For a liberal, voting for McCain is not without contradictions – but it is necessary.
On Germany, anti-Semitism, Israel, Iran and the new American Presidency
The art of the intellectual is to have his/her finger on the pulse of the times, in terms of both politics and social theory. Peter Viereck (1916-2006), almost forgotten today even in the USA, was such a splendid artist. In 1940, in light of Nazi Germany and World War II, he wrote in a brilliant article: “But I am a conservative”, which became a beacon for conservatives in America, so to speak. In doing so, he decidedly turned against his own father, Sylvester Viereck, an enthusiastic Nazi who was the first foreign journalist to interview Hitler in the early 1920s. Even more, it was a wake-up call in America, against the “liberals” and “leftists” who praised the Hitler-Stalin Pact as well as the USSR as a bulwark against war.
To this day, many think that anti-Zionism is harmless and anti-Semitism more evil, but that little or nothing connects the two. That is incorrect. Especially after Auschwitz, every form of anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic. I will explain this in the following.
After Auschwitz, it is no longer readily possible to stigmatize Jews as Jews. Usually, the term “Zionist” is used as code. That was or is easy to observe in the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, but also in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and even in Latin America and Africa. In the West, Zionism and Israel became the concept of the enemy, especially for the (radical) Left, in particular after the Six-Day War in 1967 (but, as will be shown, even much earlier). “Liberals” or leftists such as Noam Chomsky, Tony Judt, Giorgio Agamben or Judith Butler are perfectly happy to be anti-Zionist and consider themselves far from propagating anti-Semitic sentiments. But that is exactly what they do. It is stated that Israel is a state (what a crime!), even a brutal nation-state and a priori racist and exclusive, just like all nation-states. It is almost amusing that many theoreticians and activists obsessively select no other country but Israel to deconstruct the principle of the nation-state. Where are all the demonstrations against Saudi Arabia as a nation-state or against North Korea, or against Latvia, Denmark, Finland, South Africa, Kenya, Sudan, Venezuela or Yemen? All of them “brutal nation-states“ … But nobody fundamentally questions their existence. Israel, on the other hand, is questioned.
Not a single country in the world was founded without violence. Not a single country in the world is non-exclusive. So what? Why the focus on Israel? Why attack precisely the only Jewish state and not the dozens of Arabic, even Muslim ones, Iran to be precise, or other problematic regimes such as the ones in North Korea or China?
The relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism as well as Jewish self-hatred was made a topic of discussion as early as 1976 in the most important German-language journal on Jews and anti-Semitism, Tribüne. And now things become truly interesting. Rudolf Pfisterer (Wider den Mythus von der Coexistenz, in: Tribüne, vol. 15, issue 59, 1976, pp. 6988-6997, here 6988f.) analyzes the situation for Jews in Arabic and Muslim countries especially in the period before 1933 and shows that anti-Zionism is much more than Israel-bashing, it is nothing less than hatred of Jews:
“Concerning the Arabs, this goes hand in hand with the differentiation between Jews and Zionists; it is assumed that the Arabs, being Semites, cannot be anti-Semites, and that for this reason, anti-Semitism on the part of the Arabs, alleged time and again, is to be considered pure nonsense and malicious slander. Besides the fact that the differentiation – advanced again and again for propagandistic reasons – between Jews, who are still acceptable, and Zionists, who are to be opposed, is a characteristic of any form of anti-Semitism, this statement must be rejected clearly for other reasons as well. Only recently (February 23, 1975), the following was elaborated in a paper published in Beirut in connection with the economic pressure from the Arabic side: ‘For the Zionists, even if they are called Rothschild, this is an occasion to stir up public opinion in order to exploit the situation to their benefit. (…)’ Apparently, the author of this article has never heard of the fact that anti-Semitism has never been directed against the Semites in general, but only against the Jews in particular, and that therefore, no people is a priori immune against such hatred. Not even the Jews! In this case, it is called Jewish self-hatred which can be understood only because its – few – exponents seem to be attempting to distance themselves from the fate of the Jews, a fate imbued with suffering. Most recently, highly-talented Simone Weil from France, is a particularly shocking example. In 1934 – Hitler had already been in power for a year – she wrote, ‘Personally, I am an anti-Semite.’ What did she mean? Just a brief reference from the copious material: ‘Israel. Everything is sullied and terrible, completely intentionally, ever since Abraham (with the exception of some of the prophets). One must clearly point it out: Caution! This is where evil lies!’
The fact that Jews are without differentiation considered ominous must not distract us from the fact that any division of the Jews – attempted time and again – into still-acceptable representatives of this group and others already worthy of hatred is itself the decisive step on the path whose slippery slope is hatred of all Jews without exception. Such a differentiation has never been sustained in the event of pogroms, actions of extermination or wars. Jewish writer Elie Wiesel emphasizes this very clearly, ‘They tell us: it is not about the Jews, but about Israel; one is not against the Jews, but against the Zionists. And this is nothing new. People try to divide us in order to weaken us. In order to exacerbate our abandonment, they distort the image that we have of us and ours. They try to bring us in opposition to ourselves after having brought us in opposition to the world. Recently, they told the Jews in Germany: We have nothing against you; we just want to take steps against the Jews in Poland. Then they told the Jews in France: Fear not; only the Jews from Germany are in danger. And in Hungary, they reassured the Jews: Calm down! This isn’t about you, but about your brethren elsewhere. Yes, that was wrong; we know that now. It was about all of us, every time, and everywhere. Jewish history proves this to us: when they are after one community, everyone is in danger … Whoever attacks Israel is attacking the entire Jewish people.’ «
What must it mean for Elie Wiesel when he stands before us here in New York City on September 22, 2008, more than 30 years after these words of his regarding anti-Zionism, speaking at the major anti-Iran rally and warning emphatically of an anti-Semitic state like Iran that aims to destroy Israel and kill Jews? How endlessly terrible must it be for an old man such as Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust, to have to experience such anti-Jewish attacks? A speech of an anti-Semite such as Ahmadinejad, boycotted by no country except for Israel and the USA expressly for the reason that they did not want to listen to this Jew-hater? (By the way: by no means are the USA compelled to grant an agitator such as the Iranian president a visa. I agree on this issue not only with the Canadian colleagues who also consider the American political culture of “free speech” grotesque, ahistorical, perfidious and simply stupid and incredible; by the way, this includes the strong police protection for approximately 35 anti-Semitic Jews in their traditional black garb who agitated against Israel and praised Iran for its advocacy in favor of Judaism and against Israel, etc.)
After reading lucid, critical analysis like the article in Tribüne in 1976, one cannot help but be amazed and in despair. Psychoanalytically, the phenomenon can be localized precisely: After Auschwitz, if Germans want to be proud to be German and attain a stable identity – be it leftist, rightist, liberal or mainstream, they must derealize the unprecedented crimes and, in a necessary second step, project the feelings of guilt. This reversal of perpetrator and victim has been analyzed repeatedly, even if, aside from critical theoreticians, academic studies of anti-Semitism have preferred to give the subject a wide berth. After Auschwitz, being openly anti-Jewish has been taboo. So what can people to do indulge in this popular, necessary sentiment nonetheless? Anti-Semitism scholars Charles Patterson and Walter Laqueur see clear parallelisms of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. In 1982, Patterson wrote,
»Soviet spokesmen (like their Arab counterparts) claim that they are not anti-Semitic, rather ‘anti-Zionist.’ However, like much anti-Zionism elsewhere in the world, Soviet anti-Zionism – in newspaper articles and cartoons – is accompanied by such bitter hatred of Jews that is indistinguishable from anti-Semitism. Soviet propaganda, which continually warns the Russian people against the ‘Zionist world conspiracy’ is not very different in tone or content from that earlier product of Russian fear and fantasy – Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” (Charles Patterson (1982): Anti-Semitism: The Road to the Holocaust and Beyond, New York: Waler and Company, p. 112.)
Walter Laqueur takes a very similar view in 2006, now in light of the important debates about new anti-Semitism, which, however, make light of anti-Semitism or are often meaningless, because they remain without consequences:
»In the light of history, the argument that anti-Zionism is different from antisemitism is not very convincing. No one disputes that in the late Stalinist period anti-Zionism was merely a synonym for antisemitism. The same is true today for the extreme right which, for legal or political reasons, will opt for anti-Zionist rather than openly anti-Jewish slogans. It has been noted that in the Muslim and particularly the Arab world, the fine distinctions between Jews and Zionists hardly ever existed and are now less than ever in appearance. However, even if we ignore both history and the situation in other parts of the world and limit the discussion to Western left-wing anti-Zionism, the issues are not clear-cut.« (Walter Laqueur (2006): The Changing Face Of Antisemitism. From ancient times to the Present Day, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 7).
So, regarding the misjudgment of anti-Zionism, not only has nothing changed for the better since 1976, the situation has rather gotten worse, particularly against the background that in 1976, leftist German Jew-haters of the Revolutionäre Zellen (Revolutionary Cells) such as Wilfried Böse separated out Jews from non-Jews, the first anti-Semitic selection since Auschwitz, but nobody could then imagine a regional power such as current-day Iran reaching for nuclear weapons.
With my own European background, of course I have a different perspective on events in the USA. It is a kind of “experiment in cultural anthropology” which may provide both sides with new insights. As universalist the criticism of anti-Zionist anti-Semitism must be, the political culture of every single country, in this case that of the USA, must be analyzed in its own specificity.
And who had rallied in New York City on the day before Ahmadinejad’s agitation against the Zionists to protest against this incredible, anti-Semitic, repulsive speech, not to be outdone in infamy and perfidiousness – more on this below – before the United Nations General Assembly?
Jewish groups had called on the public to attend a rally, and approximately 6,000 to 10,000 people had turned out! Anyone who is familiar with the actions and demonstrations in Leipzig, Hamburg, Cologne, Frankfurt am Main or Berlin in solidarity with Israel will be amazed. In any case, I was quite amazed: a lot of people, and all of them against Iran, Ahmadinejad and anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism. Most of them uncompromising! Wow. Impressive. And what kind of people! Self-confident, strong women such as Zoe, in her late 40s, with a sign proclaiming that “a world without Ahmadinejad” would simply be better and safer, or Holocaust survivors who find it so unbearable that they still have to combat anti-Semitism and experience that the world – in this case, the UN – has learned nothing, absolutely nothing from history. Or the dozens of Canadian students with red t-shirts and pro-Israel placards proclaiming that “Israel is here to stay,” or women and men wearing wonderful blue-and-white “Baltimore Zionist District” t-shirts, chic women with blue-and-white knee socks, more placards that read “Zero Tolerance for Islamofascists – Ban Iran!” and many more.
What was that old Ramones song, the founders of punk rock from Queens? “We need change and we need it fast!” And Johnny Ramone would surely have voted for McCain this time, since he used to prefer the Republicans, too. Punk rock for Israel. Or conservative punk, why not?
Under a Bill Clinton, the negotiators would presumably just be putting on water for tea for a round of talks with Al-Qaeda’s “troublemakers.” Courage is something else. Courage would be continuing to demand tolerance for minorities without thinking for even a millisecond of giving the intolerant space or an audience. And taking a global perspective, political Islam is currently the most intolerant movement. It is infinitely difficult for many liberals and leftists with allegedly “anti-racist” motivations, and people who believe that includes them, to recognize this. Anyone who supported anti-racist work in Germany for years knows what it means to be a refugee or migrant in that country. Harassment, looks of disgust on the part of the white majority and attacks by Nazis. All that still exists. But is has nothing to do with an affinity for Islam. This affinity is rather to be found, as oblique as it may be, in the neo-national-socialist party NationalDemocraticParty (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, NPD), the activist network attac, peace coalitions and of course in the German party „the Left.”
What many well-meaning Americans fail to understand is the following: there is no talking with madmen like Ahmadinejad. Every dialogue strengthens them, since they consider it a weakness for others to take them seriously. What happened in the Gaza Strip? Sharon – nobody but Sharon! – was courageous enough to withdraw all Israeli settlements there, which brought him a lot of criticism in Israel. The Palestinians did not interpret this act as a sign of peace, but as a weakness. Since then, they have been launching all the more rockets to Israel (up until the fragile ceasefire).
Finally, courage would mean thinking dialectically: voting Republican because they are the only ones who are taking the regime in Tehran, which aims to kill Jews, seriously and are warning of a “second Holocaust.” Neither Obama in his TV debates with McCain nor his running mate Joe Biden have explicitly warned of a second Holocaust. On the other hand, often-ridiculed Sarah Palin has pointed out the enormous danger of a “second Holocaust.” In concrete terms, that would mean fighting radically against the Christian fundamentalist worldview of a Sarah Palin without forgetting the fact that even so, she has used strong words in naming the danger posed by Iran and has taken a clear position on the side of Israel (even if that always remains problematic coming from fundamentalist Christians …). Biden preferred to talk about Pakistan which already has nuclear weapons, after all, or about Darfur (in this context, even he uses the word “Holocaust.”) Both very important topics, who would argue with that. But where are the extermination threats towards Israel by Pakistani presidents or prime ministers? Is it simply grotesque how the Democrats have been playing down the Iranian threat and arguing for direct talks with the mullahs – remember Barack Obama’s Berlin speech, oscillating between the embarrassing and the absurd, in which he babbled about the walls which were allegedly being built up ubiquitously and which needed to be overcome, as if we had been standing there in the summer of 1989, or even in 1987, when Reagan spoke in Berlin. In any case, the old-school anti-totalitarianism of an Obama is of no help when combating fascism from Iran, it even hinders both the successful conduct of the Iraq War and the necessary – diplomatic, economic, military or whatever – intervention in Iran.
Thinking dialectically means voting for McCain, without permitting Christians to forbid one from thinking polemically. Thinking dialectically means being liberal and voting Republican. Finally, thinking dialectically means being right-wing or conservative, being anti-Fascist, as in 1939, in Peter Viereck’s day. However, this calculation holds only in the USA, and for this reason, it would be a dangerous mistake to consider the very specific ingredients of American political culture to be effective or able to be activated in Europe, or even in Germany, too. No, they are not. The New Right, in particular the most important bellwether of the extreme right in Germany, Henning Eichberg, well-nigh hate Peter Viereck, who disparaged anti-Jewish “father of gymnastics” Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (who, by the way, was honored particularly in the GDR; one of East Berlin’s most popular sports venues is named after him, not to mention the Jahn memorial in the Hasenheide park in West Berlin).
It could also be the case that neither the Obama nor the McCain camps support Israel in the struggle against terrorism and for peace, simply because today’s priorities are different. That would be disastrous, but definitely possible. In any case, the evidence points towards the McCain camp, and especially its activists on the streets, supporting Israel very strongly and clearly recognizing the danger of a second Holocaust.
So, what should the line of strategy be, to use a term that doesn’t exactly beg for peace? Firstly, the line of strategy must be one, since we have been at war since 9/11. Secondly, Eli Wiesel has put it simply, “Ahmadinejad must be isolated and brought to justice.” “He is not Hitler, but he wishes to follow Hitler.”
The UN provides the stage, the world looks on, the German press does not report on the pro-Israel rallies in New York City. Business as usual. Time for change.
This year, commemorating the November 9, 1938 night of pogroms is an important date in Germany. But what do we see? Those who commemorate the terrible Nazi period are often the same people who harbor sentiments against Jews today. It is a particularly repugnant hypocrisy to commemorate the dead Jews of the Holocaust while leaving the Jewish state to fend for itself, while even harboring and spreading sentiment against Zionists. In 2003, I put it like this: “Germans like only dead Jews, Islamists don’t like any at all” …
As early as 1976, intellectual Jean Améry, a Shoah survivor, sadly noted what was happening. Améry analyzes,
“The anti-Semitism that faces us today does not present itself as such. On the contrary: if we want to hold it responsible, it disavows itself. (…) What does the new anti-Semite say? Something overly simple and plausible at first glance: he is not the person he is portrayed to be, in other words, he is not an anti-Semite, but an anti-Zionist! (…) After all – and now I return to the actual topic of these deliberations – anti-Zionism is nothing but the current form of the age-old, apparently ineradicable, entirely irrational hatred of Jews. (…) Since the founding of the State of Israel, Jews have had a place of virtual asylum in case of need. (…) What matters to them is the possibility, the virtually of finding a home: anyone who has ever wandered the world without a home will be able to understand this.– Now, can we not demand of young leftists, of all people, most of whom are fairly well-educated sociologically and psychologically, that they show understanding for the situation of a community which has been humiliated for two millennia? Shouldn’t they of all people, the majority of whom have an academic background and some knowledge of history, understand that in principle, the solution of the Palestinian question is merely a technical one, while if the Jewish state, surrounded as it is by a sea of hatred, were to perish, it would leave its population no inheritance but the butcher’s knife of its opponents, already educated to murder? I have the irrefutable, even if not provable sense that the leftist anti-Zionist anti-Semites do intuit all this, but that they repress it. In the act of repression, which ends with the indifference towards the catastrophic fate of Jews, things come full circle to time-honored Philistine anti-Semitism: merely stupid when times are calm, but when they are not, it paves the way for those bestialities with which we are familiar. It is nothing less than tragic that in this case, the left is doing the business of its adversaries, partly out of thoughtlessness and phraseological pigheadedness, but also partly, I believe, out of a general European anti-Semitic tradition that has not been stamped out. The old anti-Semitism or “Philistine anti-Semitism,” as I call it, is less dangerous if it is present all alone and meager than the new type which serves it well and comes along with historical-moralistic pathos. What is happening here is indeed dialectics: it is time that the professional dialecticians finally understood this and came to their senses, out of which a human sentiment could spring.“ (Jean Améry (1976): Der neue Antisemitismus [New anti-Semitism], in Tribüne, loc. cit., pp. 7010-7014, quotations from pp. 7010, 7012 and 7014).
Today, these words by Jean Améry from 1976 are as current as ever. Their analytic power is unsurpassed and should make “liberals” and “leftists” think, even in America. Back to the anti-Iran rally in New York City: Irvin Cotler from Canada learned the lessons of history: Ahmadinejad should be “accused” before the UN for his repeated human rights violations, in particular also for “demonizing the other,” one of the most abominable characteristics of anti-Semitism even before Auschwitz. Cotler stated very clearly that “the Holocaust began with words,” and we who live today have a “responsibility to prevent” a second annihilation of the Jews. The “path to genocide” in any case has already begun, therefore: “No to a nuclear Iran. Yes to stop Iran!” Then Nathan Sharansky from Israel spoke, stirring as always, and to thunderous applause, he said, “This is the fight we will win!!!” Dalia Itzik, speaker of the Israeli Knesset, struck a sadder note, underlining how terrible it is that “the nightmare is back” 60 years after the establishment of the State of Israel; “I see the gas chambers” when thinking with dread about Iran’s threats against Israel. Itzik advocated emphatically for people to take “madmen” such as Ahmadinejad seriously and by their word.
The desperation on the part of many younger and older participants of the rally was palpable, even if it was indeed a “very unifying event,” as one of the organizers said at the end. The rally’s power was clearly audible, the chorus of thousands of voices “Stop Iran now,” “Stop Iran now” impressive.
All in all, such a demonstration was a wonderful sign of solidarity with Israel. “We stand with you,” “You are not alone,” “Block the bomb,” naturally also “Christians united for Israel,” “Save Israel,” “United against the Iranian threat,” and, especially good and important: “Silence is Compliance,” or “From Hitler to Iran – the Holocaust continues” …
Regarding the Iranian city Buschehr and the nuclear facilities located there, one slogan may still be little-known, but it has high symbolic value and could anticipate reality; some young Jews and also older, militant ones chanted it noisily: “Bomb Buschehr.” If anyone can respond more quickly and in a different way, but just as effectively to the mullah-fascists‘ nuclear program whose goal is to annihilate Israel, please come forward.
Finally, it is vital to take the speech delivered by Iran’s President Ahmadinejad to the 63rd General Assembly of the United Nations in New York City on September 23, 2008, the day after our rally, seriously and literally. He does not mention the State of Israel even once. “Zionists” are his enemies when he defames them as “Zionist murderers,” when he sees Russia’s aggression in Georgia as actually stemming from NATO and the “Zionists” behind it, and of course, the “Zionists” are accused of their imagined role as “dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making centers of some European countries and the US”, finally he agitates against a “Zionist network” and a “Zionist regime.” To Ahmadinejad as already for the Germans during National Socialism – here, the comparison obviously holds – Jews are Zionists, and vice versa. Every Jew a Zionist = enemy, everywhere.
That makes Iran’s attacks against Israel so typical: Israel stands for Jewry in total; however, Iran’s anti-Semitism is fueled not only by repression of memory and Holocaust denial, derealization and projection of guilt; time-honored primary patterns of hatred of Jews such as the “Jewish world conspiracy,” “the Jewish capitalist” and the small, but influential group of “the Jews” in general can be discerned as well. For this reason, this speech must be taken seriously and recognized as an icon for the delusional ideology which aims to kill Jews, promoted by present-day Iran, which is also echoed by other regimes and movements. Anti-Zionism is the core of Ahmadinejad’s ideology, and – ever since Auschwitz, which he does not acknowledge – this anti-Zionism has only been code for “the Jew”!
Not only against this background to all the ever so differentiated differentiations between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism burst asunder. The anti-Semitism of the 21st century is first and foremost anti-Zionist, and with the clearest of consciences and with the European mainstream in its wake. Mullah-fascism has been allowed to show its ugly face again in New York City, and the world looks on, applauds, laughs, smiles, grins or plays it down.
If every European capital could offer only half as large a rally as New York’s of possibly 10,000, the call to „Stop Iran now“ would be asserted much more forcefully.
After all, this is about guarding Israel’s back when the country seems to be on its own.
Anti-Zionism, however, the global anti-Semitism of the 21st century, the anti-Semitism “with a clear conscience,” the anti-Semitism with the eternal smile on its lips, must be fought for what it is: hatred of Jews.