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Far-right AfD under pressure after German anti-Semitic attack

German Jewish leaders and politicians accused the far-right AfD on Friday of fuelling the kind of hatred that made the deadly anti-Semitic attack in Halle possible, a charge angrily rejected by the party.

Far-right AfD under pressure after German anti-Semitic attack
AfD politician Björn Höcke speaking in Thüringia on Germany Unity Day. Photo: DPA

As the country searched for answers after the rampage by a suspected neo-Nazi who had tried to storm a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle, several critics accused the Alternative for Germany party of making aggressive bigotry mainstream.

Felix Klein, the government's pointman for fighting anti-Semitism, said the AfD, the biggest opposition party in parliament, trafficked in incendiary anti-Jewish sentiment.

He noted that leading figures in the party had called Germany's cherished culture of Holocaust remembrance and atonement for Nazi crimes into question,
just as they criticized Jewish religious rites.

“The AfD has a great number of views that are hostile to Jews,” Klein told public broadcaster ZDF.

“For instance their position that ritual slaughter of animals (for kosher food preparation) should be banned.”

He pointed to AfD chief Alexander Gauland, who has expressed “pride” for the actions of German soldiers during World War II, and dismissed the Nazi period as a mere “speck of bird poop” in Germany's history.

READ ALSO: AfD leader sparks outrage with Hitler 'speck of bird poop' comment

Klein's post was created last year in response to a sharp rise in hate crimes against Jews in Germany seven decades after the Holocaust.

'Paving the way'

Suspect Stephan Balliet, 27, is accused of shooting two people dead on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, after he tried and failed to storm a synagogue filled with at least 50 worshippers.

He admitted to the crime and confessed that it was motivated by anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism, federal prosecutors said Friday.

The gunman made a 35-minute video, obtained by AFP, in which he filmed himself launching into a diatribe against women and Jews and denying the Holocaust before carrying out the attack.

Although Balliet is believed to have committed the assault alone, commentators noted he had tapped into a murky pool of extremist ideology readily found online.

Without mentioning the AfD by name, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, an outspoken critic of the party, on Thursday condemned xenophobic rhetoric they said had grown increasingly commonplace and dangerous.

The head of Munich's Jewish community, Holocaust survivor Charlotte Knobloch, said the attack showed “how quickly the words of political extremists can get turned into action” and accused the AfD of “paving the way for this with its culture of hatred and incitement”.

AfD parliamentary group leader Alice Weidel pushed back, saying critics were “exploiting this horrible crime to defame their political rivals with baseless defamation”.

On Friday party co-president Jörg Meuthen insisted that the AfD was a
“pro-Israeli and a pro-Jewish party”.

“We are actively engaged in supporting Jewish life in Germany — for us it
is a key part of our identity.”

'Intellectual arsonists'

But Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said the AfD had contributed a slipping of long-standing taboos in German life, offering legitimacy to hatred and even bloodshed.

“On the one hand you have these horrible violent criminals, who we need to protect ourselves against, and on the other hand the intellectual arsonists,” said Herrmann, who has himself come under fire for harsh language against asylum seekers.

In the wake of the Halle attack, Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder
called for the AfD to expel Björn Höcke, a leader of the party's most
radical wing who has called for a “180-degree shift” in Germany's remembrance
culture.

The AfD began as a eurosceptic outfit in 2013 but has since morphed into a nationalist anti-migration outfit.

The influx of more than one million asylum seekers 2015-16 allowed its support to surge but its poll numbers have plateaued since then at about 14 percent.

It is represented in all 16 of Germany's regional legislatures and has
nearly 100 seats in the Bundestag.

Wednesday's shootings came three months after the shocking assassination-style murder of local pro-migrant politician Walter Lübcke in the western city of Kassel, allegedly by a known neo-Nazi.

Centrist politicians at the time blamed the AfD for stoking anti-refugee sentiment and raised questions about whether Germany had failed to take a rising threat from right-wing extremists seriously.

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POLITICS

IN PICTURES: Germany hosts G7 summit with Bavarian twist

G7 leaders are meeting in Bavaria to discuss important issues including Russia's war on Ukraine and the food crisis. The event is known for producing memorable pictures. Here's a look at the best images and tweets so far.

IN PICTURES: Germany hosts G7 summit with Bavarian twist

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The Group of Seven wealthy nations is holding their annual summit in the stunning surroundings of the Bavarian Alps. 

The world leaders are engaged in talks at the Schloss Elmau with a focus on Russia’s war on Ukraine, climate change, energy, the global food crisis and rising inflation. 

The G7 gatherings are known known for producing some memorable photos and amusing moments, and this year is no exception. Here’s a look at the best so far. 

When the G7 summit started on Sunday, the southern state of Bavaria became the standout attraction. 

Leaders of the nations involved – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA – were given traditional Bavarian welcomes. 

Spearheaded by Bavarian premier Markus Söder, the leaders were greeted by people clad in Bavarian costumes, such as the dirndl. 

It sparked heated debates on how Germany is portrayed to the rest of the world.  

READ ALSO: Can Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

Journalist Mathieu von Rohr said on Twitter: “It’s hard to imagine what Söder would have done to Germany’s image in the world as chancellor.”

Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, walks past people wearing traditional Bavarian costumes after his arrival at Munich airport on June 26th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Karmann

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, walks past people wearing traditional Bavarian costume after his arrival at Munich airport on June 26th.

The left wing newspaper Taz on Monday led with a front page that included this headline: “Finally, indigenous peoples at the G7 summit”.

READ ALSO: Why Bavaria does politics differently to the rest of Germany

The photo of US President Joe Biden signing his name in the Bavarian guest book to Germany produced lots of good captions. 

Nathan Ma poked fun at Germany’s infamous overly complicated contracts that are hard to get out of.

Commentators in Germany have also been making their views known about the events at the summit. 

German broadcaster BR said in an opinion article that the opening G7 event was “like a Monty Python sketch”.

Writer Max Büch said: “Yes, it’s embarrassing that Joe Biden is being coerced by Markus Söder to sign the guestbook at the airport.”

He added: “But people in traditional costume are not embarrassing per se. Even if taz’s ‘indigenous peoples at the G7 summit’ is meant satirically, the title hits a very true core of the image that the rest of Germany still has of Bavaria.”

The southern German traditions continued with Schuhplattler, a traditional style of folk dance popular in the regions of Bavaria and Tyrol. 

“Bavaria makes up perhaps 10 percent of Germany,” one journalist said in another tweet on the Schuhplattler video. “But 90 percent of people abroad think this is all of us.

Bavarian premier Markus Söder defended the opening ceremony. 

He said on Twitter: “Bavaria is the land of homeland and custom: many thanks to our traditional costume associations, musicians and mountain riflemen for their support in welcoming the G7 heads of state. They present the Free State and our traditions with great pride. It was a great backdrop.”

Like every year, the pictures of G7 leaders joking around and getting up, close and personal have also been commented on.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz signals to the other G7 leaders during a photo shoot at Elmau. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler
 
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz signals to the other G7 leaders during a photo shoot at Elmau.
 
We’d love to be a fly on the wall for the private conversations being held between the leaders. Here German Chancellor Olaf Scholz looks on in amusement at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Elmau on June 26th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Elmau on June 26th.

The lack of women G7 leaders was also commented on. 

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