President of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, said last week that the entire Alternative for Germany (AfD) was a “disgrace for Germany” after several incidents in which AfD members seemingly downplayed the Holocaust, sympathized with Nazis, or suggested that the country should feel less guilty about its Nazi past.
“This party cannot have a place in Germany, I hope that it disappears from the political stage soon,” Lauder said in the interview with Die Welt.
In response to Lauder's statements, AfD leader Frauke Petry told Die Welt in an interview published on Thursday that a Jewish leader such as himself should recognize the AfD's importance in the country.
“As a Jewish representative, he should above all realize that the AfD is one of the few political guarantors of Jewish life, also in times of illegal, anti-Semitic migration to Germany,” Petry said.
Petry also used US President Donald Trump as an example for why Lauder should respect her party.
“Ronald Lauder said in the Welt interview about Donald Trump that ‘he was democratically elected, his opponents must accept that'. The AfD meanwhile was democratically elected in 11 German state parliaments,” Petry said.
“Ronald Lauder is certainly democratic enough to recognize this will of the electorate.”
The main incident that Lauder had commented on was when Thuringia AfD branch leader Björn Höcke questioned in January the way Germany reflects on the Nazis, calling the Berlin Holocaust monument a “memorial of shame” and saying that the country should do a “180-degree” turn in how it talks about its history.
Höcke also blasted a former German president who famously called for all Germans to remember the country's historic responsibility for the Nazis' atrocities, saying the leader had made a “speech against his own people”.
Petry herself has sought to expel Höcke, and party leaders have launched an “exclusion process” against him. She told Die Welt that she therefore did not understand why Lauder would characterize her entire party by one politician's statements.
“Since Lauder surely knows about the party's exclusion process, I do not understand how he can find the AfD jointly liable for these kind of remarks,” Petry stated.
But Höcke's comments were not the first time the AfD had been accused of anti-Semitism or Nazi sympathizing. In February the party said it was investigating a regional chairwoman in Bavaria for circulating a photo of Adolf Hitler with the caption “missed since 1945” and “Germany needs you”.
Last year it emerged that a Berlin party representative had in the past posted Facebook messages trivializing Nazi war crimes, while another member in Saarland was found to have sold Nazi paraphernalia at his antiques shop.
And a row over another representative in Baden-Württemberg nearly split the party apart last summer. The now former member, Wolfgang Gedeon, had described the Holocaust in a book as “certain infamous actions”, and called Holocaust deniers dissidents.
Jewish leader Lauder also bashed the AfD for its often harsh attitude towards Islam - the party has called, for example, for a general headscarf ban in public institutions.
“This is in no way helpful for Jews,” Lauder said. “Whoever vilifies another religion cannot be our friend.”
But Petry also fired back against this statement.
“An Islam that does not respect our legal system, or even fights and extols a claim to power as ultimately the only valid religion, that is to me not compatible with a free, democratic constitutional order,” she said, again making a connection between illegal immigration and anti-Semitism.
“That is not defamation, but rather justified criticism of worrisome conditions,” Petry added.