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Day 17

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An Open Letter to the German Left

The Antideutsch and Me

by DAVID ROVICS

Last night another concert of mine in Germany was canceled due to pressure from a political tendency here known as the Antideutsch (Anti-Germans).  The show went ahead, in this case, but in a different venue.  In previous cases, shows have been canceled due to Antideutsch threats to venues to boycott, picket, smash windows and hurt people, depending on the case.  All of these actions have been carried out by Antideutsch elements on many occasions throughout Germany over many years now.  Their targets over the years have included progressive artists, groups, and venues, as well as members of the very large Palestinian community in Germany.

Since I first encountered the Antideutsch I thought that such a bizarre political tendency couldn’t last, and I figured I’d just ignore it and hope it went away.  That was a mistake.  I’m not sure if their influence is growing, but they’re certainly not going away.  There may not be more than a few hundred zealous adherents to the various Antideutsch factions in Germany, but their influence in society and especially on the Left is vastly disproportionate to their small numbers, due to the historic guilt that still pervades Germany.  They take advantage of this condition to force people to make uncomfortable or even impossible choices, again and again.

The Antideutsch, however well-meaning in their origins, despite the fact that some of what they do is admirable (such as opposing the far right in various ways), is a misguided subculture that has relied on incredibly convoluted logic to evolve into a fundamentally racist phenomenon.  Their racism should be rejected.  A failure to reject the logic of the Antideutsch is a failure to reject racism.

I’ll explain.  (I know I have titled this an “Open Letter to the German Left,” but I’ll take the time here to give some background that will be obvious to any German, but may be news to non-Germans.)

I’m not alone among non-Germans who have spent significant amounts of time in Germany in saying that Germany is the most thoughtful, self-reflective society I have ever experienced.  It is a place where a very large proportion of the population understands their history.  People on the Left here will be quick to disagree and talk about all the backward people out there and how much more progress there is to be made.  However, if they spend time anywhere else in the world, I believe they will have to admit that their society is one that has, to a vastly greater degree than France, the US, Great Britain, and other countries with very dark histories of colonialism and imperialism, largely come to terms with history.  There are of course notable exceptions, but for the most part Germans today viscerally loathe authoritarianism, war, and everything else the Third Reich stood for.

Most Germans especially loathe anti-Semitism.  So much so that the very topic makes people uncomfortable, and any discussion that involves criticizing a person of Jewish lineage or an organization led by a Jew is something many Germans would rather just avoid entirely.  Being of Jewish lineage myself, having grown up among survivors of the Nazi holocaust, and having spent a lot of time in Germany, I understand this.

Germans were and are faced with the same contradictions as the rest of us with regards to how to come to terms with anti-Semitism and how European Jews experienced the first half of the twentieth century, which of course most notably involved being systematically killed by goose-stepping Germans.  How to atone for the sins of their fathers and grandfathers?  How to make sure a fascist regime doesn’t take over Germany again?  How to make sure the victims of fascism don’t become victims again?

For many Germans, particularly on the Left, the answer to these questions lay in a rejection of authoritarianism, welcoming refugees from dictatorships such as Pinochet’s Chile, and opposing wars around the world.  For many Germans, this led them uncomfortably into the position of opposing not only the Right in their own country, but the US-led wars in places like Vietnam and Iraq.  Again, not because they supported their own country’s imperial ambitions as opposed to US imperialism, but because they opposed anyone carpet-bombing anyone else.  Been there, done that, never again – to anyone.

But then, the question of how to view and interact with the new state of Israel posed an even bigger challenge for German society, just as it did for others around the world, such as the Jewish diaspora.  Guilt-ridden Germans and traumatized Jews alike faced the question – does “never again” mean “never again” for some people or for everyone?  For most people in the world, the answer was the latter – no one should invade someone else’s country, force the inhabitants into refugee camps and walled ghettos, etc.  Ethnic cleansing was unacceptable anywhere, even if the people doing the ethnic cleansing had recently been victims of an even more horrible ethnic cleansing themselves.

For a significant portion of the Jewish diaspora, and for many people in Germany, however, the main concern was for the well-being of Jews.  The Nazi holocaust was directly responsible for Zionism’s sudden popularity among Jews.  Without the Nazi holocaust, the state of Israel probably never would have come to exist, since the overwhelming majority of Jews before that period of history weren’t sufficiently enticed by the idea of abandoning their homes in Europe or North America to participate in the Zionist project.  And for many Germans, now that German fascism had forced Israel to come into existence, the Jewish homeland needed to be supported – even if its very existence meant the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people who had nothing to do with fascism in Europe.

On the contrary, for hundreds of years while there were pogroms, Crusades and Inquisitions in Europe, whose victims always included lots of Jews, during the same period in the Ottoman Empire, Jews and other religious and ethnic minorities flourished.  But now these Arabs would have to pay for the crimes of German Nazis, and the Zionist movement’s new state – actively supported by the US, Great Britain, West Germany and other actors on the international scene – would be founded upon a fundamentally racist form of governance, a Middle Eastern apartheid system, where Palestinians were forced to flee at gunpoint while Jews got their land.  After the 1967 war, when Israel annexed Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, the Palestinians in these occupied territories would become a people forced to live under military rule, with no right to vote, ruled by military courts, military injustice, with settlers daily breaking international law to take more and more of their best land away from them.

Most governments in the world, and most people paying attention, especially on the Left, saw this for what it was, and declared the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza illegal, the settlements illegal, and demanded that the Palestinians should be able to return to the lands from which they were forcibly displaced.  But among many Jews and some others there was confusion on this question.  Were the Palestinians victims of ethnic cleansing, or terrorists who deserved their fate?  Was Israel an apartheid state run by settlers from overseas, or a nation of long-lost refugees returning home and doing what they had to do to stay safe?

Many Germans tended to take the former view, like most others around the world, but generally preferred to avoid the issue, feeling like, as descendents of the Nazis, they didn’t really have the moral authority to take a position one way or the other.  Some Germans, particularly on the Left, took the principled stance against Israeli apartheid, despite how emotionally difficult it was for most of them to do this, given their history, and their intense feelings of guilt.

Enter the Antideutsch.  In the days leading up to German reunification, many people in Germany were concerned with the prospect of a powerful new German state.  They had reason to be concerned.  In the months following reunification, the far right was emboldened in both east and west Germany, and there were many cases of immigrants being attacked and sometimes killed by the far right.  The asylum laws in Germany became much more restrictive.  Out of this context, the Antideutsch tendency evolved.

As with much of the German Left, they opposed German reunification, opposed the new restrictions on asylum-seekers, and opposed the far right’s violent attacks on the homes of refugees.  But unlike the more reasonable elements of the German Left, this new tendency proclaimed their unconditional support for Israel.  The Israeli state claimed they represented Jews around the world, and the Antideutsch declared that this must indeed be the case.  They aligned themselves ideologically with the most far right elements of the Jewish diaspora, such as the Jewish Defense League, proclaiming that anyone who criticized the state of Israel was an anti-Semite and a fascist (as I have personally been told on numerous occasions by Antideutsch activists).

The Antideutsch movement started splitting almost as soon as it came into existence.  Some of the more bizarre tendencies to emerge include those who supported the US-led war in Iraq, on the basis that Israel supported it, so it must be good.  Other elements of the movement proclaimed that although they considered themselves to be communist, they were opposed to criticism of capitalism, on the basis that criticizing capitalism was a veiled form of anti-Semitism (since apparently everyone knows that when your average anti-capitalist says “banker” they really mean “Jewish banker”).

While it may be easy to ridicule and dismiss some of the stranger offshoots of the Antideutsch, the thing they all continue to agree on is the importance of uncritically supporting the state of Israel.  There also seems to be a general agreement on the principle that any serious criticism of the state of Israel must be actively opposed and denounced as anti-Semitic and fascistic.

By pushing this line throughout Germany, throughout the German Left and elsewhere in German society, the Antideutsch are essentially demanding that Germans, and anyone else in Germany, such as Palestinian refugees or anti-Zionist Jews from New York (like me), must take sides.  They must either declare their unflinching allegiance to the state of Israel, or they must admit to being anti-Semites.  They must avoid being involved with events that include someone who is critical of Israel, or risk allegations of anti-Semitism, smashed windows, beatings, and so on.  There is no room for debate, no room for being on the sidelines or not taking a position on this issue, they say.  You are either with us or you’re an anti-Semite.

That is to say, you must choose:  admit to being an anti-Semite, or embrace anti-Arab racism.  Support the Nazi holocaust, or support the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and the apartheid state of Israel.

These, however, are false choices.  There are other options – much more sensible ones.  You can use your brain, and think for yourself, without unconditionally supporting anyone or anything.  You can acknowledge reality – that the Nazi holocaust was indeed the worst thing humans have ever done to other humans, but that the fact that these horrible atrocities were committed in Europe during the first half of the twentieth century does not make it OK for the survivors of the Nazi holocaust to go and drive 700,000 Palestinians off of their land and into walled ghettos.

You can reject both of these horrors.  You can oppose anti-Semitism at every turn, and also oppose ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.  You can reject the Antideutsch’s false dichotomy.  Or you can embrace it, and embrace the idea that anything but unconditional support for Israel is anti-Semitism.  But then you must come to terms with an inescapable fact:  by embracing this position, you are embracing a virulent form of racism.  By embracing a blatantly, fundamentally racist government – Israel – you are yourself a racist.

It’s your choice.  Your brain.  I beseech you – use it.  Don’t let the Antideutsch turn you into a racist idiot who’s not allowed to think for yourself because you were born German.  I know you’d rather avoid the whole difficult issue, but the Antideutsch won’t let you do that.  Reject fascism of all kinds, whether they employ gas chambers or not.  Reject imperialism, whether German, US, or British.  Reject Israeli apartheid.  Reject the Antideutsch tendency.  Embrace humanity, in all its forms, including Palestinian.

David Rovics is a singer/songwriter based in Portland, Oregon, who is currently on tour in Europe.