[Marxism] The German Left and Israel
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Mar 22 07:55:23 MDT 2009
This was posted by Richard Fidler in January of this year and is also
The following report was posted on a number of Canadian left
elists by Ivan Drury, a Canadian activist who has posted
previously on Marxmail. I am sure he would not object to my
reposting it to this list. It is very interesting. -- Richard
Today I attended a Gaza solidarity demonstration in Berlin .
Although I kept an eye on the leftist announcement sites and in
the usual places around the city for leftist event posters, I did
not find out about this demonstration until this morning when I
reached the falafel stand at the metro station nearest the hostel
I'm staying at. I was on my way to the International Rosa
Luxemburg conference (organized by the 'big tent' socialist
newspaper "Junge Welt" (http://tinyurl.com/82zon5).
For the purpose of this report, I'll only cover the specific
Palestine aspect of the conference - I think it gave a pretty
accurate depiction of the situation of Palestine solidarity in the
left in Germany. The conference hosted information tables from
approximately 30 Marxist groups and approximately 1,500 people
attended at any one time; so you can probably estimate the total
at around 2,000. Out of this, there was only one table with a
strong presence of Palestine solidarity materials (keep in mind,
this is during the current siege on Gaza), and only 2 tables where
there was any mention of Gaza at all in newspapers on display.
The second panel of the day included a speaker from the Communist
Party of Lebanon whose talk was a basic (anti-Zionist) history of
the formation of Israel. He was met with questions focused
entirely on insisting that the problem is "capitalism" in Israel
and "not the Israeli people". These paranoid attitudes blocked
discussion from moving any further... besides the fault of the
presenter that he claimed the Communist Party of Israel to be the
Party of Lebanon's most important allies.
After discussions in the info table area of the conference, I was
invited to attend the afternoon's Palestine solidarity
demonstration with the Palestine solidarity activists at the
conference. I agreed to meet at the given time and see if it was
appropriate to stay or go. When we met, there were only four of
us, so I decided to go along.
*ARRIVING AT THE DEMONSTRATION*
The demonstration was incredible. There were approximately 15
thousand people, nearly all Arab youth, broken informally and
fraternally into sections that were more religious in chanting and
signs or more secular-political in their chanting and signs. There
were also mass sections of the demo made up exclusively of young
women, whose chants tended towards the secular-political. I
wandered through the crowd and witnessed the first arrest of many
that happened through the march of a young man carrying a Hamas
flag. Because Hamas is illegal and classified under the terrorism
act, it is illegal to hold a Hamas flag in Germany. It is also
(inexplicably) illegal to hold a sign or chant anything to the
order of "God is God, there is only one God". The police had
interpreters on hand to read Arabic signs for these messages and
listen in on chants.
As we (the 3 others from the conference and I) arrived at the
demonstration, the police stopped us at the perimeter of the crowd
and searched us for such illegal signs (they had the two of us
carrying a banner unfurl it and hold it out for the police censor)
or bombs. This practice is legal in regions of Germany - Berlin
*POLICE AND THE MARCH*
The police were a constant presence over every inch of the demo.
Although the march stretched for five or six blocks, the police
were visible on the sidewalk every inch of the way on both sides
of the street; but their presence was most of the time ridiculous.
The only time they could make arrests to charge Hamas flag
carrying youth with terrorism was when someone was isolated. It
was clear that they would pick out anyone who touched a Hamas flag
to try to get them later when they were walking outside of a tight
throng of marchers. At one such arrest when I was in the surge of
the crowd that rushed forward to protest the arrest, I saw a woman
who I had been walking alongside (with who looked like her elderly
mother and her child in stroller), pull two oranges out of her bag
and throw them over the heads of the demonstrators at the police
line while shouting "Allah Akbar!"
As happened with the charges of the crowd that followed police
arrests, I was impressed by the discipline of the march. When the
marchers would surge on the police lines, marshals formed
spontaneously out of the crowd, linked arms and refocused their
fellow marchers on the march. This was not done in a hostile or
condemning way, but as a reminder of the tenuous legal position
many of those present are in, and of the racist/Islamophobic storm
that would brew in German society (where all seeds are already
planted) if a fight with the police ensued. Clearly, the police
were trying to provoke such a fight. The same approach was made on
an individual level with the orange throwing woman; a man
approached her (from out of the crowd) and said something to the
effect of, "come on..."
She nodded, smiled, and continued on.
In this case I was also struck by the absurdity of the "left"
attitude that I noticed and that was also reported to me by the
leftist Palestine solidarity activists I met that many leftists
are not comfortable in marches like this one because "Allah
Akbar!" is said too often and too broadly. In the context of this
march, it is clear to me that "Allah Akbar" is simultaneously a
religious statement and a statement of resistance. Especially
given the borderline criminalized character of the Islamic faith
in Germany, such religious statements take on an even greater
meaning / signification of resistance against Zionism in specific
and colonialism and imperialism in general.
*POLITICS OF THE MARCH*
The politics of the march was focused, of course, against the
Israeli siege on Gaza. However, there were two distinct trends in
the march of more subtlety - one chanted "Israel out of
Palestine," "Israel - Terrorist!", "Israel Bombardier, Deutchland
Financier" (in reference to Germany's extensive armaments
industry). The other was more religious in character, including
chants for Shiia law in Palestine. For the majority of the march,
it was split into 3 sections - the first was more moderate and
general human rights, ("Israel draws blood"), the second the more
secular-political, and the third the more religious. Each section
had their own loudspeakers, chant leaders, and banners. Chanting
continued loud and constant for the entire (3 hour!) march.
At one quiet moment I tried to chant "Free Free Palestine!" in
English and it was picked up by all those around me. When I tried
to chant, "Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea!" I
lost the German speakers; but some young women nearby asked me
what I had said and encouraged me to chant it again so they could
join in. It was received very warmly.
One of the women who I attended the march with from the conference
asked me to speak at the end of the march. She is one of the few
leftists in Berlin who have connections with the Arab-Muslim
organizations that put together the march. She said that they
wanted me to speak to bring solidarity greetings from Canada
because it would be encouraging for the crowd.
Although the speakers at the end were cut short due to police
pressure, they still had me speak with a translator. I brought
greetings from the Palestine solidarity movement in Canada,
mentioning demos in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, as well as the
anti-Zionist Jews who occupied the Israeli embassy, and the CUP-W
boycott-divestment-sanctions motion and CUPE's suggestion that
Zionist Israelis not be allowed to work in the academy in Canada.
I finished by pointing to colonialism and imperialism as
international systems with the example of Canada exporting their
reserve system to apartheid South Africa and Israel as models for
stealing Indigenous peoples' land. It was very well received, and
I hope was a helpful point of view for the Palestine solidarity
movement in Germany.
There will be another demonstration on Sunday morning - this time
a leftist dominated demo for the 90th anniversary of the
assassination of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. I will be
marching in the Palestine bloc.
The unfortunate truth is that the organized Left was mostly absent
from this demonstration. The exception was the youth section of
the United Left Party that held a contingent and led chants about
international solidarity - to the great and overwhelming
acceptance of the rest of the marchers who not only chanted along
but cheered the efforts of this group.
It's been my observation that the left in Germany is divided on
the question of Palestine, with the majority of the pro-Palestine
section of that divide fairly paralyzed by apologia against
accusations of anti-semitism. The result is that they are silent
in practice and absent from demonstrations like today's. This is a
tremendous failing. As I mentioned, the vast majority of this demo
was made up of Arab youth who I found to be open to statements
from the left in support of Palestine.
The leftist Palestine solidarity activist I met with connections
to the Arab-Muslim leadership of the protest movement said that
she will introduce me to some of this leadership. I intend to put
them in touch with CAIA, with hopes that some valuable lessons can
be passed on.
Also, the leftist Palestine solidarity activists I've met are
interested in hosting talks by Suzanne Weiss. I gave them her
excellent anti-Zionist pamphlet and they agreed that Suzanne could
be very helpful in the difficult task of bridging the divide in
the left about Palestine and Israel.
I think that there is a lot of potential for a powerful movement
on this question in Germany, and (somewhat surprisingly) there is
something that we in Canada can do to help.
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