On 23 January Haaretz published an article by Ofri Ilany titled ‘Germany’s pro-Israel Left Has a New Target in the Crosshairs: Jews’. Stefan Frank writes a blistering response.
On 23 January 2020, the English edition of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an article in which Ofri Ilany described an alleged pro-Israel conspiracy in Germany. He asserted that it was led by self-describing communists (‘Antideutsche’/‘anti-Germans’) who had merged with people from ‘the neoliberal economic right’ to wield ‘considerable influence in civil society and on the editorial boards of the most important newspapers in Germany’. According to Ilany, the conspiracy is tremendously powerful: it censors public opinion by attacking ‘anyone who is critical, even a bit, of Israeli policy’ and virtually controls the German media, even though, according to Ilany, it involves only ‘number a few thousand activists at most’ and is a ‘bizarre ideological cult’.
As a freelance journalist who has been monitoring the German media coverage of Israel for 20 years, I was surprised to read how pro-Israel the German media allegedly is – for Ilany’s description is clearly the opposite of reality. To give just a few examples: No German journalist would ever call a Hamas terrorist a ‘terrorist’. That word doesn’t even exist in the Israeli context, although it is otherwise frequently used, especially when terrorist attacks are committed on German or European soil. Jews living outside the 1949 armistice line are always referred to as ‘settlers’ who live in ‘illegal settlements’, even if it’s the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem. They are called an ‘obstacle to peace’, whereas the killing of Jewish civilians or incitement to murder is never described as such.
In the German media, antisemitism among Palestinians doesn’t even seem to exist – only ‘frustration’ and ‘anger’. While the Israeli government is often called ‘ultra-rightwing’ and ‘the most right-wing in Israel’s history’, the Fatah is routinely described as ‘moderate’. No Israeli news source is quoted more frequently in the German media than Ilany’s employer Haaretz, anti-Israel organisations like B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence or Addameer are treated as credible sources, whereas when someone dares to tell the German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle that it’s wrong when it claims that ‘600,000 Jewish settlers’ live in the Gaza Strip, he’s smeared as an ‘Israel lobbyist’. That, in short, is the state of affairs in Germany.
The falsehoods in Ilany’s article start with the headline. It suggests that the article will deal with ‘Germany’s pro-Israel left’. That’s deliberately misleading, given that the article makes it clear that the author never intended to cover ‘Germany’s pro-Israel left’ (which would include pro-Israel MPs in the Social-Democratic Party, the Green Party and, yes, even in Die Linke, the Left Party, as well as numerous student organisations all over Germany, in addition to a great many journalists and private citizens). Rather, Ilany’s focus is on a political fringe group on the radical left, the ‘anti-Germans’.
According to Ilany, the anti-Germans dominate the discourse on Israel ad libitum. Amazingly, I haven’t heard about them for years. And neither has Ilany, apparently, for the anecdotal evidence on which he based his whole essay is more than 10 years old:
I met Thomas, an ardent young German, more than a decade ago at a radical-left demonstration in Berlin protesting the commemorative celebrations of the anniversary of Germany’s reunification. Because the official event was packed and rife with security that year, I preferred to go to the protest rally, which also sounded more interesting. It was billed as an anti-nationalist demonstration warning against the dangers of patriotic discourse about ‘national unity.’ But when I got there, I was surprised to see that many of the protesters were waving Israeli flags. Thomas was one of them. He ran through the street draped in the blue-and-white flag. The presence of the Israeli flag puzzled me – after all, for decades the German state he was demonstrating against had been one of Israel’s biggest supporters. Thomas explained: ‘I am anti-nationalist and I hate every flag, other than the Israeli flag, because Israel is the answer to fascism.’ He then joined the other demonstrators in roaring, ‘Grandpa, Grandma, stop whining – you’re criminals, not victims.’ That was my introduction to the political phenomenon known as Antideutsche – anti-Germans. … Thomas, the enthusiastic demonstrator, has since become an academic and an editor of an influential cultural column in a German paper. (emphasis added)
On the flimsiest of all evidence – an anonymous man he met more than a decade ago at a protest rally – Ilany bases his bold claims that the splinter group (about which he knows next to nothing, as we shall see) ‘wields considerable influence in civil society and on the editorial boards of the most important newspapers in Germany.’ Because he heard Thomas a decade ago, he knows that ‘Antideutsche sympathisers are now the driving force behind journalistic and social-media attacks on institutions in Berlin, notably those dealing with Jewish history and even antisemitism research.’
‘It looks,’ Ilany wrote, ‘like no one is able to stop the madness of the Antideutsche, who are reminiscent of pro-Israel evangelicals or extreme-right groups. Things have reached a pass where, even if the Israeli government were to decide to expel all the Palestinians, or to annex Lebanon – its staunch defenders in the German media might well bar publication of any criticism of the move.’
Last, but not least, Ilany warns the reader that the ‘anti-Germans’ are also guilty of preparing a genocide: ‘At demonstrations and in Facebook posts of this left-wing group, there have even been calls to drop a nuclear bomb on Gaza – that is, calls for genocide.’ Ilany repeats this bizarre claim in a slightly different way at the end of his text when he alleges that ‘under the banner of the struggle against antisemitism, it’s possible to justify murderous actions …’
What is notably absent in Ilany’s article is any credible evidence to back up his lofty claims. He doesn’t bother to quote actual sources. When writing a newspaper article, a journalist would usually quote people – people with a surname whose existence can be verified. To present credible evidence, a journalist either conducts interviews, or he reads and quotes what other authors have written in books, newspaper articles or academic papers. One finds almost nothing of that sort in Ilany’s article. The only ‘sources’ besides ‘Thomas’, the ‘ardent young German’ are anonymous ‘Facebook posts’ and ‘the Hebrew-language Wikipedia’ that Ilany looked up to find a definition of the subject he’s writing about (‘The Hebrew-language Wikipedia terms the Antideutsche an ‘anti-nationalist communist movement’). Note that Ilany consults the Hebrew language Wikipedia when writing about a political discourse that has entirely taken place in German. It seems he always chooses the least reliable of all available sources.
Who are the ‘Antideutsche’?
Now let’s take a look at Ilany’s bogeyman, the ‘Antideutsche’ (‘anti-Germans’). First of all: That subject is so old, as if Ilany had slept for many years. The apex of the term’s popularity was probably at about the turn of the century. Don’t take my word for it, ask Google Trends: It shows that the frequency of the use of the term ‘Antideutsche’ in Germany is in a downtrend since the inception of this Google service in 2004 and is heading towards zero. If we were talking about a stock, the respective company would probably be on the brink of bankruptcy. Writing about ‘anti-Germans’ nowadays is like writing about how Pete Sampras dominates world tennis. Nobody in Germany talks about ‘anti-Germans’ anymore. Nobody except the Haaretz author Rip Van Ilany.
Ilany has apparently not recently talked to a single German who would self-describe as a ‘pro-Israel leftist’ nor read any relevant book or newspaper article. His mystery man of ‘more than a decade ago’ is the best Ilany could come up with. Everything Ilany has found out about the anti-Germans fits into one sentence:
It started in the late 1980s as an exotic offshoot of the Maoist left, whose members denied the very legitimacy of a German nation after Nazism, under the slogan, ‘Germany, never again.’
That’s it – and even this information cannot possibly be true, because that slogan was in opposition to the German reunification in 1990 which nobody in Germany had seen coming until that very year.
So what is an Antideutscher? I asked the well-known journalist and author Alex Feuerherdt, who has recently published a book on the United Nations’ anti-Israel stance, holds regular talks on Israel and antisemitism and, during his career, has written for various leftist magazines and newspapers. He explained: ‘The anti-Germans dealt with the subject of National Socialism, how Germany dealt with it, and, above all, the role of antisemitism. In addition, potential German imperial aspirations and their specific German features were analysed. Some of these people then called themselves anti-German.’
Later, he said, other topics became important, such as the second intifada and 9/11: ‘This led to a split in the left, which was primarily a question of attitudes towards Israel: It was clear to some on the left that they could not support the second intifada – which was the result of the failure of the peace negotiations at Camp David. At that time, a consensus in the left was not possible and is still not today. There was a significant current that said: We support the defence of Israel and criticise German ideology with its central role of antisemitism.’
The defence of Israel and the fight against antisemitism were at the top of the agenda in the early days of the anti-Germans, Feuerherdt said. ‘At that time there was much controversy, divisions, friendships broke over the question of the attitude towards Israel. Today, many young people on the left are pro-Israel who have not had that experience.’ Feuerherdt also mentioned that the term ‘anti-Germans’ was dated. Nowadays, they rather describe themselves as ‘critics of ideology’, he said. Many of their arguments are based on the Frankfurt School of sociology: Adorno and Horkheimer, plus the late American historian and philosopher Moishe Postone. Their main publication is the Bahamas, a high-brow quarterly magazine that is published since 1992. ‘Would they nuclear bomb the Gaza strip?’ I asked Feuerherdt. ‘That’s, of course, nonsense’, he replied.
Anti-Germans would say: We want to set up the world in such a way that all people can live well, and that also applies to the Palestinians. A popular slogan is: ‘Free Gaza from Hamas’. That doesn’t mean dropping a bomb on the Gaza Strip. Whoever claims that is insane. This is as absurd as a nuclear bomb on Tehran. But that the Iranian regime has to be put out of business and regime change brought about, that political Islam has to be fought – also and especially in the Palestinian Territories – that is the consensus among the anti-Germans.
Whether one agrees with this specific philosophical current of the German left or not, they are certainly not the cartoonish characters depicted by Ilany.
Ilany and the Jüdisches Museum Berlin
While ostensibly examining the past, Ilany’s strategy serves current purposes.
By lumping all pro-Israel leftists together with the smeared ‘Antideutsche’, he can treat any leftist who is not an anti-Zionist as either one of those awful ‘Antideutsche’ or led by the ‘Antideutsche’.
And so, In the last part of his article he smears everybody who has criticised the so-called Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum Berlin) – which in recent years had become a stronghold of BDS and anti-Israel propaganda in the German capital, extending a warm welcome to Seyed Ali Moujani, the cultural attaché of the Iranian regime – as ‘Antideutsche’.
You would never know it from reading Ilany, but the criticism of the Museum has been voiced by leading German newspapers and politicians, Berlin’s Jewish community, the Central Council of Jews in Germany (‘Enough is enough’, its head Joseph Schuster said) as well as more than 500 Jewish intellectuals. But in Ilany’s fantasy, the ‘anti-Germans’ are the puppet masters:
Antideutsche sympathisers are now the driving force behind journalistic and social-media attacks on institutions in Berlin, notably those dealing with Jewish history and even antisemitism research. Thus, the Jewish Museum Berlin became the object of a particularly ugly offensive. The institution’s director, Peter Schaefer, a Jewish studies scholar, was vilified by pro-Israel activists to the point where he was compelled to resign last June.
Schäfer wasn’t vilified. He was criticised because, as the Israeli journalist Eldad Beck put it, he had turned the museum into ‘a sort of kosher seal of approval for the Israel criticism industry’:
It is a German museum, funded by the German government and the Berlin municipality. It was officially established with the aim of presenting 2,000 years of rich German-Jewish history, and showing visitors the Jews’ significant contributions to the country. But the museum’s management quickly and knowingly began promoting anti-Israel political and educational activity, which significantly increased in recent years under Schäfer’s leadership. The museum has cooperated with supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and defended BDS by citing the need for freedom of expression.
Where is the proof that Schäfer was ‘vilified’? And why doesn’t Ilany quote it? As usual, he makes far-reaching statements with zero evidence to back them up. Speaking of which: What was the headline’s claim again? It was ‘Germany’s pro-Israel left has a new target in the crosshairs: Jews.’ The last paragraph of Ilany’s article repeats that allegation: ‘It turns out that under the banner of the struggle against antisemitism, it’s possible to justify murderous actions, violate freedom of expression, besmirch Jews, and above all make a mockery of reason.’
And yet, Ilany doesn’t name a single Jew who has been attacked by anybody (let alone by ‘anti-Germans’)! Can he be really so naive as to think that Peter Schäfer was Jewish, just because he was the director of Berlin’s ‘Jewish museum’? Well, Schäfer is not Jewish – unlike a lot of his critics, whom Ilany, yes, besmirches.
Ilany doesn’t mind when a government-sponsored German museum that calls itself ‘Jewish’ courts the vilest antisemites, BDS and the Iranian regime. However, when German and foreign citizens criticize the responsible director of the museum – that’s an ‘ugly offensive’.
Haaretz’s Mockery of Reason
Ilany’s article is void of facts and arguments. But that works to his advantage: It serves his aim much better than if he had done any genuine research, for the article’s single purpose is to smear the German pro-Israel left (or, for that matter, anybody in Germany who’s pro-Israel), a goal that cannot be better achieved than by telling gossip based on hearsay and drawing from dubious anonymous sources on Facebook. Ilany states:
In fact, Israel’s German defenders aren’t truly interested in Israel: The Jewish state appears to be the centre of their world, but their knowledge of Israeli politics and society is usually very limited. What does interest them is cultivating their own self-righteousness, which reaches shocking proportions.
Well, neither does Ilany know anything about Germany and all the stuff he writes about. He cultivates his own self-righteousness by insulting all German friends of Israel: leftists, liberals, conservatives, Christians, atheists – for him, they are all bizarre ‘anti-Germans’. After he has lumped all these different people together, without interviewing any of them, he casts a generalising verdict on all of them: They ‘make a mockery of reason’, he asserts. Has he ever read one of his own articles?
His final insult against Israel’s German friends is to assert that by talking about the Iranian threat on Holocaust Remembrance Day, they were turning ‘Holocaust day into Iran day’. I asked Feuerherdt about this. He said:
Remembrance is a good and important thing. But the consequence of ‘Never again Auschwitz’ must be to stop the Iranian regime and prevent it from producing an atomic bomb, which would then be dropped on Israel. Therefore the consequence is absolutely correct. One asks: What has to follow from German history and Auschwitz? Solidarity with Israel and defending Israel against its enemies.
Ilany will hate Feuerherdt for that. But he should still think about conducting an interview with him. Then, at least, he could provide authentic quotes from a German friend of Israel (and I think Feuerherdt wouldn’t object at all if he’s called a ‘leftist’) who actually exists – instead of making stuff up about a pro-Israel conspiracy that exists only in Ilany’s imagination.