The good men of Leipzig
LEIPZIG, Germany - The phone call two weeks ago reached D. at a cafe in Conne Island, the center of the pro-Israel radical left in Leipzig. On the line was a correspondent from a local radio station asking the 24-year-old if members of the club were aware that at that very moment a neo-fascist parade was being held on the other side of town.
"Do you realize what they did," D. said angrily last weekend. "The neo-Nazis and the municipality concealed it from us and called it 'a protest against the deployment of the German army around the world,' but basically it was an anti-Zionist rally. They shouted 'we won't shed our blood for Israel,' after troops were deployed in Lebanon."
Within an hour, D. and his friends were able to organize 200 young people, most of them non-Jews, to stream into the neighborhood where the parade was taking place to confront the neo-Nazi demonstrators. This is what the anti-fascist left does at nearly every rally, parade or gathering of the extreme right across Germany. But the German police force was prepared and identified the young protesters and prevented them from disrupting the rally.
"This time it didn't end with blows," said D. "Many other times it did."
The Conne Island center, a complex with a performance hall, library, cafe and impressive skateboard rink, is the headquarters of the pro-Israel radical left-wing activity in Leipzig. One would not have expected these activists to show uncompromising support for Israel and for the advancement of neo-Marxist values.
There are Communist skinheads, punks who oppose the use of drugs and sex, skate-boarders and sprayers (street artists who are responsible for the dazzling graffiti covering the walls of the complex).
A plethora of movements
Almost all of the activists are young, aged 16-30 and nearly all of them are active in some sort of political movement. The center brings together different coalitions, including the Bundnis Gegen Rechts (BGR or Network Against the Right), the Antifaschistischer Frauenblock Leipzig (AFBL or Anti-fascist Women's Block Leipzig), and the Bundnis Gegen Antisemitismus Leipzig (BGAL or Network Against Anti-Semitism Leipzig) and the Anti-Deutsche.
The Anti-Deutsche is an ideological movement whose followers unequivocally support Israel and the United States and denounce any manifestation of nationalism among Germany's residents (and thus the source of its name: anti-Germany).
"What we all share is support for Israel and coming out against any form of anti-Semitism, fascism and sexism," says the center's director, Christian Schneider, 26. "All in all, there around several hundred people active in Conne Island."
A good example of the pro-Israel activity in Leipzig is the public campaign against wearing kaffiyehs, once an essential accessory in the European left-wing activist's wardrobe.
"Do you have a problem with Jews or is it only that your neck is cold?" was the slogan for the campaign organized by the center in recent years.
The campaign aimed to prevent young people from wearing what the center perceived as a symbol of identification with the Palestinians and with anti-Semitism.
"If a young person shows up today at one of the events here wearing a kaffiyeh, (Conne Island is one of the most popular performance spaces in Leipzig - A.U.), we will politely ask him to remove the kaffiyeh, while explaining to him what the significance of it is. Otherwise, he simply won't enter," says Schneider.
The committee that runs the center assembles before every live performance there to review the ideology of the groups performing at Conne Island.
If they came out in the past against Israel or in favor of German nationalism of any kind, they are offically banned.
Very soon afterward, the committee publishes a notice explaining the reasons for the rejection in the center's journal, C-I.
Against German nationalism
Schneider says the most recent decision was to ban the troupe Mia, one of whose songs opens with a reference to "black hair, red lips and a shining sun" - a blatant reference to the black, red and yellow colors of the German flag, a nationalist symbol that Conne Island members refuse to accept. Moreover, every ticket to a performance there has an anti-fascist surcharge of half a euro to finance the center's range of activities.
The phenomenon of support for Israel among the extreme left in Germany is not new, but it has gained momentum and many supporters in recent years.
Alongside ideological friction during the 1990s, which led to a split between anti-imperialists and Anti-Deutsche, the second intifada and the September 11 attacks hastened the division of the anti-fascists into two separate camps that see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict differently.
On the one hand, as most radical leftist organizations in Europe maintain, Israel is an imperialist, racist power; on the other hand, due to Germany's unique history and its responsibility for the murder of six million Jews during World War II, there are also some who unequivocally support Israel.
The pro-Israel process also gained momentum as a counter-reaction to the radical, neo-Nazi right's use of Palestinian and Iranian symbols to protest against Israel. At the last World Cup, which was held in Germany, groups of neo-Nazis waved pictures of the Holocaust-denying Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, along with Iranian flags. The radical right also frequently uses the slogan, "Freedom for Germany and Palestine."
To a large extent, Leipzig is unusual in the German scene, because most of the leftist anti-fascist activists there are also pro-Israeli. In other places in Germany, such as Frankfurt, Hamburg, Berlin and university cities such as Tubingen, there is a heated fight between the anti-imperialist left and the pro-Israeli left.
A fight that according to D., who was formerly an activist in Anti-Deutsche, "has already put many people in the hospital."
"I'm the living example of the change the anti-fascist left has undergone," says D. "Ten years ago, I thought the U.S. dominated the world with cruelty, and that all the poor people should fight against it.
The September 11 attacks caused me to sober up from the delusion that this was the way to fight capitalism. Since then, I have supported the U.S. as part of Anti-Deutsche. However, at the moment, what remains is mostly support for Israel. I saw that in the radical left, they simply express classic anti-Semitic positions under the guise of anti-imperialism."
D. is now actively researching anti-Semitism and the Holocaust for a study he is writing.
How does he handle having a neo-Marxist and anti-nationalist ideology, and at the same time supporting Israel's activities in the territories? "As far as I'm concerned, there needn't be discussion about this in the wake of the Holocaust. Support for Israel is above any ideological debate," he says.