FILE PHOTO: Alexander Gauland attends the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) congress in Hanover, Germany, December 2, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo
BERLIN (Reuters) – A senior German government official accused the opposition far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party of helping make anti-Semitism “presentable” again in Germany by challenging a longtime consensus about how to deal with its Nazi past.
Felix Klein, who holds a newly created government post tasked with fighting anti-Semitism, said in remarks to online news site watson.de on Thursday that the AfD tolerated party members calling for a new “culture of remembrance”.
“I don’t want to say the AfD is anti-Semitic, per se, but it tolerates representatives who are demanding a new policy of remembrance,” he said. “They initiated this discussion about drawing a line (under the Holocaust) and that is very dangerous because it helps make anti-Semitism presentable again.”
The AfD had no immediate comment on Klein’s comments. The party has denied being anti-Semitic or racist but has drawn sharp criticism for not sanctioning a key party figure after he called for a “180 degree turnaround” in the way Germany seeks to atone for Nazi crimes.
The AfD swept into the lower house of parliament for the first time after September elections, tapping into widespread frustration about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to open the borders to over 1 million mostly Muslim migrants.
Klein’s post was created by Merkel’s conservatives and the centre-left Social Democrats as part of their coalition pact amid reports from Germany’s small Jewish community about what they see as rising levels of prejudice and hatred.
Anti-Semitism is a highly sensitive issue in Germany, whose 1933-45 Nazi regime murdered 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.
Klein said last month anti-Semitism was still rooted largely in extreme right-wing ideology and was not only being driven by Germany’s growing Muslim population.
German schools have long taught about the Holocaust, but rights groups say the rise of the AfD and other far-right parties has frayed taboos against anti-Semitic utterances and other hate speech.
Klein has also called for a national database to record anti-Semitic incidents, including by Muslims, that are not included in crime statistics.
He told watson.de that he would raise the issue with the German Conference on Islam, and encourage Muslim groups across Germany to take on the fight against anti-Semitism.
“This would not only send an important signal, but would allow Muslim groups to ask for solidarity when a mosque or a woman wearing a head covering are attacked,” he said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Heinrich)