Pandering to subtle German anti-Semitism

Norman Finkelstein's attempt to secure locations for anti-Israel lectures recalls Marty Feldman's shifting hump.

February 21, 2010 14:57
4 minute read.
Norman Finkelstein waved a banner during a protest

norman finkelstein 311. (photo credit: AP)


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BERLIN - Remember the late British Jewish actor Marty Feldman's role in the 1974 comedy film Young Frankenstein? He plays Dr. Frankenstein's hunchback assistant Igor and moves his hump from shoulder to shoulder to deliberately perplex his boss.

The controversial American Jewish political scientist Norman Finkelstein's attempt to secure locations last week in Munich and Berlin to deliver anti-Israel lectures recalls Feldman's shifting hump.

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Finkelstein, whose scheduled talk ­ "One year after the invasion of the Israeli army in Gaza and the responsibility of the German government in the starvation of the Palestinian population"­ generated protests and cancellations last week, resulting, like Igor's hump, in a perpetual shift of venue.

Initially, he was scheduled to speak in the Trinitatis evangelical church in Berlin, with organizational and financial support from the political foundations of the Green Party, Left Party, German-Palestinian organizations, and a fringe group of anti-Zionist Jews.

Finkelstein was denied entry to Israel in 2008 because of his pro-Hizbullah solidarity activity in Lebanon.

According to a February New York Times review of a documentary on Finkelstein, he waved a banner during a protest against the First Lebanon War in 1982, urging "Israeli Nazis" to "stop the Holocaust in Lebanon."

The Heinrich Böll Foundation, affiliated with the Green Party, pulled the plug on its involvement and said in a statement: "We regret our decision... and because of careless, insufficient research we made a fiercely bad decision. Finkelstein's behavior and his theses take place, in our view, not within the framework of justified criticism."


There has always been an insatiable market, particularly among the Left, for Finkelstein's views in Germany, largely because he allows many Germans to air anti-Israel sentiments in a politically and socially correct way.

A spokeswoman from the respectable Piper publishing house in Munich, which publishes his books, told The Jerusalem Post that Finkelstein¹s anti-Israel Holocaust Industry sold 150,000 copies in 2001, catapulting his book to best-seller status.

It's not hard to explain the popularity of Finkelstein in Germany: If the son of Holocaust survivors can equate Israel with Nazi Germany and charge American Jewish organizations with exploiting the Holocaust to tap into the guilt and financial chords of Germans, than Germans can breathe more easily and alleviate their sense of guilt and connection to the Shoah.

Finkelstein's background serves as a social-psychological crutch that allows many Germans to invoke his Jewish biography to insulate themselves from accusations of anti-Semitism.

After the cancellation of the support of the Green Party foundation and the Trinitatis church, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, which is affiliated with the Left Party, offered to provide a venue for Finkelstein.

A diverse group of pro-Israel organizations ­ including the BAK Shalom Working Group within the Left Party ­ protested the foundation¹s decision. Henning Heine, a spokesman from the foundation, issued a statement, saying, "We underestimated the political explosiveness of Finkelstein's lecture" and rescinding its offer.

BAK Shalom is a group of young Left Party members who seek to end their
party's adherence to flourishing anti-Zionist positions within the party.

Rising pressure from the pro-Israel community also prompted the Amerika House in Munich to walk away from its support of Finkelstein's appearance.

The last refuge for Finkelstein is the headquarters of the notoriously pro-Islamic Republic leftist junge Welt daily, a leftover from the former communist East Germany. Finkelstein will deliver his talk on Friday in the gallery of the paper¹s building in Berlin.

Finkelstein's counterpart in France, the German-born Alfred Grosser, is a another telling example of an anti-Israel Diaspora Jew who has a fan club among broad swaths of the Left in Germany. Following in Finkelstein's footsteps, he sees Germany as exposed to "an exaggerated, masochistic guilt consciousness."

Grosser has argued in newspaper interviews that "Criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism have nothing to do with each other. It is rather Israel's policies that promote anti-Semitism globally."

Grosser's book From Auschwitz to Jerusalem was published last year in Germany.

His anti-Israel views resonate with Mathias Brodkorb, a member of the left-of-center Social Democratic Party in the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state government, who endorsed the book. Brodkorb also conducted a recent interview for his own Web site with a formerly Maoist journalist, who attacked the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its Christian Zionist friends in their talk.

Despite the foundations "and other organizations" surprising withdrawal of support, Grosser and Finkelstein will continue to generate attention among enthusiasts in Germany. The demands of the German market will not consign the terrific interest in Finkelstein and Grosser to the margins of the intellectual arena.

Like Igor's shifting hump in Young Frankenstein, the advocates of hardcore anti-Israel Jews will keep bobbing and weaving in whatever venues they can find to pander to subtle German anti-Semitism.

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