A false accusation of anti-Semitism

August 11, 2011

Folko Mueller looks at a debate over the question of anti-Semitism in Germany's Left Party--and how it is being used to silence opponents of Israeli apartheid.

WHEN READING about Germany's Die Linke (the Left Party, in English) in the German media for the last couple of months, it has been hard to find an article that will not at least mention anti-Semitism. Why is this, you may wonder? Has the Left Party become a sanctuary for racists?

The answer is, of course, no. There is, however, a significant anti-Zionist current within the Left Party, and marginalizing that current is precisely what the whole campaign is about.

Deliberately blurring the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is nothing new. Robert S. Wistrich, for example, professor of Modern European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, stated in an article written for the Jewish Political Studies Review in the fall of 2004 that:

Anti-Zionism has become the most dangerous and effective form of anti-Semitism in our time, through its systematic delegitimization, defamation and demonization of Israel. Although not a priori anti-Semitic, the calls to dismantle the Jewish state, whether they come from Muslims, the Left or the radical Right, increasingly rely on an anti-Semitic stereotypization of classic themes, such as the manipulative "Jewish lobby," the Jewish/Zionist "world conspiracy" and Jewish/Israeli "warmongers." One major driving force of this anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism is the transformation of the Palestinian cause into a "holy war"; another source is anti-Americanism linked with fundamentalist Islamism.

Judea Pearl, a professor at UCLA and the president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, came to the following conclusion in an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times in March 2009:

First, anti-Zionism targets the most vulnerable part of the Jewish people, namely, the Jewish population of Israel...Secondly, modern society has developed antibodies against anti-Semitism, but not against anti-Zionism...Finally, anti-Zionist rhetoric is a stab in the back to the Israeli peace camp, which overwhelmingly stands for a two-state solution...It is anti-Zionism, then, not anti-Semitism that poses a more dangerous threat to lives, historical justice and the prospects of peace in the Middle East.

Accusations of anti-Semitism against the Left Party

THE LEFT Party has been accused of anti-Semitism as its popularity across the nation, in particular in Western Germany, has grown.

In November of 2008, for example, the Bundestag (the legislative body in Germany) was going to deliver a public declaration to fight anti-Semitism on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Reichspogromnacht (the nationwide series of attacks directed against Jewish homes, shops, houses of prayer as well as the people themselves, which occurred on November 9, 1938). The initial idea was that all five parties represented in that house should sign off on the declaration.

As the date got closer, however, the Christian Democrats said they'd be unable to sign a joint declaration with the Left Party, since the Left Party remained in the "anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic tradition of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR)."

In January of this year, it was again the Christian Democrats who produced a 21-page pamphlet in the state parliament of Hesse, accusing the Left Party of anti-Semitism and comparing it to the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD, as it's known by its initials in German).

This was the fourth time the Christian Democrats leveled accusations against the Left Party of being "unconstitutional" since the Left Party had entered that regional parliament in 2008. Again, as the party has gained in popularity and has established itself on the political landscape, the attacks have increased.

Ironically, it was the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that left the doors wide open for Third Reich war criminals such as Hans Filbinger, ex-Nazi Party member and navy judge, who in that capacity sentenced several sailors to death for desertion and defeatism in the very last weeks of the war. After the Second World War, he became Ministerpraesident of Baden Wuerttemberg on a CDU ticket, under the slogan "Freedom instead of socialism."

A "scientific" research paper by two German political scientists brought the anti-Semitism debate to national attention. Originally written for a political science journal, it was commented on and published for download in May by the German daily Frankfurter Rundschau.

The somewhat lengthy title already suggests that there is more than mere academic interest at play here: "Anti-Semites as Coalition Partners? The Left Party between Anti-Zionist Anti-Semitism and the Quest for the Ability to Govern."

According to the authors "anti-Zionist anti-Semitism" is supposedly "one of the most important variants of left anti-Semitism." The authors take five points out of 11 that make up the European Union's working definition of anti-Semitism, and declare those five to be at the core of "anti-Zionist anti-Semitism":

-- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination--e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor.

Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

They conveniently forget to mention that at the end of this list, the European Union statement also reads: "However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic."

The reason is that anti-Zionism meets this criterion. A lot of anti-Zionists were actively involved in anti-apartheid work, which helped to defeat the South African racist regime in the 1990s. The criticism leveled against Israel, as well as some of the solutions discussed, including calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions, are very similar to those discussed in the context of the South African apartheid regime more than 20 years ago. Yet South Africa was obviously never a Zionist state nor did it ever have any significant Jewish population to speak of.

Left Party leadership

IN THE end, the research paper constitutes nothing less than a smear campaign against (at least parts of) the Left Party. Absolutely devastating, however, is the fact that Left Party leaders took this poison pill and swallowed it.

Rather than calling these absurd accusations out for what they really are--an outside attempt to drive a wedge between the different factions of the party--the party leadership started self-mutilating internal debates about an alleged problem that does not exist within the party to begin with.

While the Left Party floor leader Gregor Gysi initially stated that the results of this study were absolute nonsense, it didn't take long for him to push through a resolution which states that Left Party deputies will not participate in any initiatives regarding the Middle East conflict that demand a one-state solution for Palestine and Israel or the boycott of Israeli goods. Neither will they participate in the next Free Gaza flotilla.

While the party leadership prides itself on the fact that this position was adopted by all Left Party deputies unanimously, it was really arrived at in a highly undemocratic manner.

From the beginning, there were threatening postures by the leadership. Gysi, who is one of the most recognized Left Party members in Germany, indirectly threatened his resignation, and the right wing of the party openly talked about a split. Half of the deputies present nevertheless debated against the resolution, and 10 of them finally left the room before the vote took place.

As Andrej Hunko, one of the deputies who left the room, stated on his home page, "The goal of this resolution is not to clarify the question of anti-Semitism or Middle East policies, but the subjugation of the Left Party, in particular its left wing, to the attacks of the war parties...The point is to send a signal that the Left Party is able and willing to discipline its own ranks in order to be considered as a coalition partner."

Consistent with this observation is the singling out of left-wing members of the party who are anti-Zionists. Member of Parliament Christine Buchholz, for example, is consistently being attacked for being not only an anti-Zionist, but a former member of the Marxist group Linksruck and a current member of the Marx21 network within the Left Party.

The Israeli peace activist Michael Warschawski put it best:

The struggle against anti-Semitism must be part of the struggle that every leftist party must wage, with zero compromises, against racism directed toward migrant laborers, other immigrants, the Romani people and so on. Solidarity with the Palestinian people is part of the anti-colonial struggle to which every leftist party is committed. The two arenas complete and strengthen each other, and emptying one of its content empties the second one of its moral justification and political efficacy.

It is appropriate that the Die Linke leadership withdraw its statement, which lacks both political wisdom and moral integrity.

Unfortunately, the Left Party leadership has done no such thing; however, a second resolution was passed several weeks later to appease the left wing somewhat. It states that it is not tolerable to label all critique of the state of Israel as anti-Semitic. Furthermore, it is deemed intolerable to publicly denounce individual Left Party members as anti-Semites simply because of their critique of Israel's occupation and settlement policies and the blockade of the Gaza Strip. The resolution was passed with 45 "Yes" and 6 "No" votes. Two deputies abstained from voting.

While this particular debate may have somewhat quieted down for the time being, there is no doubt that other smear campaigns against the left wing of the party--in particular, the Marx21 network--will follow.

It is our duty to stand in solidarity with the socialists of the Marx21 network when this occurs again.

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