The battle for the non-anti-Semitic soul of the German Left Party is properly unfolding.
The Left Party’s charismatic head in the Bundestag, Gregor Gysi, threw down a gauntlet in the first week of November, with his effort to rope in leftist anti-Semitism and Holocaust trivialization.
His ally, Petra Pau, a senior MP, who has made genuine efforts to build cordial relations with the Jewish state, played a key role in pulling the plug on two Left Party events featuring two anti-Israel extremists. The radical pro-Palestinian – arguably pro-Hamas – Left MPs Inge Höger and Annette Groth were the principal organizers of the events.
Israel’s government – as one veteran diplomat conveyed to me several years ago in Berlin – cannot ignore the Left. It is currently the largest opposition party in the Bundestag, with 64 MPs. Faced with an aggressively borderline violent attack last week on Gysi by two Israel haters in the Bundestag, which was enabled by Höger and Groth, the Left has divided into two camps.
On the one hand, key leaders such as Gysi, Pau, MP Stefan Liebich, Klaus Lederer, head of the Berlin Left Party, and Matthias Höhn recognize Israel’s existence and are willing, albeit sporadically, to confront left-wing anti-Semitism within their ranks.
That may not seem like progress to an objective detached spectator. It is, however, worth recalling that the Left is the successor party to the Stalinist East German state’s Socialist Unity Party, which had flatly rejected Israel’s right to exist from 1949 to its demise in 1990.
The second camp of MPs, on the other hand, is, from Israel’s perspective, a catalogue of horrors. Höger and Annette Groth were on the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel, which sought to break Israel’s legal blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza. Christine Buchholz supports Palestinian suicide attacks against Israel as a legitimate form of “resistance.”
Party vice president Sahra Wagenknecht, Heike Hänsel, Sevim Dagdeln, and Buchholz refused to participate in a standing ovation for former president Shimon Peres on Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Bundestag, because of his role in Israel’s wars of self-defense. Ulla Jelpke said, “I consider it legitimate to be against Zionism. After all, it has apartheid-like characteristics.”
The war over the soul of the party will be determined if the Left can decontaminate itself from anti-Semitism, according to critics.
Alex Feuerherdt, a German journalist who has written extensively about left-wing anti-Semitism, told The Jerusalem Post, “The Left Party always condemns loudly and clearly the anti-Semitism of the extreme Right. But the party is blind toward the vast anti-Israel hostile anti-Semitism within its own ranks.”
Feuerherdt said a party statement condemning the attack on Gysi – and an apology from Groth, Höger, and Hänsel – falls dramatically short of real consequences.
He urged the Left to eject the MPs from the party. If the Left fails to force their resignations, it means they are “tolerating anti-Semitism.”
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University, told the Post
that people in the former communist East “did not learn about collective responsibility for Israel’s survival and security.”
He added that redlines surface “when things become so absurd “like the [anti-Israel events].”
Steinberg said “unfettered free speech has clouded their judgment,” which can be expressed as a new form of anti-Semitism. Steinberg urged the Left to have its Tel Aviv-based NGO, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, slash its funds to groups that demonize Israel.
Pro-Israel German observers viewed a public letter signed by Pau and Volker Beck, MP from the Green Party, to be a remarkable document. It urged the Volksbühne theater not to host an event with the anti-Zionist Jewish extremists David Sheen and Max Blumenthal, because it would serve “to promote anti-Semitic prejudice by comparing the terrorism of the Nazis with Israeli policies.”
It was apparently the first instance of left-liberal parties in Germany acknowledging the phenomenon of Jewish anti-Semitism.
The theater parley was canceled, jolting the anti-Israel Left Party MPs and extremists into a scene of public humiliation. Blumenthal went on a bizarre diatribe about Gysi and the notorious former East German secret police, the Stasi.
Ben Cohen, a NY-based expert on anti-Semitism and author of Some Of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism, told the Post that, ”To see Blumenthal ranting and raving about ‘Stasi-ism’ and the Soviet practice of censorship is grimly amusing. After all, the comparison between Israel and the Nazis was a staple of Soviet anti-semitic propaganda and it’s one that Blumenthal faithfully recycles.”
Cohen added, “In contrast, by placing Blumenthal beyond the pale, Mr. Gysi, the party leader whose origins lie in the period of communist rule, has decisively broken with the legacy of Soviet anti-semitism. So we have to ask ourselves: Who is the real Stalinist here?” It has been difficult for Germans to internalize that there is, sadly, a tiny group of Jewish anti-Zionists who traffic in anti-Semitic anti-Israelism.
Academic expert Alvin Rosenfeld of Indiana University and the famous German Jewish journalist Henryk M. Broder have documented the phenomenon. The powerful market demand for a minority of Jewish anti-Semites to fan the flames of loathing Israel has an unsavory history in Germany. Take the example of Gerard Menuhin, the son of the world famous Jewish violinist Yehudi Menuhin.
Gerard authored columns in the National-Zeitung, a paper infamous for its neo-Nazi and right-wing extremist ideas. He has also provided a fiercely anti-Israel interview with the pro-Iranian regime extremist German-languate website, Muslim-Markt.
The use of anti-Israel extremists Jews recalls the biting irony of Austrian Jewish satirist and humorist Alexander Roda-Roda (1872-1945): “Anti-Semitism could really amount to something if the Jews would just take charge of it.”
Gysi also confronted what could be termed the Taliban- style elements among MPs. His moderate camp has won a battle, but the conflict goes on.