision to admit one million refugees from Syria and Iraq. Gerstenfeld added that threats to Jews from within parts of the German Muslim community are far larger than any posed from the AfD.

“There is nothing in our party, in our program that could disturb the Jewish people who live here in Germany,” AfD leader Alexander Gauland told reporters fafter the election.

Merkel also said the “AfD will have no influence” on the policies of her next government, and she will thus seek out other coalition partners.

But others in Israel, especially those regularly critical of Netanyahu, said that the premier remained silent because the AfD is a right-wing, as opposed to left-wing, organization.

“He absolutely should have said something because he has not shied away from commenting on foreign elections,” Bradley Burston, an op-ed writer at the Ha’aretz newspaper told The Media Line. “Netanyahu is telling Israelis that when anti-Semitism comes from the left, such as the British Labor Party or demonstrations in the US, it is the true Jew hatred of old, and when it comes from the right it is to be ignored.”

Burston mentioned the recent publication of an anti-Semitic meme by Netanyahu’s son, which the prime minister did not publicly comment on.

AfD leader Gauland has questioned Germany’s special relationship with Israel. “If Israel’s existence is part of the German national interest, then we would have to be prepared to send German soldiers to defend the Jewish state,” he asserted, before describing such a scenario as “problematic” and “difficult.”

Nevertheless, most analysts do not believe that the AfD’s entry into the German parliament will affect Jerusalem-Berlin ties.

“Merkel and Netanyahu know each other quite well and they meet often,” Werner Puschra, the executive director of the Israel office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a German organization that promotes ties between the two countries, told The Media Line. “Recently the German government has become more critical of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, but that is only ten percent of the relationship, and ninety percent of the ties are strong.”

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