A very interesting article, originally appearing in the leftist German newspaper Die tageszeitung, has been translated into English. It’s an interview with Tilman Fichter–the brother of Albert Fichter, a German urban guerilla who was involved in a 1969 plot to bomb Berlin’s Jewish Community Center to protest Israel in the aftermath of the Six Day War.
At that time, Tilman was chairman of the SDS (German socialist student group). In the interview, he explains why it was and still is taboo to talk about anti-Semitism on the Left.
Some notable excerpts–
Regarding Dieter Kunzelmann, a prominent leftist radical who planned the attempted bombing:
“In November 1969, when we published his first letter to the public in our radical left-wing magazine 883, the “Letter from Amman”. At the time I played down the letter, saying it was leftist anti-Semitism. If I read it again today I have to say: he’s an anti-Semite. Kunzelmann’s main word was “fight”, not “emancipation” or anything like that. He wrote: “Palestine is for [Germany] what Vietnam was for the Americans. The Left has failed to comprehend this. Why? The Jew complex.” His argument was that because the Left was coming to terms with the causes of Auschwitz, it was failing to realise that the real enemy was sitting in Israel and that one should show solidarity with the Palestinians. This was a complete break in the highly complex debate taking place with the West German Left, which on the one hand was critical of Israeli politics, yet always with an eye to the fact that the situation in Palestine after 1937/39 had been shaped by the Zionists trying to accommodate hundreds of thousands of European Jews. It was not a black and white issue. Kunzelmann blankly refused to accept this nuanced analysis. This was a break with the analytical tradition of the SDS, and an attempt to lead parts of the West German Left into a partisan struggle against the Jews in Germany.”
On leftist anti-semitism:
“It was taboo to say there could be something like anti-Semitism on the Left. Because the Left had been a victim, because it had suffered together with the Jews in the concentration camps, it never thought it possible that this problem could also exist in its own ranks. I was severely criticised at the time, even by comrades I still think highly of today. They said, “Tilman, you shouldn’t make such a big thing of it. We can settle this internally.” When I started discussing it openly with my article on anti-Semitism I was treated like a bit of a renegade, as if I were eroding solidarity on the Left, and opening a can of worms that had to be cleared up among ourselves. But it was never cleared up. That was the problem.”
That was–and still is–the problem.
A: Both were created for the airing of grievances, and neither of them are recognized religious holidays.
Curiously though, Al Quds Day (the Iranian-sponsored, anti-Israel hatefest), is listed on several interfaith calendars as an Islamic holiday.
JTA reports that, owing to the efforts of Berlin-based activists “Together Against Political Islam and Anti-Semitism,” institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, from Harvard University in the U.S. to Northumbria University in the UK, have announced that they are deleting Al Quds Day from calendars where it had been listed as a religious holiday. (The point is not just to clean up calendars, political scientist Arne Behrensen, a co-founder of the activist group, told JTA, but “to engage the political left in confronting Islamism and Islamist anti-Semitism.”)
Spike Ried, president of the Northumbria University Students’ Union in Newcastle, England, told JTA his group had removed the event from its online calendar and issued a written apology. It reads in part, “We now understand that this day is considered offensive to Israeli and Jewish people worldwide.” Students submit dates to the calendar, and Al Quds Day “was included on the understanding that it was a religious day,” Ried said. After discussions with both Islamic and Jewish student groups, he added, “we understand now that it is a political day, and have therefore removed it.” The union also has “drawn up measures to ensure that this does not happen in future,” he said.
The project commissioned thirteen photographers and video artists to create images that portray the complexity of contemporary Jewish identity.
“The faces of American Jews are as varied as the face of America. Thus the exhibition serves to question stereotypes, challenge traditional assumptions, and look at issues of racism and anti-Semitism in America.”
Some of the photos are online. Well worth a look.
William O. Beeman, a professor of Middle East anthropology at Brown University suggests that the world community should take Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call for Israel to be “wiped off the map” with a healthy grain of salt:
[Ahmadinejad] has had an unusual amount of trouble establishing his credibility in government…Though personally religiously conservative, he has not been able to turn back the reformist trend that started with the election of President Mohammad Khatami.
So Mr. Ahmadinejad seems to have turned back to the populist base that elected him with another hoary old bit of revolutionary rhetoric—attacking the “Zionist regime.” He may have been expressing a personal conviction regarding Israel, but the international press did not report one important fact. His pronouncement was not his own. He was repeating the words of Ayatollah Khomeini from the time of the Revolution. Of course his agreement with them was implied. What was far more important than the condemnation of Israel was the fact that Mr. Ahmadinejad was tying himself specifically to the politics of 30 years ago.
Contextualization aside, Mr. Ahmadinejad has miscalculated his own public support base. His rhetoric on Israel is both out of step with general public sensibility in Iran, and is seen precisely for what it is–empty posturing. Iran has little or no ability to affect the Israeli-Palestinian question directly, is not going to attack Israel itself, and is also not likely to sway other states in the region to change their current policies of increasing accommodation to the realities in the Israeli-Palestinian issue. His remarks have not pleased Iran’s mullahs either…the international brouhaha over this statement indicate that the clerical establishment wants to keep him on a short leash in the future.
The American Jewish Committee has published a booklet by Robert S. Wistrich of Hebrew University titled European Antisemitism Reinvents Itself.
It is, paradoxically, in the act of repudiating the worst features of their own past that Europeans now sit in judgment on America, the Jews, and Israel. In celebrating its own multicultural, pluralist, and postnational liberation (more evident in theory than in practice), Europe deplores what it brands as the uniquely tribal and aggressive ‘arrogance’ of the Jewish nation-state, while turning a blind eye to all the dark stains on the record of Palestinian nationalism, ignoring the pathologies of the Arab world, and downplaying the lethal threat of a radically unhinged Islam. In the new Manichean vision born out of ‘antiracism,’ Jewish victims have mutated into ‘executioners’; the right to self-defense is turned into an act of ‘imperial’ expansionism, while the existence of a Jewish state itself becomes a questionable manifestation of exclusivity and ‘racist’ particularism. This is the ideology of the new anti-Semitism that operates with a good conscience.
According to CAMERA, here’s how the BBC listed its program Israel and the Arabs: Elusive Peace–
“The story of how Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak persuaded President Clinton to devote his last 18 months in office to helping make peace with Yasser Arafat. But Barak got cold feet twice. Then Ariel Sharon took a walk around Jerusalem’s holiest mosques, and peace making was over.”
Gee, no editorializing there, right? Apparently, some folks complained, and the BBC changed the listing to read:
“The story of how Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak persuaded President Clinton to devote his last 18 months in office to helping make peace with Yasser Arafat. But after tense negotiations the deal was never made.”
Well, let’s just say that the independent panel convened to review the impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has its work cut out for it.
Personally, though, I’m anticipating a complete whitewash. I predict the panel will conclude something along the lines of: “While there were isolated instances reflecting imperfect judgment in the presentation of new stories that might have prompted concerns among segments of the BBC’s audience, we find no evidence of systematic bias in the reporting of this complex and sensitive topic.”
Part of my pessimism is grounded in the composition of the panel, notably the two journalists. One of them is Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens, who belongs to the “Israel is the source of all Arab rage against the West” school of journalism. Also, in a 2004 column, he claimed that Israel’s policy of targeting terrorist leaders was responsible for dooming the peace process, describing Ariel Sharon as a “hardened hawk” guilty of “blinkered obduracy.” (That column prompted a great response from David Harris of the American Jewish Committee. Read it here.)
Also on the panel is Stewart Purvis, Professor of Television Journalism, City University and former Editor-in-Chief and Chief Executive, ITN. In a 2003 interview, Purvis openly expressed skepticism over charges of anti-Israel bias in the British news media. Also, I question his role as a neutral arbiter on this issue, given his frequent public criticism of the role the IDF played in the 2003 shooting of British filmmaker James Miller in Gaza. (Purvis, for instance, declared in one speech, “We won’t accept the Israeli army view that British cameraman James Miller was killed in Gaza because of ‘cross-fire’.”)
Okay, perhaps I’m being unfair. These journalists might have their biases (as all journalists do), but that doesn’t mean they won’t check their biases at the door when considering this issue. Still, I think it says alot about the state of the British media that these are the most neutral investigators the independent panel could find.
A group of young, Jewish ad execs who are frustrated by the constant Israel-bashing in the UK are spearheading a new, in-your-face advertising campaign called StandUp4Israel.
It’s strong stuff…and that’s precisely the point. As the Jerusalem Report notes, “StandUp4Israel’s thesis is that British Jewry has utterly failed to address the anti-Zionism bordering on anti-Semitism they say has become institutionalized in both British media and society throughout five years of the intifada…While the grassroots send outraged e-mails to each other, the leaders of the community focus on polite attempts to influence opinion-makers, journalists and politicians. This is a non-strategy, insists [advertising executive] Marc Cave: ‘Politics has changed. We live in a focus-group culture where the people in power make decisions based on what the bloke in the street thinks.’”
Leaders of mainstream British Jewish organizations are less enthusiastic, saying that such tactics end up alienating the public. (“Only pariah states advertise their wares,” asserts Brian Kerner, president of the United Jewish Israel Appeal.) They argue that quiet lobbying is more cost effective and ultimately more productive, noting that the British government’s support and engagement with Israel is undeniable, in sharp contrast to the antipathy found elsewhere in the European Union.
An interesting subtext of this story is the generational clash. Cave sees it as a conflict between young, proud, angry Jews and an older leadership that has so successfully integrated into the British establishment they are terrified to take a stand that might upset anyone. “The elder generation like their peerages and knighthoods and the crusty kudos of it all and want to retain that. It makes me sick to the pit of my stomach.” Likewise, Shimon Cohen, chairman of a London-based public relations firms, observes: “There is a great nervousness in the leadership of the Jewish community to shout from the rooftops and be proud of Israel. Our parents were very grateful to Britain for rescuing us and for allowing us to live here in freedom, but I think the wind is changing. Our generation feels very strong, very secure, and we can be louder and more open.”
I confess, upon reading this, I immediately thought of the now-infamous column by Guardian trainee reporter (and Hizb ut-Tahrir party member) Dilpazier Aslam who wrote: “Second- and third-generation Muslims are without the don’t-rock-the-boat attitude that restricted our forefathers. We’re much sassier with our opinions, not caring if the boat rocks or not. Which is why the young get angry with that breed of Muslim ‘community leader’ who remains silent while anger is seething on the streets.”
Memo to the editors of the Guardian and the other members of the British chattering classes who fret about the “sources of Muslim rage”: Apparently, there’s also a fair amount of “Jewish rage” to be found in the UK. The real issue is whether that outrage is channeled towards legitimate political activism–or tolerated as an excuse for political violence.