Are Jews welcome participants on the German Left?

This text is a translation of a text I wrote in German in June 2019. I have added little in terms of comments and clarification, so some readers may be confused about the truly perplexing politics of the so-called “anti-Germans”, which stand at the center of this piece. If you are already familiar with this phenomenon, read ahead. If not, you might want to start with some of the recommended reading at the end of this post.

The Jewish Left has always been critical of Zionism – the movement for a Jewish nation-state. As the old Yiddish song “Oh, you foolish Zionists” demonstrates, Leftist Jews in Europe wanted to stay here and build socialism. Their opponents preferred to emigrate to Palestine – which proved a better choice in terms of the movements’ survival.

But nowadays, a new generation of Leftist Jews is coming to Germany, myself included. We grew up in Israel, but there we feel increasingly marginalized, suppressed, and persecuted. Many of us have a better time here in Germany.

I was born and raised in Jerusalem, in a liberal Zionist family. As cosmopolitan people with Palestinian friends and a desire for peace, we have often felt marginalized in Jerusalem, even hated.

At 19 I moved to Leipzig, Saxony, to get away from it all and to go to university. In my first years in Leipzig, I became increasingly critical of Israel, deepening my factual and theoretical understanding of the conflict and its history via the Internet. After five years in Germany, I moved back to fight for a better future there.

The struggle left me in shambles. Physical violence had a great part in it, but I am lucky in that the damage from my time there was only psychological (and financial, due to the crushingly high price of living). Starting in 2014 I experienced multiple clashes with right-wingers, and two rough arrests; in that horrible year, it stopped being safe to demonstrate for peace in the liberal bastion of Tel Aviv. Fascist thugs had begun to regularly assault anti-war demonstrations. Me and my comrades tried to establish rudimentary antifascist structures, based among other things on the experience of our German counterparts. We always looked at Germany and its Antifa with jealousy.

It was becoming clear to me that Israeli democracy — limited, flawed, and based in racist exclusion to begin with — was becoming a pseudo-democracy along the lines of Putin’s Russia and Erdogan’s Turkey. Personally, I no longer felt able to keep up the struggle. So ultimately, I made the painful decision to emigrate again. I decided to return to Germany, and German antifascism was in fact among the reasons I bet on this country for my future. I was headed back to Leipzig, a city I always loved, and in which some of my best friends still lived.

“Anti-German” antisemitism

I also knew that it would not be easy here either. Saxony has a high concentration of fascists. Leipzig, its biggest urban center, is itself is an antifascist bastion, but also deeply “anti-German”.1 And for me, an “anti-German” Left, which sweepingly forbids public opposition to Israel and Zionism, is also an antisemitic Left – after all, again, Leftist Jews are necessarily critical of Zionism.

Jewish Leftists like myself, from Israel and elsewhere, simply have no use for uncritical support of the Israeli state, which violently oppresses millions in our names, and has been actively cozying up with antisemitic, revisionist governments such as those in Hungary and Poland.

A Left hostile to any and all questioning of Zionism is ultimately hostile to all Leftist Jews.

I can understand why many German Leftists see Israel as the representative of all Jews: Israel presents itself as such, with the support of practically all big, bourgeois Jewish organizations. Moreover, there are no longer many Jews in this country which one might have to listen to and reckon with — less yet publicly presenting a dissenting view on Israel like the US-based “Jewish Voice for Peace” or “IfNotNow”.

But by identifying Israel with Jews writ large, one abstracts away from the reality of political diversity among Jewish people and the many political disagreements among us. And so, the Germans valiantly fighting “against any and all antisemitism” (gegen jeden Antisemitismus) are neither friends nor political allies to us Israeli Leftists, despite all we have in common otherwise. Instead, with their unconditional support of the Israeli regime, they make themselves allies of the Israeli Right and therefore allies of racists, sexists, and warmongers, friends of homophobes, nationalists, and ardent anti-Leftists.

When I have called out German Leftist support for Israel online, emphasizing my perspective as a Jewish-Israeli Leftist, my critique has been brushed off with a rejection of identity politics – it doesn’t matter that I speak as a Leftist from the country in question, as these Germans already have the true and correct position.

But at the end of the day, this sweeping and unquestioning support for the “Jewish state,” even if its proponents loudly reject identity politics, is itself rooted in identity politics. Within the unique contours of German politics it enables one to avoid appearing antisemitic, without actually touching on the necessary conditions for Jewish life and full Jewish participation in public life in Europe. The anti-German position is only even comprehensible within the discourse of and among Germans. When applied to Israelis, it means we are only allowed to be Zionist nationalists – only allowed to be right-wing.

But exactly like German Leftists, we too want to fight for a better world, and have an urgent need to stop fascism. Just like them, many of us have come to adopt a Leftist, critical position opposed to nationalism among our own people. But the uncritical anti-German position vis-à-vis the Israeli regime, come as it may from a critical dissociation from historical and contemporary German antisemitism, forbids Leftist Jews from critically contending with the discriminatory state of afairs in Israel — at least in public. This anti-German ideology essentially forbids solidarity with all those who struggle within the “Jewish state” for liberty, equality, and peace. That this can be considered a Leftist position is itself remarkable.

The message that arises out of this uniquely German position, intentionally or not, is an ur-antisemitic one: we Jews ought to live “down there” [in Israel], and if we have a bad time and come here, well, we should at least keep our mouths shut about it.

But I do not accept this. I want to take back the place in German society violently taken away from my grandmother and her family (along with most of their lives). I want, despite it all, to live my life here in Germany, because I somehow feel well here. And I will fight for a future without racism and fascism, a future where people of all backgrounds can live well and participate fully in society – both for us here in Europe, and for all those “down there” in my home country.

Dear German Leftists

I hope to find allies who recognize that the struggle against antisemitism and the struggle against other forms of hatred, exploitation, and discrimination, are all based on the same awareness of injustice and the same aspiration for a just world.

Dear German Leftists, allow your Jewish, Israeli, and also Palestinian comrades to speak up!
Learn to understand the complexity, and stop looking for sweeping, simple answers to the conflict!
Struggle against all injustice everywhere, and stand in solidarity with all those who struggle for the same goals!

You can indeed radically criticize the Israeli regime without being antisemitic – and such critique is urgently needed.

Recommended reading

There has been some excellent writing in English on the topic of the “anti-Germans,” which has contributed greatly to my own understanding of the issue. I highly recommend these pieces:

Postscript (in German): on the illusion of a “Zionist left”

In a followup post, yet untranslated, I responded to the question of whether the so-called “Zionist left” in Israel resolves the contradiction between Leftism and Zionism — supposedly meaning some of the Jewish Left would not be excluded by these forces in the German Left. I explain that while there is indeed a left wing within Zionism, it has little in common with Leftism (Socialism in the broadest sense), and the parts of it which seek to actually unite Leftist and Zionist ideology are politically marginal today and share little with contemporary European Leftism. To this followup post (in German) >>

Notes

  1. The anti-German movement, which grew out of the Left, positions itself as unquestioningly pro-Israel, due to an understanding of antisemitism in which any opposition or critique of Israel is suspect if not outright condemned. []