The AfD won 12.6 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election, according to preliminary results released by the country’s election committee, making the far-right party the third-largest in parliament. Speaking at a press conference Monday, Gauland vowed to protect Germany from an “invasion of foreigners” but said that the country’s Jewish population was safe.
“There is nothing in our party, in our program, that could disturb the Jewish people who live here in Germany,” Gauland told reporters, adding that that he hadn’t met with Jewish leaders, but was “ready at any time” to do so.
Following the far-right party’s landmark result on Sunday, the Central Council of Jews (Zentralrat der Juden) voiced its concerns over the result. In a stronger response, the president of the Jewish World Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, called the entry of AfD into the German Bundestag “disgraceful.”
Throughout its election campaign, the AfD has been plagued by accusations of racism, Nazism and anti-Semitism – allegations it has denied.
Earlier in September, Gauland said that Germany has a “right to be proud of the achievements of the German soldiers in two world wars.”
He then praised Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg, who led an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944 during “Operation Valkyrie,” and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, also known as the “Desert Fox,” who led German forces in North Africa. Rommel is often held up as an example of a “good” Nazi commander because he is believed to have not committed any war crimes and was also implicated in the Valkyrie plot, though modern historians say his role was more ambiguous.
Other AfD members have made even more controversial remarks. In January, senior party leader Bjoern Hoecke criticized the well-known Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, branding it a “monument of shame in the heart of the capital.”
Then in February, Elena Roon, a local party chairwoman and parliamentary candidate in the Nuremberg area, reportedly shared images of Adolf Hitler among fellow members in a closed WhatsApp group, along with the captions: “Missed since 1945… Adolf, please get in touch! Germany needs you! The German people!”
The AfD winning seats in the Bundestag was unsettling for many Jewish organizations.
“I am greatly concerned about democracy in our country,” Charlotte Knobloch, chairwoman of the Munich Jewish community and the former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told the Times of Israel.
“This result is a nightmare come true, a historical change. For the first time [since the end of the Second World War], an extreme-right party will be strongly represented in parliament.”
The AfD was originally founded as a Eurosceptic party, but since the onset of the European migrant and refugee crisis in 2015 has adopted a strong anti-immigration platform, winning them support from voters unimpressed with the ruling party’s handling of the situation.
While the AfD celebrated a historic success in Sunday’s polls, support for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU alliance fell 8.5 points to 33 percent of the vote, its lowest level since 1949.
The AfD capitalized on Merkel’s losses, winning approximately 94 seats in the 709-seat parliament and becoming the third-biggest party after the CDU/CSU and SPD.