German Left Party squirms under "anti-Semitism" claims
By Jean-Baptiste Piggin Jun 21, 2011, 15:39 GMT
Berlin - Germany's opposition Left Party is feuding over criticism from within and without that some of its members' criticisms of Israel has veered across the line into outright anti-Semitism.
The leader of the German Jewish community, Dieter Graumann, has weighed into the dispute, complaining that not just the far right, but also some of the far left have a 'pathological, berserk hatred of Israel.'
The debate touches a raw nerve in Germany, where making amends for the Holocaust includes a government policy of support for the state of Israel. Attacking Jews as a group is not just a ticket to political pariahdom, but can also be prosecuted as a crime.
The party's parliamentary chairman, Gregor Gysi - himself Jewish - attempted earlier this month to draw a line in the sand.
Some 50 Left Party deputies in the Bundestag parliament voted on June 7 to condemn three anti-Israel proposals.
The deputies agreed that agitation in favour of a single, mixed Palestinian and Jewish state was incompatible with Left policy, since this 'one-state solution' implies the Jews becoming a minority in their own land.
They also rejected an appeal for a boycott of Israeli exports, an idea that for many Germans reeks of the 1930s Nazi pickets of Jewish grocery shops that were a first step towards the Holocaust.
Three parliamentarians who sailed on the Gaza Aid flotilla organized by Arab and Turkish activists in May last year and were detained by the Israeli navy were also told there must be no repeat.
Gysi's own Jewish heritage, diplomacy and admired rhetorical skills should have ensured that this compromise held. But it came unstuck within days. An anti-Israel faction in the party publicly attacked the compromise.
The party, which won 11 per cent of the vote nationwide in 2009 and has 76 parliamentary seats, is now in turmoiil over the issue. As many as 14 deputies had walked out of the June 7 talks.
They alleged they were bullied by the majority and that Gysi threatened to resign if they did not fall into line.
Unlike Eurocommunist parties in neighbouring nations, the German Left Party is a collection of former East German communist faithful, western Labour activists disgruntled with the more mainstream SPD and doctrinaire academic Marxists.
Its disunity is legendary.
Its co-leaders since last year, Gesine Loetsch and Klaus Ernst, have been fiercely criticized within the party: Loetsch for openly praising the dream of a communist society, Ernst for his 'bourgeois' hobby of driving a second-hand Porsche.
This week, the squabbling prompted Gruamann to intervene with a newspaper article.
In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, he said the views of some Left activists 'had more than just a tiny amount of anti-Semitic tendency' to them.
Graumann recalled that three Left deputies deliberately stayed seated in protest when the Bundestag welcomed Israeli President Shimon Peres on Holocaust Day, January 27, last year.
He quoted other attacks on Israel by Left party activists, including one who said Israel's right to exist was a 'trivial' matter.
'The old, anti-Zionist spirit of East Germany still haunts the party,' he said. 'But paradoxically it's mainly people from the west who are letting rip with pathological, berserk hatred of Israel.'
Graumann added, 'Of course it's not anti-Semitic per se to criticize Israel. There's nowhere where Israeli policies are criticized more hotly and fiercely than inside Israel itself.'
He praised Gysi but said the party was still in denial about its anti-Semitism problem instead of confronting the issues.
Ernst retorted that Graumann's remarks were inappropriate and he should keep out of internal party matters.
'We are the only party that clearly distinguishes between justifiable criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Semitism,' he told the WAZ group of newspapers.
'The basic dispute is about the ways in which Israel can be criticized,' said Deidre Berger, director of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee. 'It's about the degree in which this may or may not be anti-Semitic.'
In an interview Tuesday, she said there had been similar debate about what constitutes anti-Semitism in other European countries recently.
The debate was not about whether a person was an all-out anti-Semite or not, but about getting people to look at the tendency behind crude criticism of Israel.
'There's a broad consensus among policy experts that when criticism delegitimizes Israel, or uses double standards not applicable to other countries, or when the government of Israel is compared to fascist governments, that tends to anti-Semitism,' the American said.
'When criticism of Israel reaches this point, it starts isolating and tarnishing a whole group of people: the Jews.'