Leadership in doubt as 12 Alternative fr Deutschland members and co-leader walk out for not ousting MP Wolfgang Gedeon
Germanys anti-immigration party Alternative fr Deutschland (AfD) has been plunged into a leadership crisis over antisemitic views expressed by one of its MPs.
Thirteen members of the AfD, including the co-leader of the party that is currently polling between 9% and 14%, walked out of its parliamentary group in the southwestern state of Baden-Wrttemberg on Wednesday in protest at the failure to expel fellow MP Wolfgang Gedeon.
Comments made by Gedeon in a book published in 2012 surfaced in the media after he entered state parliament following regional elections in March.
In the book, entitled Green Communism and the Dictatorship of Minorities, Gedeon compares Holocaust deniers such as David Irving to Chinese dissidents, claiming, among other things, that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a faked historical pamphlet purporting to outline a Jewish plan to control the global economy and media, were in fact real.
Holocaust denial is a criminal offence in Germany.
In the wake of the scandal, AfDs co-leader, Jrg Meuthen, called for a zero-tolerance policy against antisemitism within his party but failed to gain the two thirds majority required to expel Gedeon from the party.
I dont know how you can be in two minds about this. Anyone who reads this can see it is clearly antisemitic, Meuthen told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. We are Alternative for Germany, the others are antisemites for Germany, the paper quotes another spokesperson as saying.
Gedeon eventually resigned from the party on Tuesday too late to avert the walkout on Wednesday.
Meuthen, seen as as the leader of the AfDs moderate wing, said on Wednesday that he had already registered himself and 12 other MPs under a new party group, called Alternative fr Baden-Wrttemberg.
Founded in 2013, the AfD has seen major gains in the polls at the height of the refugee crisis, but appears to have lost momentum after Britains vote to leave the European Union, with the latest polls seeing support for the party drop to 9%.
The fallout over the antisemitism scandal is seen as a major blow for the AfDs most prominent face, co-leader Frauke Petry, who is accused of trying to protect Gedeon at the height of the scandal.
Meuthen and Petry have been competing over who will represent the rightwing populists as the lead candidate in Germanys 2017 general elections. During the scandal, Meuthen had reportedly called for Petry, who leads the partys parliamentary group in Saxony, to be banned from party premises in Baden-Wrttemberg.
Petry has previously fallen out with another leader of the AfDs moderate wing. The founder Bernd Lucke resigned from the political group in protest at its growing xenophobic and pro-Russian tendencies in July 2015, after a series of clashes with Petry.