Are left Jews against Zionism

Left thinking - Between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel

Anti-Zionism is still booming within the left. The New Left, which was emerging after the Second World War, initially had an extremely positive attitude towards the State of Israel. In the 1950s and 1960s, social democracy, the left-liberal and Christian left took the lead in a solidarity with Israel that was also committed to an internal political opposition to the restorative Adenauer state. In the opinion of large sections of the left, Israel suddenly rose to become an “anti-colonial pioneer state” and, not least because of the kibbutz movement that was establishing itself there, was stylized into a socialist model state with which left hopes and visions for socially organized alternative models were connected. As a result of this fixation of Israel, the situation of the Palestinians was completely out of focus: "Middle eastperception was Israelperception.

At the beginning of the Six-Day War at the beginning of June 1967, there were numerous pro-Israel expressions of solidarity on the part of left-wing groups. Israel finally prevailed militarily against a numerically superior Arab opponent who had been equipped by the Soviet Union and sparked a pro-Israeli enthusiasm in bourgeois-conservative circles in the Federal Republic. Israel finally seemed to position itself in the Cold War coordinate system on the side of the USA and consequently to have become part of the West. The extra-parliamentary left acknowledged this with the termination of the Israel-friendly consensus.

A pro-Jewish, i.e. pro-Israeli position that was deliberately exercised against the parents' generation had now lost its explosive oppositional power. If Springer is for Israel, then as a leftist you have to be against it, was the new credo. In the eyes of the New Left, Israel now seemed to be part of "US imperialism" and to pursue imperial claims. The philosemitic fairy tale of the Jew as the better person collapsed.

The emerging New Left's Middle East focus was now almost entirely on the Palestinians. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was constituted in 1964, presented itself as part of a social revolutionary liberation movement which, within a global context, declared its solidarity with national movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America and placed its anti-Zionist agitation in a theoretical context of imperialism.

On the “home front”, the New Left expressed solidarity with Arab Al-Fatah supporters living in the Federal Republic of Germany and overlooked statements made in the Palestinian National Charter, which expressed the non-recognition of Israel's right to exist, seemingly uncritical. The Israeli criticism of the New Left gradually condensed into a radically tapering anti-Zionist worldview, which also included equating Zionism with National Socialism.

With its anti-imperialist anti-imperialist strategy of a “people's liberation war”, Fatah met with open ears from the SDS left. Together with other groups, for example, the SDS flanked the state visit of Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Ebans in February 1970 with the words: "The visit of Abba Ebans, who is traveling to the Federal Republic as a representative of a racist state, must be part of a demonstration and protest against the Zionist, economically and politically parasitic state of Israel and its imperialist function in the Middle East will [...]. Down with the chauvinist and racist state structure of Israel. "

Read more about anti-Zionist terrorism on the left.

The terrorist dimension of anti-Zionist propaganda

The increasingly harsh tone against Israel within the New Left, which followed anti-Semitic patterns in its bitterest anti-Zionist escalations, became even more evident in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Agitation became action. From sharp rhetoric, finally, terrorist reality. On November 9, 1969, on the anniversary of the Jewish pogrom sneeringly referred to as “Reichskristallnacht” by the National Socialists, which was supposed to initiate the systematic extermination of European Jews, the anti-Zionist fantasies became an anti-Semitic reality.

Die Schwarzen Ratten / Tupamaros West-Berlin, a predecessor of the June 2nd Movement, carried out attacks on Jewish institutions. In West Berlin, for example, several Jewish memorials were smeared and an incendiary bomb was deposited in the Jewish community building, which, however, was defused in good time. The letter of confession under the title “Schalom + Napalm”, which appeared four days later in the scene magazine Agit 883, revealed an appeal alongside the typical anti-Zionist argumentation patterns of anti-imperialist character (secondary anti-Semitic arguments, defamation of Israel as an aggressor, comparisons with National Socialism) to armed struggle.

The letter of confession states: “On the 31st anniversary of the fascist Kristallnacht, several Jewish memorials in West Berlin were smeared with 'Shalom and Napalm' and 'El Fatah'. An incendiary bomb was deposited in the Jewish community center. Both actions can no longer be defamed as right-wing extremist excesses, but they are a decisive link in international socialist solidarity. The previous persistence of the left in theoretical paralysis in dealing with the Middle East conflict is a product of German guilt: 'We just gassed Jews and must protect the Jews from a new genocide.' [...] Every ceremony in West Berlin and in the FRG is suppressed that the Kristallnacht of 1938 is being repeated daily by the Zionists in the occupied territories, in the refugee camps and in the Israeli prisons. The Jews expelled by fascism have themselves become fascists who, in collaboration with American capital, want to eradicate the Palestinian people. "

If the anti-Zionist argument insisted that it was not the Jews but the Zionists who were criticized, this shows how quickly anti-Zionist rhetoric turns the Zionists into Jews. If at the beginning of the letters of confession it was the Zionists who were covered with fascist attributes, it is now the "Jews" who have become "fascists themselves". The letter finally ends with an appeal to the left-wing scene to wage the fight armed from now on. The way to the terrorist fight was paved: “Carry the fight from the villages to the cities! All political power comes from the barrel of the gun. "

The Tupamaros emerged from supporters of the Central Council of the roving hash rebels, a movement initiated by Dieter Kunzelmann that formed around Commune I and was close to militant and illegal actions. Some supporters of the hash rebels spent the summer of 1969 in Jordanian military camps in order to be trained in terrorism. Back in Germany, the group around Dieter Kunzelmann wanted to put what they had learned into action. Cadre groups of the disintegrated student movements began to declare armed struggle. The prelude to such a struggle began with an anti-Semitic act, a bomb in the Jewish community center. Even such an event obviously directed against Jews failed to discredit anti-Zionism in the New Left. But on the contrary. Anti-Zionism boomed in the 1970s.

The criticism of Zionism condensed into a closed world view. A seven-member German-Palestinian group, consisting of members of the Revolutionary Cells (RZ), the June 2nd Movement and the Palestinian PFLP command, acted after one of these, which in the summer of 1976 carried an Air France aircraft with 257 passengers on board, including 83 Israelis kidnapped on the flight from Paris to Tel Aviv and rerouted to Entebbe in Uganda. In Entebbe, the hostages were selected as Jewish and non-Jewish by their kidnappers, including the German Wilfried Böse, and kept separate from one another. The only person who died on the side of the abductees was a concentration camp survivor.

The Entebbe event highlighted the closeness of militant anti-Zionism to right-wing ideas. The New Left finally took Entebbe as an opportunity to “massively question the solidarity of the new left in Palestine”. In parts of the New Left, the realization is slowly gaining ground that anti-Zionism had taken on a "placeholder function for anti-Semitism that was incompatible with society". Nonetheless, anti-Zionism continued to be a central component of the new-left Middle East perception.

Read on to find out how Israelis were equated with National Socialists.

The 1982 Lebanon War as a catalyst for anti-Zionist agitation

In the course of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon - the operation "Peace to Galilee" - with the aim of driving out the PLO, the Syrian army and establishing a government friendly to Israel, a Middle East debate sparked again on the left. This time the anti-Zionist agitation extended to apparently more moderate circles.

When there was a brutal attack by Lebanese militias in September 1982 in the Palestinian camps Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon, which the Israeli military could not or did not want to prevent, criticism of Israel intensified, which, unlike in the 1970s, intensified was no longer focused only on the left-wing extremist area, but expanded to include left-wing liberal milieus. A call for a demonstration entitled “Against the invasion of Israel in Lebanon” is an example here, as it exposed the sharpness of the reactivated anti-Zionist rhetoric. In the leaflet, among other things, the Israelis are accused of an "extermination campaign". There is also talk of a “Greater Israel within safe borders” and “genocide”. In many larger cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, Munich, Cologne, but also in a number of smaller cities, rallies and demonstrations took place, accompanied by slogans such as “genocide” or “final solution to the Jewish question”.

The later MEP for the Greens, Brigitte Heinrich, discovered at a demonstration in Lebanon on August 21, 1982 that Zionism was engaging in genocide. She also spoke out against equating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and proclaimed: “In the same way, Zionism and Judaism are not the same. Judaism is one of the oldest religions, the logic of Zionism - the state doctrine of Israel - is permanent war, its declared goal is the expulsion of the Palestinian people and the creation of a Greater Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates. "

Once again, the well-known anti-Zionist resentments were meticulously worked off and enriched with imaginative new creations such as "Greater Israel". Another function of anti-Zionism becomes clear in a later statement: "Precisely because we do not reject the moral guilt of our people for the murder of millions of Jews, we cannot remain silent on Israel's war of aggression against the Palestinian people." This statement contains elements like them Describes the phenomenon of secondary anti-Semitism. The victims of yore are declared perpetrators in the course of a relief offensive that has as its content the projection of their own dark history onto their victims.

A look at the so-called “Green Calendar” from this period shows what absurd flowers an anti-Zionist chain of arguments can bring to extremes. The calendar, from the environment of the Greens and published in the edition “Sunshine”, criticizes under the heading “Israel the murderous gang”: “Jewish mercenaries are preparing the 'final solution to the Palestinian question'. [...] In view of the Jewish atrocities, however, the Nazi atrocities and the neo-Nazi graffiti fade and I am not the only one wondering when the Jews will finally be given a lesson that will make them stop murdering their fellow human beings. What we can all do is: Boycott goods from Israel. [...] Anyone who systematically exterminates people, like the Jews, is guilty of genocide. "

The reaction of the left to Israel's Lebanon campaign was marked by an anti-Zionist vehemence that could assume anti-Semitic excesses. It is therefore all the more astonishing that internal Arab conflicts, which took place with a similar intensity and at about the same time, generated almost no response or even provoked outrage. Left critics of Israel remained silent when Syrian troops under President Hafez al-Assad put down an uprising by Sunni fundamentalists in the course of which Amnesty International counted up to 20,000 civilian victims.

Even in the run-up to the Lebanon War, a civil war that had lasted for years was raging, although critical voices from the left hardly took notice. Last but not least, the left closed itself off to the fact that many Palestinians were killed in internal Arab conflicts. Furthermore, the left has to wonder why there were hardly any protests regarding intra-Palestinian violence against women, homosexuals or dissidents? So why this reluctance to face conflicts without Israeli participation?

It turns out that - compared with reactions or non-reactions with regard to other parties to the conflict - different criteria and standards must have applied to Israel and its politics. There was an almost obsessive focus on Israel on the part of the New Left. Other states that waged a military conflict were criticized at best, but always because of their politics, not because of their existence. As far as the assessment of Israel is concerned, as described, it is not uncommon for double standards to be applied, i.e. a double standard, whereby the suffering of the Palestinians was and is received monocausally and instrumentalized independently of the context.

You can also read why Israelis feared German gas again.

“No blood for oil” - The Left and the Gulf War

With the fall of the Iron Curtain, interest in the Middle East initially waned. Against this historical background, erosion processes took place in the left, which was striving for political orientation.

In 1991 an event emerged on the world political stage that gave the left the opportunity to reposition itself: the Second Gulf War. But the majority of the left turned anti-Israel again here as well. The situation became more complicated when the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein threatened to bombard Israel with poison gas, even though it was not part of the war coalition. In addition, German companies were involved in gas production, which revived an old trauma in Israel. The German peace movement took notice of such a scenario, a “realistic nightmare of German gas over Israel” for Israelis, but the majority were unwilling to reconsider their position. "In this way, the Gulf War is also turning into a Second World War of memories for Israel," writes Dan Diner and expresses the dismay with which the Israeli population reacted to the imminent danger of a gas attack, borrowed from history.

The call for a central rally against the war in Iraq in Bonn, which did not say a word about an Israeli threat, showed how little registration the interests of the Israelis received from the German side. The then Green Board spokesman Christian Ströbele made himself untrustworthy when he refused the delivery of German defense weapons to Israel in the course of the Iraq war. He later had to give up his party chairmanship because he let himself be carried away into a sentence in which he interpreted the rocket attacks on Israel as a "logical, almost inevitable consequence of Israeli policy".

Such anti-Zionist relapses were not uncommon. But isolated voices within the left, which emphasized a special German responsibility in relation to Israel, became louder. Jürgen Habermas argued on the basis of an "amputated universalism, when he opposed the logic of war on principle, but wanted an exception made in the case of Israel". The statements of Joschka Fischer, who warned that the rocket attacks on Israel did not have the status in people's minds, testify to such a conflict, which began to oscillate between a position that was principally against the war in the Gulf and the consideration of the special responsibility for Israel that they should have had. The slogan “Hands off Israel” should be demanded with a similar intensity as the appeal for an immediate halt to the war.

There was also a far more radical break with the anti-Zionist position within the left-wing radical spectrum. The so-called "bellicose" faction accused the peace movement of forgetting history and oriented itself pro-Israeli. The controversy between traditional "anti-imperialists" and pro-Israeli "anti-Germans" that emerged during this period shapes the current internal-left anti-Semitism debates. Since not a few supporters of the newly forming anti-German current came from the anti-imperialist camp, “the radicalism of the pro-Israeli positions now emerging must also be viewed as a conversion phenomenon”. There was also repositioning in left-wing journalism. The formerly anti-imperialist arguing magazine concrete now declared solidarity with Israel. Over a thousand readers then canceled their subscription.

After the Gulf War, left-wing interest in events in the Middle East initially waned again. The emerging peace process also contributed to removing the basis of the anti-Zionist argument piece by piece. In the course of the second Intifada since September 2000, the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the Lebanon War of 2006, anti-Zionism began to show its back again. And even today anti-Semitic anti-Zionism is booming again, has dug itself deep into the left perception of Israel and can be traced right into the ideological framework of the left.

The text is an abridged version of a chapter from "Between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel. Anti-Zionism in the German Left" published by VS-Verlag.