Olmert Merkel 298 AP.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Although relations between Israel and Germany seem fine on a governmental level, there is very widespread criticism and sometimes hatred of the Jewish state in Germany as well as in all of Europe. This sad fact is often affirmed in polls in which Israel is seen as the greatest threat to world peace, worse than the dictatorial Islamic regime in Iran or the Stalinist succesor monarchy in North Korea.
Criticism of Israel is clearly not a minority opinion which can only be articulated secretly. Nonetheless, opponents of Israel constantly claim to be courageously breaking a taboo. While nearly no one denounces any critique of Israel's policy as anti-Semitic, that is often just what Israel's opponents suggest - thereby avoiding a serious discussion on the relation between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, which, though not identical, often overlap.
DEBATES ON the Middle East in Europe suffer from a distressing ignorance of the subject. Specific to Germany is the additional problem of the history of National Socialism, which constantly and often unconsciously lurks behind discussions on Israel.
One example is a journey by German bishops to Israel and the Palestinian territories not long ago in which they harshly criticized Israeli policy. That is in itself of course not a problem. The problem is how they did it - by evoking the Holocaust and comparing the situation of the Palestinians with that of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. Comparing Israel to Nazi Germany is crossing the border of a justified critique of Israel's policy. The list of such examples could be widely extended, and the political Left is no exception in this respect - in fact it often takes the lead in Israel bashing.
THE LEFTIST movement in West Germany completely changed its view of Israel after the war of 1967. Prior to then, its majority was philo-Semitic (in a problematic way); afterward it became staunchly pro-Arab and anti-Israel - if not openly anti-Semitic. Israel was accused of committing the same crimes as Nazi Germany, and the Palestinians were seen as "the Jews of the Jews." This was an easy way for German leftist to get rid of the burden of Auschwitz and make up for the anti-fascist struggle their parents never fought. Due to the constellation of the Cold War, as well as for ideological reasons, the German Democratic Republic was consistently anti-Israel as well. It had a strong relationship with Arab dictatorships, and was one of the leading weapons suppliers of the PLO. Zionism was seen as a racist ideology, and the Jewish state as the spearhead of imperialism and colonialism subjugating the Middle East.
The element connecting the Left in East Germany with that of West Germany was an anti-imperialistic worldview which can still be found among segments of the Left today. Strict Manichaeanism and a simplification of complex geopolitical and societal situations characterize this obsolete ideology whose roots lie in the Cold War.
THAT THIS antiquated ideology is still alive is demonstrated by the mainstream leftist reaction to the Iranian nuclear threat. Either it denies that Iran aspires to get the nuclear bomb, or it views the Iranian bomb as a legitimate means of defense against the US and Israel. This is a view blinded by anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism, ignoring not only the anti-Semitic ideology of the Iranian regime but also the straightforward threats by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others to destroy Israel. One consequence of the Holocaust is that threats of annihilation must be taken seriously and not deemed irrelevant or a diversion from something else. Anti-Semitic ideologues mean what they say.
Furthermore it should be obvious that the only progressive stance on Iran is to support the democratic, secular opposition in exile and, if possible, within the country itself. Why does the German and the European Left often fail to stand with the women's movement and the labor unions, or the homosexual, lesbian and transgender people killed by the regime? Why do they willingly or unwillingly play into the hands of the repressive mullahs and not call for a fundamental change in Iranian society, meaning liberalization and the pushing back of radical Islam?
The leftist movement in general and the Left Party in particular have to decide whether they want to be a modern Left, as they already are in part, or if they would rather stick to old ideological dogmas, peering at the world through the prism of the Cold War.
This debate has just begun within the party, and will certainly continue for some time. BAK Shalom, a group within the party youth, aims to fight anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, anti-Americanism and regressive anti-capitalism. We try to influence the discussion on these topics and have achieved some progress. Nevertheless there is still a long way to go.
Benjamin-Christopher KrÃ¼ger is federal spokesperson of BAK Shalom. Sebastian Voigt is a doctoral student and former scholarship holder of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation of the Left Party.