BERLIN (Reuters) - German lawmakers on Wednesday ousted a member of the far-right opposition Alternative for Germany (AfD) as head of a parliamentary committee after he made comments widely condemned as anti-Semitic.
The unprecedented move highlights growing concern about radicalism in the ranks of the AfD, which swept into the federal parliament for the first time in the 2017 election amid public anger over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door migrant policy.
The AfD’s Stephan Brandner was voted out as head of the Bundestag lower house of parliament’s legal affairs committee as other parties joined forces against him.
“The de-selection of Brandner is a clear signal against incitement and hate - we are finally returning dignity to the office,” said conservative Jan-Marco Luczak.
Brandner was castigated by politicians from other parties for tweeting that popular singer Udo Lindenberg got a “Judas Reward” when he was awarded a federal medal.
The term, referring to the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was widely interpreted as being anti-Semitic and, his critics said, showed he was unfit to lead the committee. The AfD is often criticised for its use of Nazi-era terms such as Volksverraeter, or “traitor of the people”.
Many commentators believe that Brandner targeted Lindenberg because he has criticised the AfD, especially Bjoern Hoecke - the AfD leader in the eastern state of Thuringia who leads a radical wing within the party.
Brandner had also retweeted a post after an attack on a synagogue in Halle last month in which two people were killed asking why politicians were “hanging around” mosques and synagogues with candles when the victims had been Germans.
In a country that fiercely defends freedom of speech, this is the first time in German post-war history that a committee chair has been voted out, causing Brandner to cast himself as a victim of other parties’ manoeuverings.
“Whatever we do, the other parties just want to kick the AfD in the shins,” he said after being ousted.
AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland condemned the ousting of Brandner.
“I don’t know where the scandal is... This is an affront to democracy,” said Gauland, who has described the Nazi era as “just bird shit in 1,000 years of successful German history”.
The AfD is now the third largest party in the Bundestag lower house and is polling at around 14%. It is strongest in the former Communist East, where support for the party surged in three regional elections this autumn.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Gareth Jones