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Prominent French Jewish filmmaker Claude Lanzmann expressed "shock" last week that German leftists in Hamburg had violently prevented the showing of his debut documentary film, Why Israel, about the role of the Jewish state as a homeland for refugees.
In late October, the 1973-produced film was scheduled to be shown at the B-Movie cinema, but roughly 50 left-wing activists from diverse anti-Israel groups affiliated with the anti-Zionist International Center B5 barred visitors from entering the movie house.
In Why Israel, Lanzmann - perhaps best known for his groundbreaking documentary Shoah - depicts Israelis who found refuge in Israel after the Holocaust.
The movie house said in a statement that it had been compelled to cancel the film screening and a podium discussion because "we were threatened with violence."
According to eyewitness reports in the German media, left-wing protesters ranging in age from 16 to 70 shouted "Jewish pigs" and "faggots" to the cinema attendees. A pro-Israel left-of-center group, Kritikmaximierung, cosponsored the showing of the film.
Werner Pomrehn, a radio host for the Hamburg-based station FSK, told the The Jerusalem Post on Friday that an anti-Israel activist had struck him in the face at the screening event. Asked about the International Center B5 demonstrators, Pomrehn, who reports on anti-Semitism in Hamburg, termed the group the "Pol-Pot Left."
The protesters propagate an "anti-Semitic position" that views "Zionism as racist," said Pomrehn.
The International Center B5 activists staged an
agitprop performance to block the guests' entry, setting up an Israeli military checkpoint with wooden military rifles. The protesters were armed with bicycle locks and wore fingerless fighting gloves.
Terming the film showing a "pro-Zionist event," the International Center B5 justified its protest in a statement: "Zionism proves to be a racist project that aims to artificially preserve the Jewish character and thereby maintains the present colonial culture."
The rambling statement also blasted Lanzmann for his defense of the IDF's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza this past January.
According to German critics of left-wing anti-Semitism, the International Center B5 is a hotbed of radical anti-Israeli sentiments, and the Left Party in Hamburg has played a decisive role in stoking anti-Israeli feelings.
The Left - the fourth-largest party in the Bundestag - promptly posted the International Center B5 statement on its Hamburg-based Web site. After the incident gained media attention, however, the Left took down the statement and distanced itself from the group.
Wolfgang Gehrcke, a Left Party MP from Hamburg, has appeared at pro-Hizbullah and Hamas rallies where Israel was compared with Nazi Germany and the Jewish state's right to exist was rejected.
Pomrehn said "the Hamburg-based Left Party has not dealt with the topic of left-wing anti-Semitism," adding that "perhaps there will now be a serious examination of anti-Semitism from the Left."
Wolfgang Seibert, the head of the 250-member Jewish community in Pinneberg, near Hamburg, told the Post that the International Center B5 left-wing activists represented the "henchmen of the fascists" and compared their anti-Jewish activities to those of the Nazis.
He complained that two police officers had failed to intervene and stop the assaults.
Asked about the accusation, Ralf Meyer, the Hamburg police spokesman, told the Post that "police arrived following the dispute" and had been "entirely reserved" in their conduct.
When asked if the Hamburg police planned to ensure that visitors could attend the rescheduled film presentation in December, he said, "Yes, definitely."
Lanzmann told the magazine Der Spiegel Online that the obstruction ofWhy Israel was the first time a protest had prevented the showing of one of his films.
In view of Germany's Nazi history, he expressed dismay that the film presentation had been blocked.
"The Germans must not be allowed again to appear as masters," said Lanzmann.
Der Spiegel noted that the Nazis had prevented so-called "Jewified" films from being shown.
Responding to the anti-Israel hostility of the German leftist group, Lanzmann said, "They call it anti-Zionism, but it is anti-Semitism."
While pro-Israel blogs from the group Kritikmaximierung and the Israel-friendly leftist alternative weekly Jungle World reported extensively on the assault of guests at the movie house, the mainstream German media largely ignored the incident.
After more than a three-week delay, Der Spiegel Online posted the first straight news story, and that article opened the press flood gates for additional reporting.
According to critics of the paltry press coverage, Lanzmann's international standing helped generate coverage.
Andreas Benl, a veteran observer of the leftist scene in Hamburg and a member of the political group Hamburger Studienbibliothek, told the Post that "anti-Semitic attacks are not taken seriously in Germany. Only when they become an international problem for Germany's reputation."