Members of AfD
Members of AfDReuters

The head of Germany’s Jewish community is urging democratic political parties to clearly distance themselves from the right-populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which made large gains in two state elections on Sunday, JTA reports.

The anti-immigrant party achieved second place in elections in the former east German states of Brandenburg and Saxony, with 23.5 and 27.5 percent respectively. In Saxony, the Christian Democratic Union of Chancellor Angela Merkel won the largest percentage of votes, while in Brandenburg the Social Democratic Party came out on top.

AfD has a history of controversial statements, particularly surrounding the Holocaust. Party member Bjoern Hoecke caused a firestorm in February of 2017 when he suggested that Germany should end its decades-long tradition of acknowledging and atoning for its Nazi past.

Party co-leader Alexander Gauland last year described the Nazi period as a mere "speck of bird poo in over 1,000 years of successful German history".

He had previously asserted, however, that Jews should not fear the strong election showing by AfD and indicated that he was ready to meet with German Jewish leaders “at any time.”

In response to Sunday’s results, Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told the German-Jewish weekly newspaper Juedische Allgemeine, “It would be devastating to sit back and relax” just because the right-wing party did not gain first place.”

Schuster urged voters not to be complacent, and not to be taken in by Gauland’s recent attempts to whitewash the party by calling it “bourgeois.”