[Marxism] Trouble on the German Left: Israel and Anti-Semitism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jul 8 06:56:38 MDT 2011


Trouble on the German Left: Israel and Anti-Semitism
By Victor Grossman

The party called The Left, which started up so hopefully four 
years ago and soon became a strong progressive force in German 
politics, with 76 Bundestag members and delegates in all but three 
of sixteen state legislatures, now faces earnest, possibly fateful 
problems. Centrifugal forces in the party, so disturbing this past 
year, have now erupted into a bitter controversy over Israeli 
policies and alleged anti- Semitism.

The Left party has been hated, even feared by the four established 
parties. It had grown stronger when voters and many members 
punished the Social Democrats and Greens, now nationally in 
opposition, because they seemed to proclaim progressive policies 
when out of office but forget most of them when in power. The 
right- wing government parties, Christian Union and Free 
Democrats, now also facing serious losses, have always been eager 
to attack the rather skinny scapegoat on the left.

On May 25th all four jumped on it in the Bundestag during a 
day-long debate about "anti-Semitic and Israel-hostile positions 
in the Left party." Among those they attacked were a Left leader 
in Duisburg, in the Ruhr valley, who favored the campaign to 
boycott products from Israel, or at least those produced on the 
West Bank but falsely labeled "Made in Israel". Since its start in 
2005 at a World Social Forum meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, this 
campaign had spread to many countries, calling for an end to the 
occupation of Palestine, for dismantling the giant Wall being 
built there and for rights for those Palestinians forced to leave 
their homes. He had been immediately disavowed by higher Left 
party echelons, although he disputed any charge of anti- Semitism 
and pointed to his very active anti-Nazi past.

In Bremen local Left leaders refused to join the other parties in 
a general condemnation of this boycott of Israeli-labeled or 
Israeli products. While they, too, opposed any such boycotts in 
Germany, which reminded people of signs during the Hitler years 
saying "Don`t Buy from Jews", they said they could not condemn all 
such calls by Palestinian groups everywhere, justifying their 
position by pointing to current oppression of Palestinians, 
today's underdogs, and Germany's one-sided support of the Israeli 
government, even in measures condemned by so many around the 
world, like the Gaza attack and the Wall.

Then, again in Duisburg, the only West German city with the Left a 
partner in the city government (hardly a coincidence), a message 
was suddenly discovered on an obscure link from the website of the 
youth group close to the Left. It was a clearly anti-Semitic, 
fascistic leaflet, topped by a logo of the Star of David combined 
with a swastika. It was immediately disavowed by the Left, legal 
proceedings were begun against whoever planted it there, still 
anonymous, and everything pointed to an act of provocation. But 
the media had what they wanted. And so did the members of the 

The main attack was on those supporting the "Gaza flotilla", now 
gathering for a renewed attempt to break through the sea blockade 
of that besieged Palestinian enclave on the Mediterranean coast, 
this time, symbolically, with urgently-needed medical supplies. In 
a similar action last year, two deputies from the Left were on the 
"Mavi Marmara" when it was forcibly seized by Israeli soldiers, 
resulting in the deaths of nine of those aboard.

In answer to these attacks the Left delegates in the Bundestag, 
meeting in caucus on June 7th, unanimously adopted the following 

"The delegates of the Left caucus will continue in future to act 
against every form of anti-Semitism in society. Today, as always, 
neither right-wing extremism nor anti-Semitism are tolerated in 
our party. The caucus of The Left vehemently opposes anti-Semitic 
thinking and right-wing extremist acts.

"The members of the caucus declare that regardless of all 
differences of opinion and in line with the decision of the Party 
Executive on May 21st:

"We shall not take part in any initiatives involving the Middle 
East conflict which demand a one-state solution for Palestine and 
Israel nor in calls to boycott Israeli products nor shall we take 
part in this year's `Gaza flotilla'".

"We expect that all our staff members and members of the caucus 
conform to these positions."

By agreement, fourteen delegates who opposed this statement left 
the room before the vote so that it could be called unanimous 
(there are 76 members in all).

There were two prompt reactions. It became clear that no matter 
what the Left decided or resolved it would not satisfy people 
opposed to it. Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council 
of Jews in Germany, wrote a long article in a leading newspaper, 
the Süddeutsche Zeitung." After admitting that the Left had been 
particularly active in fighting neo-Nazis, as in the blockade of 
their annual rally in Dresden last February, he claimed that 
anti-Semitism was rife in the party. On the one hand, he recalled 
that the (East) German Democratic Republic (GDR) had maintained 
close connections with Arab movements and countries willing to 
recognize the GDR, but never established relations with Israel, 
which had soon established close ties with the (West) German 
Federal Republic. Yet it was largely those Left party leaders from 
the East German states who could currently be considered more 
"pro-Israel". So he turned to what he called "downright 
pathological" hatred of Israel especially in West German sections 
of the Left. The main tenor of his criticism, reflecting the very 
close ties of his Central Council with Israel, was a rejection of 
most if not all criticism of Israeli policy toward Gaza and the 
Palestinians as "anti-Zionist" and anti-Semitic.

The reaction to the Bundestag statement, at least at the 
leadership level of the party, was more than turbulent. While no 
one was against the statement opposing anti- Semitism, always a 
basic principle of the Left, many were unhappy at the rejection 
even of discussion on other issues like the boycott. As for the 
question of a one-state solution, most tended to consider this a 
matter for Jewish and Arab Israelis and Palestinians to work out 
for themselves. But the question of the "Gaza flotilla" was 
especially sensitive; one or two Bundestag delegates of the Left 
planned to take part once again this year. And many were 
especially angry at the last restrictive sentence which was viewed 
as a gag rule - the first one in the young party. Some Left party 
groups, especially in West Germany, protested.

Of course this debate has raged fiercely for years in Jewish 
circles and beyond, in many countries. Especially in Germany, 
however, there is always the added danger that Nazis, young or 
old, might take advantage of growing disquiet among many Germans 
about Israeli policy on the West Bank, against Gaza during the war 
of 2008-2009, about the seizure of the "Mavi Marmara" and the 
deliberate snubbing of Biden, Obama and the United Nations with 
its settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. 
While the Central Council of Jews and its friends in the media and 
government circles rarely if ever criticized these policies, some 
prominent Jewish figures in Germany have been doing just that, 
like the famous Israeli lawyer Felicia Langer, now living in 
Germany, Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, daughter of a past president of 
the Central Council of Jews until his death in 1992, and Rolf 
Verleger, a leader in the Council until he was thrown out for 
opposing Israel's invasion of Lebanon. And it was an organization 
of Jewish Germans who were most active in organizing a "German 
boat" for the second "Gaza flotilla".

Where did criticism of Israel end and anti-Semitism begin? 
Israel's existence was hardly ever an issue anywhere on the Left, 
but where did legitimate defense end and unquestioning obedience 
to Israeli policies begin, such as the strict rejection of the 
Goldstone report or Palestinian statehood in September? How 
difficult and delicate these questions are everywhere, but most 
drastically in Germany! An open letter from over a hundred 
Israelis, active in fighting for equality for Palestinians, 
angrily opposed the Bundestag statement of the Left, especially in 
its "Verbot" of participation in the "Gaza flotilla," and implied 
that it represented weak-kneed capitulation.  Some agreed with 
them, but others in the Left publicly supported the drastic 
criticism of the party by the head of the Central Council of Jews.

One group within the party, or more exactly within "solid", the 
youth partner of the party, had been trying for years to 
centralize this question, in full knowledge of its potential for 
splitting the party if not fatally tearing it apart. This group, 
calling itself "Shalom" and led by a few university teachers, not 
only advocated single-mindedly positions applauding virtually 
everything the Israeli government said or did but extended its 
praise to Washington policies, landing almost to the right of 
George W. Bush, in full support of the Iraq War, for example, and 
in basically racist attacks on all of Islam and the Muslims. Even 
criticism of USA policies was somehow branded as anti-Semitic! 
Though hostile to virtually all principles of the Left, it could 
always count on some support within the party and favorable 
placing in the media.

Now the group has again become prominent as two different wings of 
the party, which have long been flapping unhappily against each 
other in other matters, became involved once more in an 
Israel-Palestine debate. One wing is stronger in East Berlin and 
East Germany, where the relatively large vote for the Left (often 
over 20 percent) provided many opportunities to hold office on the 
local, county or state level. Indeed, the Left is part of the 
governing coalition in the states of Berlin and Brandenburg, and 
is second strongest party in other states. Many East German party 
leaders feared being seen as too radical to hold office; some in 
the party even dreamed of becoming partners with the Social 
Democrats and Greens in a national government after the 2013 
elections. They did not want to alienate these two parties more 
than necessary, and this extended to the Israel-Palestine question 
as well.

The other wing, stronger in West German states, was far weaker in 
election results, and only rarely had chances to join governments 
on any level. That, and its generally more militant past, made it 
the basis of the more radical wing of the party. Pointing to the 
history books, for example, it demanded the rejection of any and 
all operations by German armed forces outside the country, even 
those authorized by the UN. Since the Social Democrats and Greens 
would never accept a partner with such a position the "reform" 
wing wanted to moderate it, permitting exceptions. The militants 
demanded a clear commitment to socialism as a goal and rejected 
all privatization of public utilities, while some reformers 
insisted that capitalism, though basically wrong, no doubt, was 
currently not quite so terrible as the others maintained. These 
quarrels were currently involved in sometimes heated debate on an 
official long-range program of the party, whose current version is 
considered far too "leftist" by the reformers. They demand 
vigorous changes while the militants, while also wishing some 
alterations, insist on the basic anti-capitalist, anti-militarist 

And now, to heat up these differences even further, the 
long-smoldering debate on the Middle East has again come into the 
spotlight, with divisions along much the same lines. Gregor Gysi, 
chair of the Left caucus in the Bundestag, and ironically the only 
leader of any party in Germany who is himself Jewish, while again 
stressing the sharp rejection of any anti-Semitic influences in 
the party, now wishes to moderate the statement in the Bundestag, 
most probably in regard to those supporting the "Gaza flotilla" 
and to freedom of opinion.

It is ironic, of course, that the older parties, especially the 
two now in government, were chock-full of old Nazis as long as 
they were alive and kicking, many of whom kept past views and vita 
data to themselves but were careful to gain acceptance by 
stressing ties with Israel. And it has indeed been the Left which 
most actively fights the neo-Nazis, often enough in defiance of 
politicians from the old parties.

But, meanwhile, the polls give the Left 7 to 9 percent support 
nationally, down from a one-time high of nearly 12 percent, and 
indicate probable losses in the two remaining state elections this 
year, including a crucial one in Berlin. Many members in both 
eastern and western states are asking whether the party should 
tear itself apart about theoretical or distant issues, including 
the Middle East conflict, while they face painful rent increases, 
growing dental and medical costs and, despite an easing of the 
unemployment problem (in part at the cost of southern Europe), a 
great number of low-paid and temporary jobs which provide wages 
too low to live on.

Can this picture change? Can the fissures be repaired? The months 
ahead may be very decisive ones for the still so vitally necessary 
party called The Left.

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