Die Linke – Germany’s Left Party Scabs on the Palestinians

Die Linke – Germany’s Left Party Scabs on the Palestinians

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Post-Blog

A good article on  America’s Jacobin site, on another German party,
this time the left Social Democratic Party, Die Linke, which was formed by the
former SDP MP Oscar Lafontaine and the ex-German Communist Party PDS led by
Gregor Gysi.

Instead of challenging the establishment consensus
around support for Israel Die Linke and Gysi in particular has caved into a
nakedly chauvinist and racist position of supporting Israel in all
circumstances.
People tend to explain this as the way Germany atones
for the holocaust but that is not true. 
You don’t atone for one abominable crime by committing another.  Shame over previous racism isn’t atoned for
by another form of racism.

The position of Germany’s parties – all parties
from the Christian Democrat CDU/CSU to the Social Democrats SDP and Green Party
Die Grunen – of unflinching support
for Israel has more to do with Germany’s position as an unflinching supporter
of American imperialism in Europe and the Middle East than atonement for the holocaust.

Israel is, despite its recent disagreement over
the Iran deal, the US’s vicious watchdog in the Middle East.  It is armed and equipped by the USA to ensure
that western interests in the region are protected.  Of course there are occasions when Israel and
the USA disagree but as former Secretary of State Alexander Haig once said, Israel
is America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier in the region.  It is a stable pro-western state and for that
reason any human rights violations can be overlooked, not that the USA is
particularly concerned anyway.

Although the position of Die Linke isn’t as bad as that of the Green Party, it is still
appalling.  Last December I covered thecowardly reaction of Gregor Gysi when two Jewish and Israeli anti-Zionists, Max
Blumenthall and David Sheen came to the Bundestag.  They were accused of ‘anti-Semitism’ by Gysi
and of course the Green’s Volker Beck. 
It ended up in Gysi taking cover in the toilet as Blumenthal and Sheen
chased him around the building.

The behaviour of Die Linke is at one with the
record of the former German Communist Party which veered, according to the
Soviet Union’s Foreign Policy, from support for Israel and Zionism in 1948 to
hostility to Israel as the latter threatened the USSR’s allies in the region,
whilst at the same time supporting Stalin’s anti-Semitic ‘Jewish Doctors’ policy
around 1953.

The German Left’s Palestine Problem

Die Linke protestors against Afghanistan war

Die Linke’s position on Palestine has isolated it from
the global solidarity movement.

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.
Gregor Gysi – Die Linke leader
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 shocking.
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
Middle East.

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 Palestinian fedayeen.
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
SPD.

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 founding members.
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 “Germany.”
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 Hitler’s 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 German left.
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 2008–9 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 government.
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 “antisemitism.”
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 — solidarity. 

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
contradictory approach.
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 participants.
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 issue.
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 education.
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 ideology.

 

 

 

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