A highly-anticipated new report titled “Anti-Semites as a Coalition Partner,” which examines the increasing anti-Israel activism of politicians belonging to the German Left Party, has sparked a debate over the rise of anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism in post-modern Germany. The study has been welcomed for drawing attention to the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in public discourse in Germany, and has even triggered a debate in the German parliament about Israel bashing.
Excerpts of the study, which is subtitled “The Left Party: Between Anti-Zionist Anti-Semitism and the Wish to Govern,” were published by the center-left Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper on May 19. The report says: “A power has established itself within the parliamentary spectrum of the Left Party, which tolerates anti-Semitic positions…. Our thesis is that anti-Zionist anti-Semitism has become the dominant consensus position within the German Left Party.”
The authors conclude: “The ‘Left’ is moving ever closer to governing and – as a result of vote-getting potential above all in eastern Germany – the possibility exists that for the first time in the history of the German Federal Republic a political party – which since 2010 has clearly positioned itself as anti-Semitic could gain power.”
In a separate essay titled “The Left Party Has an Anti-Semitism Problem,” which was published by the center-right Die Welt newspaper on June 8, 2010, German sociologist Samuel Salzborn wrote: “The Left Party has an anti-Semitism problem which can no longer be ignored. For the number of incidents – which originate from an anti-Semitic worldview – has increased dramatically since the beginning of the year. The pattern is always the same: ostensibly it is couched as criticism of Israel, but the arguments reveal themselves as anti-Semitic to the core. This can be seen by the participation by two current and one former Left Party representatives from the Bundestag in the Gaza Flotilla and thus with open collaboration with violent Islamists. The fact that Left Party functionaries are cooperating with radical Islamists, who have never concealed their anti-Semitic motives, is the result of a widespread radicalization of the party.”
The accusations prompted a heated debate in the German Bundestag [parliament] on May 25. The debate, which was titled “Recent social scientific research into the potential anti-Semitic and anti-Israel positions and practices in the Left Party,” addressed what many experts consider to be the dominant form of modern anti- Semitism in Germany: the loathing of the Jewish state. Hans-Peter Uhl, from the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union, a sister party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, accused the Left Party of “fishing for votes in anti-Semitic voter groups.”
The German Left Party is an amalgamation of former East German communists, disaffected former Social Democrats and western German Marxists. In recent years, the Left Party has turned itself into an important fixture on Germany’s political landscape. It garnered 12 percent of the vote in the last national elections in September 2009 and is now the fourth-largest political party in Germany. It is the most popular party in eastern Germany, and is in coalitions with the Social Democrats in the regional governments of Berlin and Brandenburg.
In recent months, members of the German Left Party have been involved in a series of aggressive anti-Israel activities.
In May, Left Party deputy Inge Höger appeared at a pro-Hamas conference in Wuppertal in North Rhine-Westphalia wearing a keffiyeh showing a map labelled “Palestine” on the entire territory of the State of Israel. At the 9th Palestinians in Europe Conference, which was titled “The Generation of Return Knows Its Way,” Höger spoke about the “misuse of the Holocaust” in silencing criticism of Israel’s “occupation policies.” She also said that Israel has for “many years starved and indiscriminately bombed the population of Gaza because they voted democratically [for Hamas in January 2006]. The legend of Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East is a farce.”
Also in May, Hermann Dierkes, the leader of the Left Party in Duisburg, penned an “Open Letter” in which he compared Israeli policy towards the Palestinians with the Nazi regime. Dierkes accused the Israelis of using methods against Palestinians that look “damn close to what the Nazis did in the 30s.” In 2010, Dierkes termed Israel’s right to exist as “petty.”
In April, the Duisburg branch of the German Left Party posted a flyer on its website with a swastika morphing into a Star of David, and called for a boycott of Israeli products. The flyer, which calls Israel a “rogue state” and a “warmonger” states: “Oppose the moral blackmail of the so-called Holocaust! Truth makes free!” This is a pun on the “Arbeit macht Frei!” sign which is located above the entrance gate to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
In March, a group called the “Bremer Peace Forum” in the northern Germany city of Bremen staged protests in front of supermarkets urging Germans to boycott Israeli products. The Forum protesters distributed leaflets showing pictures of bloody oranges and held posters with the slogan: “Save the Palestinian people.”
In a Call to Action dated March 3, 2011, the German Left Party declares: “Israel has occupied the West Bank for decades, contrary to numerous UN resolutions. More and more illegal Jewish settlements are being built and Israel exports the fruits that are harvested from there. This is against international law and the exports from the occupied territories are illegal. A boycott of Israeli products will move public opinion in order to increase international pressure on Israel, just as happened in South Africa.”
In May 2010, two members of the German Left Party, Inge Höger and Annette Groth, and a former Left Party deputy, Norman Paech, participated in the so-called Gaza Freedom Flotilla that attempted to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Under the guise of providing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, the three joined forces with Turkish Islamists in support of Hamas, which is committed to the destruction of Israel. The Left Party publicly applauded their efforts: “We are very proud,” said party-leader Gesine Lötzsch said at the time.
Later that May, Höger, Groth and Paech filed a “war crimes” complaint against Israel with the German public prosecutor. The complaint accuses Israel of “numerous potential offences, including war crimes against individuals and command responsibility … as well as false imprisonment.”
The Left Party’s foreign policy spokesman, Wolfgang Gehrcke, has been accused of attending pro-Hamas and pro-Hezbollah rallies in Germany, and he also has a track record of making anti-Israel statements to the German media.
Over the years, leading members of the Left Party have also waged an anti-Israel campaign. Left Party deputy Christine Buchholz has been a member of the party’s “Shift to the Left” faction, which supports the “legitimate resistance” of Hamas and Hezbollah in their terrorist attacks against Israel. She has also played down the Iranian threat against Israel.
Left Party Vice President Sahra Wagenknecht, in an interview with Der Tagesspiegel in February 2010, accused Israeli President Shimon Peres of spreading “lies” about Iran’s drive to build nuclear weapons. Wagenknecht and Buchholz were also the only ones to remain seated during a standing ovation for Peres during his Holocaust remembrance speech in the Bundestag.
But German anti-Semitism is not limited to just the far-left Left Party. A new study published by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a think-tank affiliated with Germany’s Social Democratic Party, reveals high levels of anti-Semitism in Germany and a strong presence of anti-Semitism that is linked with Israel and is hidden behind criticism of Israel.
The April 2011 report, which is titled “Intolerance, Prejudice and Discrimination: A European Report,” questioned roughly 1,000 people in each of eight European countries. The study found that 47.7 percent of Germans believe “Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Jews.” Nearly 50 percent of Germans believe “Jews try to take advantage of having been victims of the Nazi era.” More than 35 percent of Germans agree with the statement: “Considering Israel’s policy, I can understand why people do not like Jews.”
A previous poll titled “Iraq and Peace in the World,” which was commissioned by the European Union in November 2003, found that 65 percent of Germans consider Israel to be the greatest threat to world peace, ahead of Iran and North Korea.
A leading member of the Left Party, Gregor Gysi, in an interview with the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung, said the accusations of anti-Semitism within his party are “nonsense.” Left Party co-chairman Klaus Ernst told the Westfälische Rundschau: “We do not need any lectures from outside parties.”
This article was originally published by the Hudson Institute on June 9, 2011
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group