Brief zur Behandlung des Israel-Palästina-Konflikts bei den Protesten gegen den EU-Gipfel in Kopenhagen (Dezember 2002)

Dear comrades of the Nordic Network for an alternative Globalization,

The working group on the demonstrations suggested that the German delegations should express clearly which slogans about the Israel-Palestinian conflict they would not be able to accept at the demonstrations around the EU-summit and why. The debate on this topic and the criticism on connections between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as well as on solidarity with “national liberation movements” has been going on for several years in Germany. By now, it has reached a very sensitive point where every statement is easily placed in a problematical context. We know that the debates are different – and have to be – in the country that has produced the Holocaust. But we also think that nobody is free from anti-Semitism, as well as from racism and sexism, and that even we as left-radical activists should think about our own structures and about how they influence our political work. Of course, we don’t think that we as Germans are more competent in these question, and we know that we can’t tell people what to do. We would like this text to be understood as part of a constructive and respectful debate between comrades.

The problems we have with most of the actions of the Palestine solidarity movement do not mean on the other side that we are not critical against Israel. It is clear that the Israeli government commits crimes against human rights. But this criticism should, in our point of view, always consider some fundamental aspects, such as the difference between Jews and Israelis (which means as a consequence that we would never support any kind of action against synagogues and other Jewish religious and cultural institutions).

For us in Germany it would not be possible to mobilize to a demonstration that expresses politics or uses forms and slogans we consider to be close to anti-Semitism – especially as we demonstrate against the EU-summit, which is a completely different topic. We are very satisfied that the working group on demonstrations could agree that slogans denying Israel the right to exist and comparisons between Israel or its politics on the one hand and the Nazi regime or the Holocaust on the other hand will not be accepted in the bloc at the international demo, because for us it would be impossible to march in a bloc where slogans like this were expressed. We would like to shortly point out again why we find these slogans to be unacceptable.

  • As regards slogans that deny the state of Israel the right to exist, the reason is that Israel was founded as a place of shelter for the Jews suffering from anti-Semitism.
    Anti-Semitism is not a problem of the modern age – its sources lie in the Christian anti-Jewish tradition throughout hundreds of years. Jews were persecuted, marginalized and murdered in the name of the church since the medieval ages. This permanent discrimination culminated in the eliminatory anti-Semitism of German fascism. A Jewish state, in which Jews can find safety, marks a necessity for us, as long as the conditions we live in have not abolished anti-Semitism worldwide. Even if the claims on parts of Palestine after World War II certainly were unjust – in that time Jews already lived in Palestine, who wanted to create a room of sanctuary and safety. Between them were many socialists and communists who wanted to build up a new society. If nowadays the existence of the state Israel is called into question, this means for us the negation of a room of safety for Jewish people.     
    Thus while the status of Jews as victims of anti-Semitism doesn’t give the Israeli government the right to use repressive politics against the Palestinians, it sure does give the state as such the right to exist. This does not mean, of course, that we are necessarily against a “one-state solution”, i.e. a secularized state where both (Jewish, Muslim, Christian etc.) Israelis and Palestinians can live together. But as the situation at the moment is not such that this possibility is foreseeable in the near future, we find it very important to express the demand not only for a secularized Palestinian state, but for an Israeli state as well, as it is not always clear in the political debate whether Israel should have the right to exist.

  • As regards comparisons between the state of Israel and the German Nazi system, or comparisons between the Palestinians and the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, the reason for this is simply that the Holocaust is and must be considered to be unique in history. In fact, even if we would consider Israel to be a “fascist state” (which we don’t), we as Germans would be very hesitant to use this expression simply because fascism, in the sense in which the word is mostly used in German media and theory, means the historical period of National Socialism. 

While we are satisfied that the working group could reach an agreement on these two types of slogans, there still remain some slogans where there were different opinions. As agreed upon in the working group, we would like to explain why we also find “Boycott Israel” and positive references to the Intifada problematic. 

  • As Germans, we would never be able to support a ”Boycott Israel”-campaign. In Germany, or coming from a German group, a boycott like this would still be strongly connected to the slogans of the National Socialists like “Deutsche, kauft nicht bei Juden - Germans, do not buy from Jews”. The situation is naturally different in countries like Denmark, where such slogans were not (or not successfully) used in that historical period and where the resistance saved thousands of Jews during the Nazi occupation. However, there is a reason why a boycott is still problematic in other countries, and that is the fact that in most public debates, there is a tendency to equate “Jewish” with “Israeli” and vice versa. This is the reason why ”Boycott Israel”, even if only intended as a form of criticism of the politics of the Israeli government, might still have similar effects to “Don’t buy from Jews”.

  • Unlike the first Intifada, the Intifada that is going on right now is not fueled by social struggles and led by progressive political groups. As already the name “Al Aksa-Intifada” shows, this movement is made up to a large part of nationalist and islamistic groups like Hamas, the Al-Aksa Brigades or Hizbollah. These groups, their anti-Semitic and anti-emancipatory politics and their actions - including suicide-bombing attacks against civilians - are an essential part of the second Intifada. Any reference to the Intifada nowadays, even if only meant as a reference to social struggles and resistance, is necessarily also a reference these groups and their terrorist actions. Therefore, instead of using slogans such as “Global Intifada” or “The Intifada shows the way”, we would prefer expressing solidarity with those forces on both sides that support our hope for peace and social justice and - in the long run - for an emancipatory revolutionary perspective in the region.

Of course, we do not mean to imply that the groups of the “Nordic PGA” would support slogans like “Don’t buy from Jews” or bombing attacks on civilians, in fact, we are sure that they don’t. However, we as leftist activists should always consider what possible connotations - whether intended or unintended - our slogans might have and what effect they might have on their addressees. Therefore, given the general political situation and history, we find it politically very unwise to use statements in public that can easily be (mis-)interpreted in a problematic way, as we think the above slogans do.  

Another issue that is important to us is the critique of anti-capitalist slogans that solely focus on the financial institutions of the capitalist system.

Under the conditions of a capitalistically constituted world, anti-Semitism is a permanently reproduced ideology. In the western world, the sphere of circulation was and is often understood as controlled by the Jews, in contrary to a productive society or nation. In fact, while Jews in history often were officially granted citizenship and abstract civil rights, in most cases they did not really became part of the cultural and social life which constituted national collectives. They remained strangers in their own countries. Nearly as “strange” and abstract as the sphere of circulation appeared. These aspects, combined with a traditional form of anti-Semitism, produced a new modern anti-Semitism, which sees in the Jews a personification of the elements of the sphere of circulation that has no concrete form. Dissatisfaction about the circumstances in capitalism often culminates in criticism and actions against the symbols and institutions of the financial world, which seems to try to enrich itself from the work of other nations. This implies that the financial system, seen as the Jewish community, has an own and common interest. Such criticism, which only includes the financial system and not the whole economic system of capitalism, breeds a potential of anti-Semitism in itself, especially at the point when this criticism is searching for a concrete personification for direct action. So it comes to the situation that still nowadays Jewish people and institutions are victims of attacks that are aimed against them because they are seen as a symbol for an unsocial, inhuman and only profit-oriented financial system. 

We very much hope that this paper can strike up a constructive discussion on these issues. 

Solidariske Hilsner,

Avanti - Projekt undogmatische Linke
Antifaschistische Aktion Berlin
Autonome Antifa (M), Göttingen