(JTA– At a political rally in Berlin in June, a young gay Jewish man wearing a turquoise kippah launched his campaign to represent one of Germany’s most ethnically diverse constituencies in parliament.
The man, Marcel Yaron Goldhammer, 34, promised to stoke the “embers of unity, justice and freedom” during his announcement speech to around 200 people in the Neukolln district of south-east of Berlin.
But he is not running for a liberal party, nor for a party advocating multiculturalism.
Goldhammer, a dual German-Israeli citizen and former Israel Defense Forces soldier, introduces himself on the AfD ticket, or Alternative for Germany, a right-wing populist party that opposes immigration from Muslim countries and wants Germany to leave the European Union. Its detractors call it radical, inherently xenophobic and anti-Semite.
Goldhammer is the no of the party. 6 candidate in Berlin, where he won four seats in the last election. Germany goes to the polls again on Sunday.
“It is not a sure thing that I become a legislator, but it is definitely in the realm of the possible,” he said.
Goldhammer belongs to a growing minority of Western European Jews who have joined the ranks of the populist right because of their nationalist ideals and opposition to Muslim immigration. They believe that leftist movements threaten the future of European culture, as well as that of the continent’s Jewish minority.
A former supporter of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, Goldhammer grew up in Germany in a “culturally Christian house, ”as he defined it in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. His parents worked shifts at a local factory in Kaiserslautern, a town about 380 miles southwest of Berlin.
But his life took an unexpected turn when he became gay at the age of 15.
“My mom struggled with that. It has become difficult to continue living at home, ”he said.
So he left for Berlin, where he completed his high school education while living in a housing project for adolescents in similar situations. He was pursuing an acting career when his interest in religion brought him into contact with a Reform Jewish community.
Finally, Goldhammer said, he felt right at home. He decided to convert, completing the two-year process in 2005. On his first visit to Israel, Goldhammer “fell in love,” he told Israel Hayom, an Israeli newspaper, in an maintenance. “I knew I wanted to live there.
He immigrated to Israel in 2013, shortly before the Gaza war in 2014. Between Hamas and Israel.
It was the start of Goldhammer’s right turn from Merkel’s CDU to Alternative for Germany, he told JTA.
“I came from a place where to be proud of one’s identity, if it is German, is false, to a place where the opposite was true, a place which cannot be rejected,” he said of ‘Israel.
Goldhammer says he was shocked by “true freedom of speech” in Israel.
“Of course the media have their preferences, but everyone can have their say. Not just on politics, the occupation, Hamas. But also on the coronavirus, ”he said. “It would never have been allowed in Germany. “
After completing his military service in the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson’s unit, Goldhammer took root in Tel Aviv. But his partner, a Chinese national, wanted to live in Europe, so they returned to Germany, where he now works as an actor and model.
But his country, and in particular Berlin, had changed in his absence, Goldhammer said.
In 2014, hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many of them asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa, were allowed to enter Germany after a polarizing Merkel’s decision. The influx has intensified tensions and galvanized the neo-Nazi fringe of Germany, whose members carried out several violent attacks against immigrants, left-wing politicians, journalists – and Jews.
For many, a wave of sexual assault on women during New Year’s Eve street celebrations in 2016 reflected the scale of the immigrant integration problem in Germany. And the scale of violent anti-Semitism began to skyrocket, from an average of 342 incidents per year between 2013 and 2015 to an average of 978 incidents per year over the following four years, according to to the RIAS monitoring group.
In 2019, the wave came to a head when a young white supremacist tried to make his way through a synagogue in the city of Halle, near Berlin, on Yom Kippur Day. After failing to break through the fortified gate, he kill a kebab owner and another passerby.
Goldhammer, who usually does not wear a kippah, has not been the target of any anti-Semitic incidents, but says he has witnessed anti-Semitic hate speech, mostly from Muslims.
The 2018 rape and murder 14-year-old Jewish girl Susanna Feldmann near Frankfurt by 21-year-old Asking for asylum Iraq particularly shocked Goldhammer. Although the crime has never been established as having an anti-Semitic motivation, it has been widely seen as symptomatic of problems with mass immigration from societies where violence against women and minorities is more prevalent.
“I started to see that with far too many people who came, there was no desire to integrate. On the contrary, ”Goldhammer said. “I am for immigration. It makes life more interesting. It enriches society. But only if it’s based on belonging. But belonging is more difficult for people from the Middle East, especially those who despise European culture.
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These sentiments are not uncommon among today’s European Jews, who increasingly find themselves supporting and joining right-wing populist movements that were more widely seen as untouchable 15 years ago – and still are. by many Jews with bitter memories of the dangers of ultra-nationalism.
In France, a 2014 suggested survey that Jewish support for the far-right National Rally party was 13.5%, a few points lower than its total support rate across the country. The party was once led by Holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen, but his daughter Marine succeeded him in 2011 and expelled him and other anti-Semites from the party – whom she said in 2017 would be “the best shield” for Jews against radical Islam. .
In the Netherlands, the Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders, a right-wing anti-Islam and pro-Israel populist, appeared in a 2017 poll as the third most popular among Dutch Jews. About 10% of the 800 Jews polled said they would vote for Wilders’ party, which had the support of 15% of the general population that year.
But in the former cradle of Nazism, right-wing populism is particularly alarming for many local Jews.
In 2019, Charlotte Knobloch, Holocaust survivor and former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, during a speech in parliament said Alternative for Germany “bases its policy on hatred and exclusion”. The Council and dozens of other Jewish groups issued a declaration ahead of the elections, calling the AfD a “hotbed of anti-Semitism, racism and misanthropy”.
Party leaders reject this, arguing that German society overcompensated its rejection of nationalism after Nazism.
But some of them make statements that few German Jews can tolerate.
Alexander Gauland, honorary president of the party, in 2017 noted that the Germans “should no longer be held responsible for these 12 years [of the Nazi regime]. They no longer affect our identity today. And we are not afraid to say it. He added: “We have a right to be proud of the achievements of German soldiers during the two world wars.
The following year he called the Nazi era “just a grain of bird poo in more than 1,000 years of successful German history.”
Such remarks are “unnecessary and regrettable,” Goldhammer said.
“My party has anti-Semites, don’t get me wrong. But the same goes for all the other German parties. In Alternative, we kick them out as soon as they are discovered, ”he said.
The hostility of people like Knobloch and many other Jews “is easy to understand,” Goldhammer said. “She went through a lot of trauma, along with their families and a lot of German society. But that doesn’t mean the populist right is automatically wrong about everything or is immoral. “
Goldhammer also said he was not anti-Muslim.
“I am against generalizations and offensive people. Islam has a political dimension and this is problematic. But it’s also a religion with a lot of good people following it. I am therefore against Islamist ideology: political Islam. I have no intention of insulting the faith or its members, ”he said.
Despite criticism from the media and many Jews, Alternative for Germany has increase its popularity in Germany – from 4.7% of the vote in the parliamentary elections of 2013 to 12.6% in 2017, making it the third party in Germany today.
In the years since coming out, Goldhammer’s relationship with his parents has improved, he said. They don’t talk much about politics. And they are not getting involved in his conversion to Judaism, Goldhammer said.
“One exception was when I got circumcised. My mom was worried and called me to see if I was in pain, like mothers do, ”he laughed.
In the interview with Israel Hayom, he recalls feeling hurt that in his account his parents did not worry about him while he was serving in the army during the fighting with Hamas. . Living with other soldiers who had made aliyah, he noticed how “they were getting phone calls all the time from their families,” Goldhammer said. This strengthened his determination to be Jewish.
“It showed the big difference between Christian families and Jewish families, who tend to be close and caring – also because of the danger,” he said.