BERLIN (AP) — An argument over a regional lawmaker accused of anti-Semitism has exposed divisions in the leadership of a German nationalist party that has been boosted by Europe's migrant crisis.
Alternative for Germany, or AfD, performed well in three state elections in March — among them in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where it won 23 seats in the regional legislature. On Tuesday, 13 lawmakers left the party's regional caucus there, though not the party, after failing to get the rest to throw out legislator Wolfgang Gedeon.
The lawmaker has drawn criticism for describing Holocaust deniers in the past as "dissidents" and for saying that "Talmud Judaism is the inner enemy of the Christian West."
Events following the walkout highlighted the personal animosity between the national party's co-leaders, Joerg Meuthen and Frauke Petry, who have led AfD together since a split last year that saw its founding leader depart.
Petry is AfD's best-known figure. Meuthen, the caucus leader in Baden-Wuerttemberg, was among the 13 lawmakers who walked out of the parliamentary group there.
Petry, who had traveled to Baden-Wuerttemberg apparently without consulting Meuthen, appeared with Gedeon a few hours later to say he had agreed to leave and that a split was averted.
However, Meuthen said Wednesday he had set up a new caucus called Alternative for Baden-Wuertemberg.
Deputy AfD leader Alexander Gauland told ZDF television it hadn't been "productive for (Petry) to intervene in the caucus without Joerg Meuthen's knowledge."
He said the party had been damaged by Gedeon's behavior.
Gauland said Gedeon's statements were "clearly anti-Semitic" and that AfD should have acted earlier. In a statement Tuesday, Petry's team said that Gedeon rejects all allegations of anti-Semitism.
Animosity between Petry and other leaders has been evident for months. Petry and the rest of the leadership now have separate press teams.
AfD, which started out three years ago as an anti-euro party but recently has focused on opposing migration and Islam, hopes to win seats in Germany's national parliament next year. Recent polls have put its support at between 9 percent and 15 percent.
Asked whether Meuthen and Petry will remain co-leaders until then, Gauland replied: "I think so today, but I am no longer prepared to make long-term predictions in the party."