by Raymond Deane
A European country that scapegoats a Semitic people, persecutes defenders of human rights by stripping them of employment, and denies freedom of speech to Jews: surely a description of Germany during the Third Reich?
Yes, but unfortunately also a description of Germany at the outset of the 21st century.
In the wake of German Chancellor Merkel’s craven speech to the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) two years ago, I wrote: “a penance is being paid for Germany’s past crimes… by the Palestinians to whose plight Merkel is so indifferent…. By scapegoating the victims of its former victims, Germany is compounding its past crimes.” (Scapegoat upon Scapegoat, Electronic Intifada, 20 March 2008).
Just one year later I described the case of Hermann Dierkes, forced to resign his position as representative of Die Linke (The Left Party) on Duisburg city council after tentatively advocating a boycott of Israeli goods. I commented: “It appears that freedom of speech, supposedly one of the proudest acquisitions of post-Fascist Germany, is readily suppressed when exercised to advocate positive action against the racist, politicidal institutions and actions of the Zionist state.” (A public stoning in Germany, Electronic Intifada, March 2009).
I mentioned as something of an anomaly Thomas Assheuer’s application of the “antisemite” label to Canadian Jewish author Naomi Klein (Die Zeit, 15 January 2009) because of her support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. In the light of recent developments this seems far less anomalous.
In July 2009 the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Federal Cross of Merit) was awarded to Felicia Langer, German-based Jewish lawyer and former Israeli citizen who has repeatedly defended Palestinians in Israel’s courts. There ensued a virulent if unsuccessful campaign by right-wing German Jews like Ralph Giordano, backed by the neo-conservative American Jewish Committee, to have this decision reversed. Langer called this “a campaign of defamation” designed to stifle criticism of Israel, and described Giordano as “motivated by… a bottomless hatred.”
In November 2009 the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe saw his projected lecture at Munich’s Pedagogical Institute cancelled by the municipality after protests from Zionist lobby groups. In an open letter to the Munich Mayor, Dr Pappe wrote that his father “was silenced in a similar way as a German Jew in the early 1930s”. Like himself, he wrote, his father and his friends were regarded as “‘humanist’ and ‘peacenik’ Jews whose voice had to be quashed and stopped.” Pappe professed himself “worried… about the state of freedom of speech and democracy in present day Germany”.
Norman Finkelstein’s lecture on Gaza scheduled for 26th February 2010 in Berlin, under the auspices of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, was attacked by the neo-conservative lobby group “Honestly Concerned”, which is German despite its English monicker. They described Finkelstein – a US Jewish academic who is the son of Holocaust survivors – as an antisemite engaged in “historical revisionism”. The Foundation promptly withdrew its support.
The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, close to Die Linke and named after a murdered anti-Zionist Jewish Marxist, stepped into the breech. However, after an outcry orchestrated by the Shalom Working Circle (BAK Shalom), a youth faction within Die Linke itself, this support was also withdrawn. Despite a rescue attempt by the leftist daily newspaper junge Welt, Finkelstein cancelled his German trip with the words: “If I come to Germany to speak before a few people in a small room it will be said that free speech was not violated in Germany. I do not want to lend credibility to this lie.” (As a footnote to this: at the time of writing, junge Welt proposes to go ahead with this event anyway; speakers mooted include the abovementioned Hermann Dierkes.)
It would be a serious mistake, however, to conclude that such defamation is exclusively the province of Zionist Jews. They are backed by a slew of small groups, so far to the left that they have ended up on the right, known as the “anti-German” movement.
An understanding of this bizarre phenomenon is essential to an understanding of the political atmosphere in which events such as these can occur. The Anti-Germans reject German nationalism. This leads them to unconditional support for Israel, seen as “representing the Jews”, the main victims of that nationalism in the 1930s and 40s. Next, they offer unconditional support to the USA as Israel’s main sponsor, and to each and every war in which the USA and NATO are implicated. They define these wars in neo-conservative terms as a battle for Western civilization against the forces of barbarism. This has led the Gruppe Morgenthau, an “anti-Nazi” group that vilifies “liberal” Israeli Jews, to call for the lifting of “anti-racist taboos”. The Anti-German newspaper Bahamas has praised Jean-Marie Le Pen of the French far right Front National for his “rational objections… to unlimited Islamisation”, and a Bahamas author – Martin Blumentritt – has described criticism of the West as “the propagation of a racial struggle against the ‘white race’”.
Thus the initial rejection of fascism leads to a new racism and thence back to a kind of fascism. The absolutism with which a rational liberal position has been turned inside out suggests that the anti-Germans couldn’t be more thoroughly German.
Disturbingly, this lunatic fringe does not only thrive on the margins. There is an influential anti-German clique within Die Linke itself, represented by, among others, the above-mentioned BAK Shalom faction, one of whose spokesmen (Benjamin Krüger) wrote that “Finkelstein is internationally popular among antisemites because, merely by describing himself as a Jew and the son of Holocaust survivors, .he is accorded credibility…”, a formulation that it is tempting to describe as antisemitic.
Ralph Giordano, in opposing the award of the Bundesverdienstkreuz to Felicia Langer, accused her of being an inspiration to those Germans “who seek to relieve the pressure of their own guilt by criticizing Israel”. In fact, of course, the exact opposite is happening: unconditional support for Israel caters to the narcissism of those Germans who need constant reassurance that their “penance” – transferred to Palestinian scapegoats – is universally applauded.
Shortly after his tour of Germany in 2002 (it was possible then!), Finkelstein mocked the “operatic courage” of his German critics and accused them of engendering antisemitism among their compatriots. The antics of the anti-Germans and their ilk whip up racial tensions that can only lead to a climate reminiscent of the 1930s. Perhaps the travails of Pappe and Finkelstein may serve ultimately as a wake-up call to activists to place Germany – the most powerful country in the European Union – high on the list of Palestine’s most deadly enemies after Israel and the USA.
Raymond Deane is a composer and activist based in Ireland and Germany