Jewish leaders expressed disappointment Tuesday at the ruling of Germany's supreme court which rejected a ban of the extreme-right National Democratic Party (NPD).
In its verdict, the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe found no legal grounds to ban the NPD, arguing that it lacked sufficient power to overthrow its anti-democratic aims. The NPD is an anti-foreigner, anti-EU party whose leaders often belittle the Holocaust.
Under the German constitution, the Basic Law of 1949, only the Constitutional Court can disband a party if it is found to actively undermine the democratic order.
A 2003 attempt failed after court learned that government informants had themselves instigated some of the allegedly unconstitutional activities.
Lamenting the decision, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said the verdict “allows the NPD to pursue its destructive, anti-democratic activities and to spread more anti-Semitic and racist hatred. This sends the wrong signal, all the more so as the court made it very clear that the NPD indeed strives to overthrow the democratic order and shares many of the aims of Hitler’s Nazi party.”
Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish communities of Munich and Bavaria, said she respected the decision but “I deeply regret it.” Knobloch, who also is the World Jewish Congress commissioner for Holocaust Memory, said that while she could understand the legal argument that there were“no concrete threats”, a ban of the NPD would have been important “primarily due to German history, and also given the background of increased right-wing populism and right-wing extremism today.”
The latest hearings began last year, after the German states joined to make the request. It is extremely difficult to ban a party in Germany, due to post-Nazi era laws designed to safeguard free speech.
The court found that while the NPD’s attitude was inhumane, racist, and similar in orientation to National Socialism, it did not have the potential to overturn German democracy.
Though the NPD has never made it into the German federal parliament, in 2014 one of the party’s most notorious members, Udo Voigt, was elected to the European Parliament, which has a lower vote threshold for winning seats.
NPD representatives have been elected into two state parliaments in the past decade by barely passing the 5 percent vote minimum in Germany. Election success earns the party federal taxpayer money.
The court said that it would be possible for lawmakers to amend legislation in order to withhold such funds from the party.
Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and a vice-president of the WJC, said in a statement: “For the Jewish population and other minorities, as well as everyone who does not fit into the worldview of this party, a ban would have been very important and encouraging. It also would have given a boost to all those civil society activists who have been opposing the NPD for years."
Schuster also urged those in government, both federal and state, to use all the legal tools at their disposal to have public funds withdrawn from the party. He said the court’s statement was not a success for the NPD, since the court laid bare the party’s true face, including its anti-Semitic attitudes.
WJC President Lauder warned that it did not take long for Hitler’s Nazi party to achieve its aims. “The situation today may be different, but there is absolutely no reason to be complacent,” he added. “Germany must continue to combat the neo-Nazi movement vigorously.”