Out of Guilt for the Sins of the German Political Establishment Gregor Gysi Attacks Israeli anti-Zionists Max Blumenthall and David Sheen as ‘anti-Semitic’
|Gysi – Stalinist Leader of Die Linke Scabs on Palestinians and Israeli anti-Zionists|
Die Linke’s position on Palestine has isolated it from the global
solidarity movement and strengthened the party’s worst elements.
It was a truly bizarre scene, worthy of a Peter Sellers film: a
man frantically running through the Bundestag’s lifeless corridors. Behind him,
another man, David Sheen, accuses him of smears and putting his life in danger
from Israeli right-wing thugs. The man is Gregor Gysi, head of the Left Party’s
(Die Linke) parliamentary
caucus. He walks to a bathroom and closes the door shouting to Sheen “Raus mit
dir!” (“Out with you!”).
Annette Groth and Inge Höger, two Die Linke parliamentarians who were aboard
the 2010 Free Gaza Flotilla, try to calm Sheen and his associate, Max
Blumenthal. What exactly happened?
It seems that Gysi went out of his way
to cancel an event with Blumenthal and Sheen scheduled to take place at Die
Linke’s premises in the Bundestag. Another party MP, Petra Pau, co-signed a
letter along with a politician from the Green Party and a Social Democrat
heading the main Israel lobbying organization in Germany, urging the Volksbühne
Theatre to cancel an event with Blumenthal and Sheen scheduled for November 9.
The letter claimed Blumenthal and Sheen were a “one-sided duet” who compare
Israel to Nazis, and who had the nerve to stage an anti-Israel event on the
anniversary of Kristallnacht.
Pandemonium ensued after the release of the video showing Gysi heading to
and from the toilet. Die Linke’s reformist right-wing not only forced the
party’s parliamentarians who invited Blumenthal and Sheen to apologize to Gysi,
but is now openly calling for their expulsion from the caucus, more or less
accusing both of them of antisemitism.
Heike Hänsel, another allegedly sympathetic MP, went as far as to openly
state that she will never work with Blumenthal and Sheen again. That a German
party, even a left-wing one, should be somewhat cautious in criticizing Israel,
in a country where the definitions of Judaism, Israel, and Zionism have been
consciously conflated for half a century, should not come as a surprise. But
that parts of its top brass should actively work with the media to smear two
internationally known Jewish anti-Zionists as “antisemites” is truly alarming
and casts serious doubts on the party’s ability to relate to the global
Palestine solidarity movement.
The history of the German left’s attitude to Israel/Palestine is truly
complex and for the uninitiated foreign leftist, perplexing and occasionally
When I first moved to Germany from Cyprus during the height of the Second
Intifada I didn’t pay much attention to the conflict other than instinctively
lending my moral support to whoever happened to be the oppressed in this and
any other conflict. But at university, I was shocked to find that when
left-wing, mostly autonomist-minded activists on campus used to talk about
Palestine, it wasn’t even to adopt the minimally acceptable position of
condemning Israel’s brutal “pacifying” of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but to
romanticize the country as some kind of Middle Eastern Cuba under threat from
Nazi-inspired Palestinian suicide bombers.
Clearly this attitude was not and is not representative of the entire left
on this issue, but it nevertheless points out a more problematic trajectory
than in other Western European countries.
While the fact that Germany is responsible for the industrial murder of
millions of Jews partially explains the German left’s Palestine problem,
the East-West dimension is equally crucial; Gysi has been the
official face of East German post-communism for the last twenty-five years. The
case of Die Linke merits special attention here, since the inner dynamics of an
outcast left-reformist party in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s modern Germany amid
the contradictions of the Eurozone crisis also influence its approach to the
The German Left and Palestine: A Brief History
Like the British Labour Party, the German
Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the trade union bureaucracy were
stridently pro-Zionist in the 1950s and 60s. Postwar social democracy saw
Israel as a socialist-inspired state, paving a “third way” between Western
liberal capitalism and Eastern “totalitarianism.”
Such a policy was seen as permissible from a left-wing point of view. After
all, German conservatives — despite paying reparations to Israel for the
Holocaust — refused to establish diplomatic relations with Israel until 1965,
despite secretly arming the new state. This was done ostensibly to uphold the
“traditional German-Arab friendship,” but was in reality aimed at preventing a
wave of recognition for the “illegitimate” German Democratic Republic (GDR) by
the Arab states.
For young Marxist intellectuals on the fringes of the SPD, establishing
diplomatic relations with Israel became a left-wing cause in response to a
political establishment that integrated former Nazis into the state apparatus,
most notably Hans Globke, a top advisor to Konrad Adenauer and co-author of the
infamous Nuremberg race laws.
East Germany’s Communist government, on the other hand, had to follow the
twists and turns of Stalinist foreign policy. Accordingly, the Soviet line on
supporting the Zionist militias was adopted in the crucial period of 1947-49.
On the other hand, the East German bureaucrats engaged in party purges in the
early 1950s that effectively mobilized antisemitic sentiments against
undesirable elements, prompting a Jewish exodus from East Germany.
With the Soviet Union’s pro-Arab tilt around the same time, the GDR also
tried to outdo itself in anti-Israeli rhetoric to gain vital diplomatic
recognition by the Arab states. The GDR was anti-Zionist insofar as it opposed
Israel’s policies. But like the Soviet Union, it never questioned its
settler-colonial nature, seeing Israel’s alliance with imperialism as simply a
matter of bad choice. It was Israel’s territorial expansionism at the expense
of Soviet allies that bothered the Eastern Bloc, not so much the discriminatory
nature of its ruling ideology.
Meanwhile in the West, things were changing. Israel was now the United
States’ prime ally in the Middle East, while the latter was fighting an
unpopular war in Vietnam. Germany and Israel established official relations two
years before and the war witnessed a multitude of pro-Zionist frenzy in the
right-wing Springer press.
As Israel officially became a front-line state in the struggle against
communism, West German students, organized in the Socialist German Student
Association (SDS) were joining their peers in the United Kingdom, France,
Scandinavia, and elsewhere, in proclaiming their solidarity with the
Palestinians were now not just a logistical refugee issue but visible subjects,
with the more left-leaning organizations of the Palestinian Liberation
Organization contributing greatly to the framing of this struggle as part of
the wider endeavor for self-determination in the Global South.
After SDS disbanded in 1970, its different successor organizations also took
up Palestine as a cause (although due to the German historical context, much
less than in other Western countries). The most prominent examples were
undoubtedly the Red Army Faction (RAF) and the Revolutionary Cells, two
terrorist groups that were to a great extent armed and trained by the
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
While overemphasized, these were not the only examples. Palestine solidarity
in one form or another existed along the entire spectrum of the Left —
from the Maoist “communist groups” and Trotskyist and workerist tendencies, to
the “milder” pro-Soviet German Communist Party and even the youth section of the
Death of a Movement: The Antideutsch
The collapse of a pro-Palestinian consensus is
undoubtedly linked to the global retreat of the left that commenced in the late
1970s. The German radical left after 1968 was never a mass movement with a wide
appeal in the working class, unlike its counterparts in Great Britain,
France, and Italy. West German capitalism was better at integrating the
upheaval of 1968.
In political terms, it was Social Democracy that was the main beneficiary of
1968. The radical left found itself increasingly isolated, a part of it turning
to urban terrorism. The bloody crescendo reached its climax in the “German autumn” of 1977, when kidnappings
and plane hijackings by the RAF ended in the deaths of two of its imprisoned
This only helped accelerate a turn away from the support of armed struggles
in the Third World and toward broader ecological and pacifist movements, a turn
that was given political expression by the Green Party. Some Marxist groups
continued to operate but mostly ineffectually.
Meanwhile, other militant sections coalesced around the autonomist movement.
The Autonomen continued to uphold anti-imperialism, including the
Palestinian cause. They were a subculture as much as a movement,
characterized by squatting and militant confrontations with the
police. But their profound disdain for theory also made them susceptible to the
effects of the cataclysmic political events that came in 1989.
In the face of a neo-Nazi offensive following reunification, a significant
part of the autonomists adopted the worldview of the Antideutsch, the
“anti-Germans.” These ex-Maoist remnants expressed the view that the biggest
enemy for the German left to confront was the abstract notion of “Germany” as
nation. An alliance was necessary with anyone perceived to be against
Israel did not figure prominently in the beginning of the Antideutsch
movement. This changed after the outbreak of the Second Intifada and 9/11. The Antideutsch
were already thrilled by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s Hitlers Willing Executioners.
They now fervently applied his idea of “eliminatory antisemitism”
to virtually any movement opposing US and Israeli hegemony in the Middle
East, be it secular nationalist or Islamist.
Matthias Küntzel, an ex-Maoist and Antideutsch ideologue in the
tradition of the French nouveaux philosophes,
even devoted an entire book to “prove” (without the slightest knowledge of
Arabic) that the ideology of Hamas and Hezbollah was “Nazi-inspired.” By this
point, the hardcore of the Antideutsch bid the Left farewell,
proclaiming it “dead.” Remnants of the movement have since made common cause
with far-right Islamophobes.
However, the cultural aesthetics and ideas of Antideutsch —
a bizarre mix of techno music, self-managed housing projects, and endless
discussions on the “structural antisemitism” of the anti-globalization and
Occupy movements — characterize a large share of the current German radical
left. This is especially true in eastern Germany, where a strong far right
often engages in a demagogic, antisemitic kind of anti-Zionism. This,
incidentally, is also the part of the country where the disastrous legacy of
Stalinism and the chronic weakness of organized labor are more visible.
Newspapers like Jungle World that celebrate autonomy in Chiapas,
queer politics, and radical ecology are stridently pro-Israel in their outlook.
It’s not that all autonomists in Germany support Israel in every instance or
are indifferent to the existence of Islamophobia. But openly questioning
Israeli oppression of Palestinians is deemed out of bounds, since this could
open the gates to existing latent antisemitism.
When Israeli bombs fall on the Gaza Strip killing and maiming thousands,
many from the alternative scene abstain from protesting in solidarity with the
victims, arguing that since Hamas doesn’t present an “emancipatory
alternative,” there isn’t really anyone the Left can embrace.
In this, there is an uncomfortable and often unwilling convergence of
autonomist discourses with the rampant Islamophobia currently plaguing Germany,
with regular attacks on mosques coupled with calls on Muslims to “integrate”
and “disassociate” themselves from ISIS. When a mob of five
thousand hooligans, many of them active neo-Nazis, gathered in front of
Cologne’s main train station on October 26 to protest “Salafism,” the far
smaller counter-demonstration assembled under the abstract slogan “against
racism and religious fundamentalism,” apparently eager to disassociate itself
from the Salafism.
This had the rather unsettling effect of equating young discriminated
Muslims with the direct political heirs of Himmler and Goebbels.
At a subsequent meeting convened to discuss the aftermath of the demonstration,
I witnessed how left-oriented German students could genuinely not fathom why
the counter-protest’s slogan was outright wrong. This drew the desperate ire of
a comrade of Iranian background, a symptom perhaps of a deepening rift between
significant parts of the Left and Muslims living in Germany.
Enter Die Linke
Die Linke is vital terrain to struggle against
this tendency. Born from a 2007 merger between those fleeing the SPD’s turn to
the center — as well as activists energized by the anti-globalization and
anti-war movements — and the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the successor
to the former East German ruling party, the party runs the entire gamut of the
Those inside the tent include center-left trade unionists, Trotskyists, left-Keynesians,
East German ex-communists, autonomists, and even an Antideutsch-inspired
group with influence in the party’s youth wing. The party’s founding momentum
was the result of a twin rejection of neoliberalism as well as “humanitarian
intervention” abroad, which the SPD and the formerly pacifist Greens had
championed in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.
The question of Palestine has subsequently become a largely symbolic
issue between those who see it as a matter of principle that an
internationalist party should show solidarity with a liberation movement and
those who envisage future Die Linke participation in a coalition government as
a junior partner of the SPD and the Greens.
A layer of professional politicians from the PDS section — a mass party in the
eastern states — leads the second camp. It had already participated in
coalitions with the Social Democrats in a few states, including Berlin, where
it has often subordinated its left-wing program to neoliberal fiscal concerns.
The people currently calling for pro-Palestine MPs Annette Groth and Inge Höger
to be expelled include supporters of these coalitions like Stefan
Liebich, who professes to be a member of “Atlantik-Brücke,” a think tank
dedicated to strengthening the German-American alliance.
They also include Klaus Lederer, Die Linke’s chairman in Berlin, who spoke
at a pro-Israel rally during the 2008-09 war on Gaza. “Reflection” and “guilt”
over East Germany’s record of “one-sidedness” in the conflict are stated as the
main reason for this tilt to the Zionist point of view. Descending from the old
GDR’s state-affiliated professional caste, it is not hard to recognize why
being in government is seen as a more effective way to change things than being
in a movement.
Gysi has been careful to play a more integrative role within the party. But
during a speech in 2008 at the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, the party’s think tank,
he explicitly linked the prospect of Die Linke joining a future coalition
government with the acceptance of the German Staatsräson, or national
interest, shared by all other parliamentary forces. In addition
to acceptance of Germany’s commitment to NATO and the European Union (EU),
this includes assent to its “special relationship” with Israel.
This relationship is evident in German sales of nuclear-capable
submarines to Israel, as well as German vetoing of initiatives within the
EU to upgrade the status of Palestine. By couching its support for Israel
in moral terms, Germany is thus cynically providing a fig leaf for an otherwise
morally indefensible status quo that profits its armaments industry.
On the other hand, Oskar Lafontaine, the former SPD maverick whose defection
from the Social Democrats was crucial in forming Die Linke, has rarely
commented on Palestine. The only exception was a 2006 radio interview
during the war on Lebanon, where he spoke of an additional, indirect German
responsibility towards the Palestinians.
In all of this, there has been a synergy between the Antideutsch
within the party and key sections of the mainly eastern ex-Communists. The
first group has engaged in smearing its political opponents as antisemites,
something the latter has also taken up, since those outspoken on Palestinian
rights often tend to be opposed to future participation as a junior partner
Mobilizing the media has been an important aspect of this slander. In 2011,
a member of the Antideutsch caucus BAK Shalom – which regularly
engages in occupation apologetics – published a “scientific study” on
“anti-Zionist antisemitism in Die Linke” in the Frankfurter Rundschau,
a mainstream daily. This caused a media storm, with the other parliamentary
parties convening a special hearing in the Bundestag on Die Linke’s
Amid a subsequent heated internal debate within the party’s parliamentary
caucus, a directive was issued prohibiting any discussion on the one-state
solution, participation in the BDS campaign, or the second Free Gaza Flotilla.
The decision was far from unanimous. Many MPs boycotted the bill, and others
were forced into signing off after Gysi threatened to resign if it was
rejected. While this has shielded the party from further accusations of
antisemitism, it has also driven a wedge between the biggest left-wing
German party and the growing global solidarity movement.
Since then, things have been quiet. The party doesn’t just unceasingly call
for a two-state-solution, but has elevated it to a political
identity, completely detached from realities on the ground and to be defended
against Palestinian activists or Israeli leftists like the ones who called on
Die Linke to disassociate itself from outfits like BAK Shalom.
However, a significant number of officials and activists actively avoid
bringing up the subject, given its divisive potential. The historical weakness
of the postwar German left and its constant fragmentation have led to an almost
compulsive need for “unity,” even by people whose support for Palestine is not
under question. This is often justified by framing the debate as a useless
squabble that has no concrete effect.
Up to a certain point, this is understandable. Die Linke is engaged in a
delicate effort to create a popular opposition to the powerful Merkel
consensus. But this is also a dishonest approach, tantamount to denying the
special responsibility of the German government in propping up the occupation,
as well as the potential of the German left to actively challenge this
collusion with apartheid and to engage in effective — not just symbolic —
Israel and German Islamophobia
The internal dynamics of Die Linke and its
structural position between opposition and accommodation contribute to its
position on Israel. Unfortunately, those same dynamics have prevented the
party from taking a principled stance against the EU. Out of fear of being seen
as veering too close to the positions of the Eurosceptic right-wing Alternative
für Deutschland (“Alternative for Germany”), Die Linke has emphatically
rejected questioning the wisdom of the single currency, while at the same time
rightly rejecting austerity in the European South, a somewhat unconvincing and
But its position on Palestine is also derivative of the wider historical and
social structure. For this is not just any issue; it is closely linked
to Germany’s obsessive need for an assertive new post-1990 national identity,
as well as the prevailing Islamophobic climate.
Ever since the Green foreign minister Joschka Fischer justified Germany’s
first combat mission since 1945 in Yugoslavia by claiming the aim was
to prevent “another Auschwitz,” the historical lessons from the Holocaust
have been constantly perverted by Germany´s political elite to pursue dubious
political goals at home and abroad.
German pro-Zionism has had the historical function of reintegrating
Germany into the “international community.” With Germany now a respected
member of that community, Angela Merkel has deemed “Israel’s security”
as in Germany’s national interest, which only serves to exclude German
Muslims for the fictitious narrative of a “Judo-Christian legacy.”
In this, there’s a convergence with the discourse of “failed”
multiculturalism. The killing of the Kilani family in
Gaza and the silence of Germany’s political class is a brutal example of which
German citizens are considered worthy victims and which are not. A commentary
in the Welt, a right-wing daily owned by the Springer Group, even
accused Muslims of indulging in constant self-victimization. The publication
didn’t receive the slightest bit of backlash.
The overemphasis on “Muslim antisemitism” is a further symptom of this
pervasive new ideology. Just consider the protests against Israel’s latest
offensive on the Gaza Strip this summer. Media outlets were filled with reports
of “Muslim antisemitism,” as antisemitic slogans were heard during spontaneous
anti-war marches, where “ethnic Germans” make only a tiny minority of
To be sure, the danger of antisemitism in Germany is a real one and
shouldn’t be underestimated. Verbal abuse against Jews has been reported, as well
as an arson attack on a synagogue in the city of Wuppertal. As Richard Seymour
has shown in the case of France,
this antisemitism also exists within Muslim communities that happen to be the
victims of constant discrimination themselves.
But this phenomenon is also partly the result of the media’s constant
conflation of antisemitism with criticism of Israel, as Rolf Verleger, a former
member of Germany’s Jewish Board of Deputies has pointed out. Even a great deal
of the German left speaks of “antisemitism and racism,” the
implication being that while racism is something easily analyzable,
antisemitism is beyond logical explanation.
On another level, this confusion also stems from the Left’s practical
inability to relate to events on the street and actively seek dialogue with
Muslim communities. Instead, a troublingly elitist emphasis on largely abstract
theoretical debates is the typical approach of a large part of Die Linke on this
When party organizations in the Western state of North Rhine-Westphalia
organized protests in Cologne and Essen against Israel’s war on Gaza last
summer, reformist party officials in Berlin stated that they would not tolerate
members of Die Linke marching on demonstrations where antisemitic slogans are
heard. This was a top-down approach towards the contradictory nature of
spontaneous movements in general, and one that was also accompanied by the
media slandering of local party activists as “pandering to Islamic
antisemitism,” often in concert with those same party officials.
Activists on the ground, however, have defiantly organized successful
protests in Berlin together with Palestinian communities and progressive Jewish
organizations, including parts of Berlin’s large Israeli expatriate community.
The experience demonstrates that when protests are strategically organized and
coordinated, the results open up a number of possibilities, not just to engage
in practical solidarity with Palestinians, but also to break the wide gap
between the organized left and immigrant workers. Indeed, one might wonder what
the possibilities would be if Die Linke threw its entire weight behind such an
effort, instead of letting the right-wing media determine its actions.
This is not just an issue of solidarity with a people abroad. It’s a
pressing social issue. For in Germany, the powerful ideological domination of
capitalism is also the effect of an extremely elitist educational system
that separates children from an early age and places them into three
distinct types of schooling, only one of which provides eligibility for higher
Not surprisingly, it is people from immigrant and working-class backgrounds
that are most harmed by the structure of the education system, while
the student left tends to be largely middle-class. If the German left is to
break the hegemony of Merkelism, it must actively challenge Germany’s alliance
with Israel, for it currently serves as the spearhead of a wider
Islamophobic discourse that weakens resistance to neoliberalism at home by
dividing opposition along cultural lines. This is done by intentionally
conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism, which in turn places the
damaging stigma of the latter on those more likely to express solidarity
with the besieged of Gaza.
On the other hand, the moral underpinning of German support for Israel
cynically serves as a way of absolving German capitalism from its expansionist
past, thus allowing German power to be projected abroad again; economically in
the European South through austerity, and geopolitically against other
imperialist powers like Russia. The historic circumstances are different, but
Palestine is today to Germany what Algeria was to France in the 1950s — a
source of chronic and self-inflicted weakness for the Left.
Which Way Forward for Die Linke?
The main challenge for activists within Die
Linke is to link solidarity with Palestine to the struggle against all forms of
antisemitism and Islamophobia in Germany. Boycotting Jewish activists like Max
Blumenthal and David Sheen is an obvious setback and one that reinforces the
current ideological status quo, which ultimately works against the party’s
stated goals. Gregor Gysi might have momentarily garnered the sympathy of
the right-wing Springer press, but the social and political agenda he
stands for has been weakened in the long-run.
Die Linke, after all, will only be accepted by the establishment if it dumps
its key defining positions on neoliberalism and foreign interventions. No
doubt, some key people on its right-wing would like nothing more than that. But
this would render the party unnecessary and politically irrelevant.
The Left within the party is fragmented, a great deal of it placing its
hopes in winning the internal debate against reformists on a programmatic
basis. This is a mistaken approach, since the party and parliamentary structure
is inherently biased in favor of those wishing to soften Die Linke’s positions
for the sake of government participation.
What can tilt the balance is an active linking with the international
solidarity movement, as some scholars of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung attempted last summer,
pointing to the striking contradictions between the party’s internationalist
identity and its stance on Palestinian national liberation. It’s part and
parcel of creating a movement dynamic enough to challenge the “new German
Blumenthal and Gregor Gysi (parliamentary leader of the left party — DIE LINKE) in Berlin and the press campaign against the two journalists is over
for now. But this does not mean one should pretend it never happened.
the Gaza war in the summer this year, as well as the dangerous shifting of
Israeli society towards the right, were effectively pushed into the background.
Pau, insulted Max and David, calling them anti-Semites and was in the forefront
of the attempts to obstruct any discussion with them. Gregor Gysi refused to
talk to them, when they tried.
but also a defamation campaign by the leadership of DIE LINKE. Extreme pressure were exerted against the members of parliament
Annette Groth, Inge Höger, Heike Hänsel and Claudia Haydt, who had invited Max
Blumenthal and David Sheen to the discussion.
the Gaza war this summer. They failed to take a firm stand supporting the
people in Gaza, who were subjected to war crimes. Amnesty International and
Human Rights Watch have proof of this.
could well snuggle up further to an ever more right-wing Israeli
government taking their betrayal of human rights in their stride, in order to
gain favour with the other parties within the German parliament and to offer
themselves as potential coalition partners.
have made a declaration of solidarity, which some members of DIE LINKE
have signed (even some office holders). We urge you to also sign our
declaration as quickly as possible (name, organisation/intitiative, profession,
place of residence.) We intend to forward our declaration to the leaders of the
party. You find the text of the declaration attached.
website palaestinakomitee-stuttgart.de and facebook.com/PaKo.Stuttgart.
Stuttgart, member of DIE LINKE