Letter From Berlin: The anti-anti-Zionists

Is it possible for there to be left-wing, non-Jewish Germans who are also militant supporters of Israel?

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The square in the former East Berlin named for Rosa Luxemburg, the Polish Jewish social revolutionary who was murdered by right-wing extremists in 1919, served as my introduction to the pro-Israel left in Germany. After moving to Berlin in 2002, I attended a May 1 demonstration at Rosa Luxemburg Square. There among maybe a thousand union members and other left-wing activists, I found myself pleasantly ambushed by a group of a dozen or more young people waving massive Israeli flags and buzzing around the demonstrators. This bizarre scene was a cause of cognitive dissonance: Was it possible for there to be left-wing, non-Jewish Germans who were also militant supporters of Israel?

The answer, apparently, is yes, as an astonishing thing has happened in the leftist political and intellectual culture of Germany. Though the left here, as in the rest of Western Europe, continues to be overwhelmingly anti-Israel, one can now point to a slice of the German left that identifies itself as pro-Israel and is creating a flourishing anti-anti-Zionist leftist culture.

Both the U.K. and France have larger and more established Jewish communities than Germany, which has some 105,000 Jews registered with its Central Council of Jews (the majority of them emigrants from the Former Soviet Union, and for the most part politically conservative), but neither of those countries has a vibrant pro-Israel left. The pro-Zionist Left in Germany is not made up of pro-Israel Evangelical Christians, but rather is a loose coalition of card-carrying leftists who fight to bring their camp back into the labor movement and advance the rights of gays and other sexual minorities.

The most militant pro-Zionist leftist group - and perhaps the most controversial - is what is known as the "Anti-German" faction, whose members still agree with the words of Dov Shilansky, a Holocaust survivor, who, as Knesset Speaker in 1990, said that the day of German reunification was an occasion for mourning. The Anti-Germans see the existence in their country today of a similar set of dynamics between state, economy and society that led, three-quarters of a century ago, to the rise of National Socialism and the Holocaust. For them, the national-collective (Volksgemeinschaft) still retains its fascist features not only in Germany and Austria, but also manifests itself in political Islam.

That helps to explain why Justus Wertmueller, a leading Anti-German figure, said in the context of a lecture this past January about Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "It is about Israel." It follows, then, that Anti-Germans support an aggressive posture toward Iran, including calls for an economic boycott, to end the business dealings many German and Austrian firms have with a nation that advocates "an eliminationist anti-Semitism."

There is no cookie-cutter approach to characterize the complex spectrum of groups and publications that promote active solidarity with Israel. In addition to the hardcore Anti-Germans, this colorful leftist mini-movement includes anti-nationalists (who argue that every national state should be abolished, but that Israel should be the last to go), pro-Zionists, moderate quasi-anarchists and anti-fascists. A sharp break with the majority leftist German culture, which is contaminated by an intense aversion to Israel - and a common left-wing anti-Semitism - unifies these diverse groups in their staunch support of Israel.

An ephemeral entity?

Members of the pro-Israel left have churned out an impressive number of books and journals addressing traditionally taboo topics on the left, with critiques of subjects ranging from political Islam to "respectable," liberal anti-Semitism. This curious development is not an expression of philo-Semitism; rather, it grounds its critique of social structures in the critical theory writings of the philosophers Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, as well as a flexible Marxist philosophy and Freudian psychoanalysis.

Is the pro-Israel German left simply an ephemeral entity, or does it constitute a sustainable new left capable of breathing fire and light into central Europe?

Andrei Markovits, a University of Michigan political scientist and professor of German studies, observes that there are "considerably more pockets of pro-Israel groups in Germany in comparison to the 1980s." The Romanian-born Markovits, who is Jewish, has the stature of a public intellectual in Germany and Austria. We spoke by phone when he toured Germany in late June publicizing his book "Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America," which examines the interplay between anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism in Europe.

The publisher of "Uncouth Nation" in Germany, Konkret Literatur Verlag, also recently published a German edition of "Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars," by the Israeli scholar Yaacov Lozowick, director of archives at Yad Vashem. That's a title sure to produce anxiety in Germany where, according to an opinion poll carried out by the influential weekly magazine Der Spiegel, a majority of Germans during the first week of the Second Lebanon War last year did not believe Israel had the right to defend itself against Hezbollah's rockets.

Konkret is best known for its monthly magazine of the same name, which is perhaps Germany's most ubiquitous - and oldest - publication dealing with culture and politics within the pro-Israel German left. Its motto claims to give readers an opportunity to "read what others don't want to know."

Hermann L. Gremliza, who has served as the publisher of Konkret since 1974, is a fierce opponent of all manifestations of German nationalism and patriotism. The joint singing of the German national anthem that followed the Berlin Wall's demolition on November 9, 1989, by members of all of West Germany's political parties, led Gremliza to resign from the Social Democratic Party (SPD). For him, the unified show of political patriotism was uncomfortably reminiscent of a similar scene from 1933, when the Social Democrats, following a declaration by Hitler of his foreign policy intentions, joined with the National Socialists in singing the national anthem. Noting that November 9, 66 years earlier, had also been the date of Kristallnacht, an orgy of state and political violence directed against Germany's Jews, Gremliza wrote: "Every great day for Germany has been a dark day for humanity and vice versa."

The anti-nationalist and Anti-German left emerged not only as a reaction to the euphoria of a reunified Germany, but also as a response to a surge of xenophobia and the government's "expansionist" foreign policy. The rapid-fire recognition of Croatia in 1992, a fascist ally of Germany during World War II, in defiance of the U.S. and some fellow EU nations, created a rising level of nervousness among this section of the German left. That very same year a vicious racist attack on a hostel lodging Vietnamese and Roma asylum-seekers took place in Rostock, a small city in the former East Germany. The refugees succeeded in fleeing the residence without a loss of life, but the police were accused of doing little to help them, and local residents stood on cheering as the hostel burned, a revival of a spectacularly brutal form of minority persecution. Consequently, the Anti-Germans fail to see a clean break between the sociology of Nazism and modern German democratic culture, and in fact, "Germany never again" became a key slogan of the Anti-German movement.

Call of the jungle

The magazine Bahamas is the leading publication of the hardcore pro-Israel, Anti-German communist movement, whose members advocate unconditional solidarity with Israel. Its founders chose the name Bahamas in 1992 as a sort of an ironic rejoinder to the Communist Alliance in Hamburg, whose majority faction urged the Anti-Germans to immigrate to the Atlantic island nation.

Karl Nele, a co-founder of the publication, said the development of Israel solidarity was a response to the German left's "strong support for the [second] intifida" and "an anti-Zionist consensus formed from the political left to the political right" that is deeply anchored in German society. The Holocaust also informs Bahamas' militant defense of Israel as "a place of refuge for Jews."

Bahamas carved out new territory on the German left in explicitly supporting the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In a 2003 conference, the magazine's co-founder Justus Wertmueller said that the removal of a "fascistic regime with strong National Socialistic features" represents "liberation for the population." The national security of Israel was also an overriding rationale for Bahamas' support of the Iraq war.

Wertmueller, whose remarks were reprinted in the magazine, went on to suggest that "the problem is still that German and Islamic resentments are identical: anti-Western, anti-liberal, anti-Semitic. German-Islamic friendship stems from the fact that the Germans recognize themselves in political Islam, because it is fascist and at the same time gives the impression of being an indigenous culture."

In contrast to the unqualified pro-war position of Bahamas, over at Konkret, Gremliza editorialized a month before the start of the allied invasion that "I would have no objections if it could be guaranteed that Saddam Hussein's regime could be removed and replaced by a humane one, without the collateral deaths of fifty or a hundred thousand or more Iraqis and without unleashing other monsters elsewhere." While the overwhelming majority of the German left remained painfully silent about the repressive Ba'ath regime, the anti-Germans highlighted Saddam's crimes.

Stephan Grigat, an Anti-German communist political theorist who teaches at the University of Vienna, argues that the movement should be understood as a critique of an ideology that first arose in Germany but which, he warned, could still emerge in other nations. The "German" aspect in being Anti-German is not, he says, "a matter of a hereditary national character, but a political-economic constellation that favors extermination ... This is not about a special mentality, but a specific form of capitalist socialization" that, he argues, 70 years ago "led to the Shoah [the Holocaust]. And this relationship still exists."

This helps to explain why the anti-Germans prioritize Israel as the nation - and Diaspora Jews as the people - most vulnerable, even today, to extermination, and therefore organize demonstrations to support Israel's right to self-defense.

Peppered with 'self-irony'

Grigat, who has written for Bahamas, also contributes essays to the weekly Jungle World, a publication read widely among pro-Israel leftists. The paper, a model of unorthodox left-wing journalism, first appeared in 1997, when staffers at the leftist daily junge Welt, ("Young World"), an East German holdover, went on strike in response to that paper's strict neo-Stalinist and "anti-imperialist" line. They chose a name for their new paper that was intended to mock the name of their former place of work, which even today remains an incorrigibly reactionary newspaper on the left whose coverage is filled with left-wing anti-Semitic diatribes against Israel and American Jews.

Ivo Bozic, a founder and co-editor of Jungle World, says the publication is "explicitly anti-anti-Zionist, anti-anti-Semitic, and anti-anti-American." He also notes that the paper's writing is peppered with "self-irony." The Jungle World editorial staff traveled to Israel in 2004 to devote an entire issue to the politics and culture of Israeli society. They visited a training camp for Israeli tank drivers, conducted interviews with writer Etgar Keret and filmmaker Benny Barbash and got a taste of the club scene in Tel Aviv. They also had meetings with Palestinians, but did not come away with great sympathy for their struggle.

During a vacation in Israel last spring, Bozic, who is not Jewish, visited Sderot, a trip that inspired a lengthy feature entitled, "Fear of Everyday Life." The firing of Qassam rockets on southern Israel remains a non-subject for the mainstream German press while the standard leftist media tends to characterize Israel as embodying "state terrorism" or as an "aggressor state."

Jungle World is not bound by what it sees as a kind of rigid socially and politically correct style of journalism among the German left media, where a hyperactive sense of inhibition prevents criticism of political Islam, or coverage of the lack of women's rights, sexual minority freedoms, labor rights and parliamentary democracy in the Arab world.

The German Jewish journalist Henryk M. Broder divorced himself from the mainstream German left in 1981, when he published an open letter in the weekly Die Zeit ("The Times") critiquing the anti-Semitism of the left. He also writes occasionally for Jungle World. His first best-seller, "Hurray, We're Capitulating" (2006), is a fiercely combative indictment of Europe's soggy response to a growing and radicalized political Islam.

The book most identified with Broder, however, is his 1986 "The Eternal Anti-Semite," a critique of liberal and leftist anti-Semitism. He summed up his scathing indictment of the German left with the stinging line: "You're still your parents' children. Your Jew today is the State of Israel." Broder, and the Holocaust survivor Jean Amery, who wrote exhaustively about the interplay between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism on the European left, both serve as kind of sine qua non of the criticism launched by the pro-Israel left against the majority liberal-left here.

The theme of "secondary anti-Semitism" is outlined in many of Broder's writings, which have invoked a passage from the play "Garbage: The City and Death," written in 1976 by the German film director and writer Rainer Werner Fassbinder, to capture this phenomenon in German society: "And it's the Jew's fault, because he makes us feel guilty because he exists. If he'd stayed where he came from, or if they?d gassed him, I would sleep better." Adorno and Horkheimer diagnosed this syndrome as "guilt-defensiveness anti-Semitism" (Schuldabwehrantisemitsmus) and, for the pro-Israel left, this mechanism contains the explanatory power necessary to criticize the mainstream liberal-leftist intellectual sphere.

The magazine Phase 2, which appeared on the pro-Israel left scene in July 2001, goes to great lengths to confront what it views as a growing victim culture among Germans. Phase 2, whose editorial staff is split between Leipzig and Berlin, has also identified anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attitudes entrenched in the theory and praxis of the anti-globalization movement. And the largest left-wing daily in Germany, die taz, frequently runs commentaries from Daniel Bax, an editor at the paper, blasting the "lethal charge of anti-Semitism," which he claims has "become inflationary" in its usage.

Reconciling realities

It is, without question, a bizarre time in Germany. Whatever Daniel Bax may believe, anti-Jewish sentiment is indeed on the rise. The Verfassungschutz, the country?s domestic intelligence agency, claimed in its most recent annual report that there has been a dramatic increase over the past two years in criminal offenses and anti-Semitic slurs. The Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a German think tank with close ties to the Social Democratic Party, released findings of a 2006 study that revealed alarming levels of extreme right-wing attitudes, including among leftist and Green Party voters. A BBC poll conducted earlier this year determined that 77 percent of Germans have a pejorative view of Israel, the highest percentage in Europe, yet the opinion editor of die taz seems to feel the need to debunk the charge of anti-Semitism.

How does one reconcile the fact that the mainstream left is developing a cottage industry dedicated to avoiding dealing with anti-Semitism and with the purported aim of the political left to abolish racism, which necessarily includes anti-Semitism?

Dr. Lars Rensmann, a political theorist who teaches at the University of Michigan and who has written extensively on the subject, says anti-Jewish bias is not confronted because of the faulty conception "that one is exonerated from the charge of anti-Semitism because one is left."

Rensmann, whose landmark book "Democracy and the Image of Jews" (2004) contributed to a vibrant public and academic debate about the role of secondary anti-Semitism on the German left, said in a phone interview, that "it should not be a provocation in Germany to be a pro-Israel left intellectual." At the same time, he distinguishes between "secondary" and Nazi racist anti-Semitism, as the former is really a "latent anti-Jewish prejudice that relates to the desire not to be confronted with Nazi crimes."

Andrei Markovits views the phenomenon of pro-Israeli German leftist publications as "a counterweight to the overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian tone of the German media." To this, Dr. Dieter Graumann, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said: "It is nice that they stand up for Israel, but unfortunately these groups are not a true political power."

Graumann points to a dangerous heavyweight on the political scene in Germany: the newly formed Left Party, which is already the third strongest political party in the country. In the fall of 2006, the party invited a Hamas minister to meet with its representatives in parliament, the only political party in Germany to commence high level diplomatic contact with the Palestinian party. And a faction within the party (Linksruck, which means, roughly, a "shift to the left") justifies terror as a method of resistance against the "oppressor state" of Israel.

To Graumann's thinking, the Left Party is little better than an extension of the Socialist Unity Party of the now-defunct East German government, which "supported the Black September group and issued money and munitions for the destruction of Israel." Graumann also cites the potency of the newspaper Neues Deutschland, the former party organ paper of the SED, which today attracts many of its readers from the Left Party, and published an anti-Israel cartoon that could have appeared in the anti-Semitic Nazi paper Der Stuermer.

The Left Party just secured its first election victory in a western German federal state, Bremen. Oskar Lafontaine, the party's co-chairman and a popular political writer, argues that Iran is entitled to nuclear weapons because Israel possesses nuclear capability. The pro-Israel left intelligentsia views Lafontaine as the embodiment of a fiery left-wing German nationalism that tends to spill over into raw nativism. This new political party is, according to Graumann, riddled with anti-Israelism. The pro-Zionist left argues Lafontaine is a phony leftist and cites his praise for the "interface between Islam and the German left" as proof for his reactionary outlook. The foreign policy spokesman of the party, Norman Paech, frequently employs Nazi terminology to describe Israel, and equates the Israeli campaign in Lebanon in 2006 with a "war of annihilation," a term otherwise reserved for the Nazi destruction of European Jewry.

Belinda Cooper, who worked in Berlin as a journalist in the 1980s and 1990s, and who continues to study the country from the World Policy Institute in New York, suggests that "in Germany and Europe, a voice within the left that criticizes its simplistic anti-'Zionism' and points out why it's often anti-Semitic, is really needed, because the left is quite influential there, unlike in the U.S., where it's a marginal phenomenon."

My first encounter with the pro-Zionist left on Rosa Luxemburg Square was not an anomaly. Last summer, during the Second Lebanon War, a diverse spectrum of pro-Israel leftist publications and groups - including Bahamas and Cafe Critique (a Vienna-based group of pro-Zionist leftists, who are planning, together with that city's Jewish community, a September 30 demonstration against a $22-billion deal between Iran and the Austrian oil and gas company OMV) - mobilized a demonstration supporting Israel's right to self-defense. Some 2,000 Israel supporters turned out to flex their muscles for Israel at Wittenbergplatz, in the west side of Berlin. It was a courageous show of solidarity in a land where 65 percent of the population, according to a European Union commissioned survey, believe Israel is the greatest danger to world peace. The organizers invoked a quote by Paul Spiegel, the late president of Central Council of Jews: "The murderers hide behind the call for peace."

Is it possible to cite other left-wing newspapers in Europe that meet the criteria of vehemently opposing anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism? The leftist journal "Dissent" is perhaps the only comparable reference point, but that is an American publication. And can one point to other clusters of non-Jewish, pro-Israel leftists on the continental European left? This radical minority of pro-Israel leftists in Germany and Austria might very well have jumped into the avant-garde leftist future. The pressing question is, is anyone paying attention?

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