Thursday, November 23, 2017

Review of "Undeclared Wars with Israel: East Germany and the West German Far Left"

Jeffrey Herf. Undeclared Wars with Israel: East Germany and the West German Far Left, 1967-1989. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Illustrations. 493 pp. $29.99 (paper), ISBN 978-1-107-46162-8; $99.99 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-107-08986-0.

Reviewed by Philipp Lenhard (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Historisches Seminar Jüdische Geschichte und Kultur)

Published on H-Judaic (November, 2017)
When the German terrorists Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann hijacked Air France Flight 139 on June 27, 1976, and separated Jewish and Israeli from non-Jewish hostages, the Nazi past seemed to resurge in a new, left-radical disguise. Since 1969, German leftists had maintained close contacts with Palestinian terrorist groups, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Fatah, the two largest groups forming the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). As a result of this collaboration, a series of anti-Jewish attacks were carried out in West Germany throughout the 1970s in the name of a so-called resistance against US imperialism and Zionist racism. The hijacking of the Air France flight and the “selection” of the Jewish passengers represent the zenith of German left-wing anti-Zionism that declined in the 1980s and has been increasingly challenged by leftist supporters of Israel since the 1990s.[1] However, the fine line between criticism of Israeli politics, hatred against Israel, and antisemitism remains an urgent issue today.[2] 
Historical research takes on an important role in uncovering the history of anti-Zionism and antisemitism in their manifold forms. Scholars of Jewish history have long argued that both Jewish and non-Jewish anti-Zionism prior to the Holocaust cannot easily be equated with antisemitism because the rejection of Zionism often stemmed from a universalist critique of nationalism as it had evolved from the ideas of the European Enlightenment. [3] At the same time, late nineteenth-century antisemites already used anti-Zionist ideas to denounce Jews as being incapable of running a state.[4] After the extermination of European Jewry and the foundation of the state of Israel, anti-Zionism was directed not only against an ideology but also against the existing Jewish state of Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren. Thus, any attempt to critique Zionism before the mass murder has to at least face the accusation of historical blindness. Socialist and Communist movements and parties as well as the Communist regimes after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, including the German Democratic Republic (GDR), founded in 1949, only one year after the foundation of the Jewish state, had to face this conflicted heritage. In most cases, pre-Holocaust anti-Zionism was perpetuated or even radicalized under the influence of Joseph Stalin’s anti-cosmopolitan and anti-imperialist doctrines. 
Notes 
[1]. Despite its overall pro-Palestinian agenda, the Far Left party Die Linke emphasizes that “Israel’s existence and the history of its foundation are irrevocable consequences of the Shoah and the extermination of European Jewry, a historical consequence of a centuries-old antisemitism that predates Nazi Fascism and that encompasses more than the European-Christian history of persecution. This world-historical emancipation is worth our unrestricted solidarity, and this possibility will be defended in all future” (translation mine). Die Linke, https://www.die-linke.de/detail/eine-friedliche-zwei-staatenloesung-muss-ziel-bleiben/ (accessed October 12, 2017). Compared to other European leftist parties, this statement shows a profound transformation of the German left wing’s diction over the course of the last decades. 
[2]. In a recent book about Operation Entebbe (Legenden um Entebbe: Ein Akt der Luftpiraterie und seine Dimensionen in der politischen Diskussion [Münster: Unrast, 2016]), edited by the Far Left activist Markus Mohr, antisemitism from the left is systematically downplayed, which has aroused a heated debate in the left-wing weekly Jungle World. 
[3]. See for the transition Léon Poliakov, Vom Antizionismus zum Antisemitismus (Freiburg im Breisgau: Ça Ira, 1992).
[4]. See, for example, Eugen Dühring, Die Judenfrage als Racen-, Sitten- und Culturfrage (Karlsruhe, Leipzig: H. Reuther, 1881), 110n. 
For the rest of the review: Herf.

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