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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Being Leftist and Anti-Semitic in Germany

Filed under: Anti-Semitism, Europe and Israel
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

  • After the reunification of Germany, 1989 surveys indicated that there was much more anti-Semitism in West Germany than in East Germany. This was a fallacy arising from the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Since then, Eastern German “anti-Zionism” has merged with Western German “anti-Semitism” into a homogeneous whole.

  • Since 2000, the German Left has voiced its solidarity and support for the Palestinians and for suicide bombers. This is an extension of the New Left anti-Zionism of the 1960s, with the same structural motifs and expressions.

  • There is also a major trend in the German Left of Nazifying and demonizing Israel, opening the door to proclaiming Jews to be the source of the world’s evils.


In October 2004, the Dutch writer and filmmaker Leon de Winter said in an interview to the German liberal newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung: “The old poison of anti-Semitism is very much alive…. I will remain a stranger on this continent…. I fear that in Europe something will once more be done against the Jews.”1


Common Ground between Right and Left

Today’s German anti-Semitism is deeply connected to the Nazi period and the wish to expunge guilt and responsibility for dealing with it. Right-wing extremism, neo-Nazism, and extreme conservatism seem “naturally” linked to denial or minimalization of the Holocaust, or calling for a new one. As elsewhere in Europe, a relatively new “brotherhood” has emerged in Germany between the extreme Right and fundamentalist Islam.

Anti-Zionism, however – which is not mere criticism of Israeli policies, but the denial of the Jewish people’s right to live in their own state – also links leftists and rightists. Since the Six Day War of 1967, both the extreme and the mainstream Left in Europe have shown strong anti-Zionist tendencies, not always distinguishable from anti-Semitism. Although leftist anti-Zionism seemed to decline after the fall of Communism in 1990, it was reanimated by the Second Intifada and the antiglobalization movement, which is today a main source of leftist anti-Semitism.

In a May 2002 survey in the weekly magazine Der Spiegel, 25% agreed that “what the state of Israel does to the Palestinians is no different than what the Nazis did during the Third Reich to the Jews.”2 A new scholarly book analyzes how deeply anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are rooted in German society.3 Since 1989, united Germany seems to stand on two main pillars: a strong anti-American and anti-Israeli attitude.


The Postwar, Pre-1967 Roots

Anti-Semitism was never exclusive to the Right; Communism, for its part, often vilified Jews as capitalists. Communism in East Germany, as elsewhere, denied the right to practice the Jewish religion and sought to eradicate religion in general, including Judaism. East Germany’s anti-Semitic policies first became evident in January 1953 when the Stasi – the state security service – confiscated documents of the Jewish communities, searched the homes of Jewish leaders, and spoke of a “Zionist conspiracy.” After the Six Day War, East Germany officially adopted an anti-Zionist stance. However, no serious data on East German anti-Semitism is available before the reunification in 1989.

Although West German left-wing anti-Semitism also increased steadily after the Six Day War, before then the West German Left supported Israel generally, and specifically the Wiedergutmachung (Reparations Agreement of 1953) and the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1965. This friendliness was, however, based on an idealization of Israel, kibbutzim, and pioneering and was not on genuinely firm ground.4 Opposition to the conservative government of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer also played a role in this left-wing philo-Semitism.

During the 1960s, the West German Left divided into a more “conservative” wing and a New Left trend. Whereas Chancellor Willy Brandt was said to be a true and unwavering friend of Israel,5 many young leftists took radical positions and opposed Brandt’s “establishment” Social Democratic Party. In 1966 they founded the Nonparliamentary Opposition (APO), a popular movement that sought to “renew” German politics from the outside. Many of its members and supporters later showed sympathy for the RAF, a leftist terrorist movement that had ties to the PLO and whose cadres trained in terrorist camps in Lebanon.


Student Radicalization

During the Six Day War, the New Left definitively transformed its hitherto moderate pro-Arab positions into full support for Arab states and the Palestinians, and its fragile pro-Israeli attitudes dissolved into anti-Semitic slogans thinly disguised as “anti-imperialist” criticism of a “fascist state.”

After 1967, however, not only the radicals but large parts of the German Left turned their backs on Israel. This went hand in hand with protests against the Vietnam War, against the conservative mainstream in Adenauer’s Germany and afterward the “Great Coalition” that was headed from 1966 by Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger, a former member of the Nazi Party.6 The New Left also idealized Communist China and Ho Chi Minh, despite their involvement in mass murder against their own people.7

Well-known intellectuals who were more moderate leftists tried to dissuade the New Left from its extreme positions. Ernst Bloch, Jean Amery, Herbert Marcuse, Iring Fetscher, and Jean-Paul Sartre argued with the radicals and discouraged blind solidarity with the PLO, as opposed to legitimate criticism of Israeli policies. They warned that notions of Israel’s annihilation were intolerable and linked to National Socialist ideology. However, they were not heeded by the radicals.8


A Friend of Israel, a Foe of Leftists

The publisher Axel Caesar Springer, whose press group included the tabloid daily BILD and the daily Die Welt, as well as many other newspapers and journals, was, according to the Israeli diplomat Asher Ben-Natan, a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people:

He expressed opinions I haven’t often heard in Germany…. As the demands mounted to draw a “bottom line” under the German past, Springer thought there could never be Wiedergutmachung for the crimes Germans had committed against the Jews. He himself neither suppressed nor forgot the past and did not expect the Jewish people to forgive what had happened….Neither his moral values nor historical insights nor close relations with Jews and Israel involved benefit for him. It came from honest belief….During our conversations he never disguised his hatred for every kind of totalitarian dictatorship, including Communism….After the Six Day War Springer promulgated four guidelines for his employees and his newspapers that are still binding for the journalists and editors working for Springer publications. One was “Fostering reconciliation between Jews and Germany and supporting Israel’s right to exist.”9

Springer was, however, a major target of the New Left, one reason being that he and his newspapers were clearly pro-Israeli and condemned the anti-Israeli stream in the New Left. Many in this movement decided: “If Springer is pro-Israeli, we have to be against the state of Israel.”10

In 1969, on the date marking Kristallnacht, an anarchist-leftist group painted graffiti on Jewish memorials saying “Shalom and Napalm” or “El Fatah.” A firebomb was also placed in the Jewish community center in Berlin. The leftist groups’ common perception was: “Jews who were expelled by fascism developed themselves into fascists, who in collaboration with American capitalism want to annihilate the Palestinian people.”11


Sharing the Ideology of Terrorism

For the New Left, nothing could discredit anti-Zionism. Even after Israeli athletes were taken hostage and murdered during the Munich Olympic Games in 1972, the leftists strengthened their solidarity with the Palestinian terror organizations.

West German New Leftists participated in the 1976 hijacking of an Air France plane to Entebbe, Uganda, where Jewish and Israeli passengers were singled out from the others by a German terrorist. The German Left ignored the hijacking and subsequent rescue operation by Israeli forces, and the German Communist Party in West Germany published a solidarity letter addressed to Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

In 1982, after Israeli forces invaded Lebanon and the massacres in Sabra and Shatila were publicized, the whole German Left, moderate and radical, united for the first time in comparing Israel with the Third Reich and the Nazis. Thus, 1982 saw the launching of a new demonization, throughout the German public, of Israel and Jews in which they were frequently equated with Nazis.

The pathological need to compare Israel and Nazi Germany seems linked to the wish to discard the guilt and responsibility for the Holocaust. Also in 1982, the leftist newspaper taz called the Palestinians “the new Jews” and accused Israel of a “reverse Holocaust” in seeking to carry out the “final solution of the Palestinian question.”12


The Green Party and the Peace Movement

After 1982, and parallel to the peace movement’s agitation against U.S. influence and the deployment of missiles in Germany, the Green Party was founded. In those days both the peace movement and the Green Party were influenced by nationalistic, anti-American, “anti-imperialist,” and also “blood and soil” motifs taken more or less consciously from Nazi ideology.

Over the years, the Green Party evolved into a liberal, moderate leftist party. Today its leaders mostly hold pro-Israeli views, while supporting a Palestinian state as well, and fight anti-Semitism sincerely. However, many party members, particularly young ones, have more leftist, pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist attitudes.

As for the German peace movement, it has not changed substantially since 1982, maintaining its anti-American and anti-Israeli emphasis. Although receding in importance after the fall of the Communist bloc, it came back with renewed force in 2002 as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were being planned. Millions of Germans, like their counterparts in other European countries, rallied in the streets to denounce the United States, Israel, and other governments that supported the war on terror.


An Evolving Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the German reunification, initial surveys in 1989 revealed a huge gap in anti-Semitic attitudes between East and West Germany.13 This, however, was a distortion fostered by a superficial distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Since it has become clear that East German “anti-Zionism” merged quickly with West German “anti-Semitism” into a homogeneous whole.14 In the Cold War era, readers of East German newspapers and also Western Communist publications were accustomed to “criticisms” of Israeli policies that used anti-Semitic caricatures and clichés. Protests by Jewish community leaders in East Berlin never appeared in public.15

The German Left stridently opposed the First Gulf War in 1991, and expressed strong sympathy for the Iraqi victims of coalition bombings. When Palestinians rejoiced as Iraqi missiles hit Israel, however, some Germans joined in their glee and attributed these attacks to “Israeli policies,”16 meaning “the Jews” are to blame when they are persecuted.

Up to 2000, however, both New Left and mainstream anti-Zionist attitudes differentiated between Israel and the Jews who lived in Germany – although, as mentioned, there were cases of anti-Jewish graffiti and attacks on Jewish memorials and institutions. Only rarely was the Jewish community targeted by hostile actions with an Israeli focus. One could be anti-Zionist yet show high sympathy for the Jews in Germany based on a vague empathy related to the Holocaust.

But since 2000 the Jewish community is no longer safe and has been targeted by anti-Israeli activity, from graffiti and hate mail to demonstrations against the war in Iraq that ended up facing Jewish-community buildings or even a memorial like the Alte Synagogue in Essen. Jews in Germany are somehow held as hostages for Israeli policies, no matter what their own views.

Leftist anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist clichés have also become the common, acceptable property of conservatives, liberals, as well as leftists in Germany since 2000, and are well evident in the German media.17 The trend intensified after the September 11 attack in the United States, which gave rise to new anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that blamed the event on the Mossad. Many books developing such theories were published in Germany, and they were all bestsellers.18 Another outlet for such sentiments was the anti-war demonstrations of 2002, as well as anti-globalization gatherings.

With the Second Intifada, the Left and many other groups rediscovered or discovered their solidarity with the Palestinians – including the suicide bombers. This is an extension of the New Left anti-Zionism of the 1960s, with basically the same structural motifs and expressions. Given the decline of Communism there is less of an “anti-imperialist” emphasis, but the trend of Nazifying and demonizing Israel has grown dramatically in Germany as in Europe generally.


Nazifying Israel, How to Get Rid of the Holocaust

In today’s Germany, leftists who Nazify Israel and characterize it as the world’s most evil country have opened the door to proclaiming Jews to be evil people in general. Since Nazis represent the pinnacle of evil in leftist ideology, those who allegedly resemble them and perpetrate Holocaust-like actions are seen as being on the same moral level.

In 2002, Freie Sender Kombinat, a radio station in Hamburg run by students and leftist groups, interviewed a Palestinian named Ahmed who described Israelis as “the Nazis of today,” and compared the Holocaust to the Palestinian history “under the Zionists.” He appealed to Germany to end the Wiedergutmachung and claimed that about ten billion Marks had been paid for each Israeli citizen. The presenters did not question him or even correct the absurd figure.

In October 2001, the far-Left academic journal Contraste published an article by the sociologist Christian Siegrist that claimed: “there are too many Jews in American politics. I think it is legitimate if they are overrepresented in science, this is somehow traditional, but it is not good if American Jews are involved in Middle Eastern politics.” He also asserted: “The atrocities against the Palestinian people are a humiliation for the whole Arab world…. They have suffered worse than what the people in New York experienced on that one day.”19

On 28 September 2002, the Palestine Committee in Stuttgart held a symposium. No protest was heard as the following statements were made:

  • We have to support the Palestinians unconditionally. This means: Solidarity with suicide bombers.

  • A two-state solution is no solution for Palestine. In the end the reactionary state of Israel and Sharon must fall. Israel must be eliminated.

  • In Germany some parts of the peace movement are under the control of the Zionists. They do not think independently; the Jews are pulling the strings.

  • Western politicians are under the control of the banks and holding companies. They need the aggressive and reactionary regime in Israel to get more and more power in that region. Sharon has nothing to fear since the banks are behind him. Is there any region in the world that is not under the rule of globalized capitalism?… Behind the Jews stands the financial capital – the reeking capitalism.

This gathering included leftist groups as well as the anti-globalization movement, Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens (ATTAC).201



ATTAC, a worldwide group with many members and promoters in Germany, was monitored very thoroughly by Jewish organizations, mainly in France and Britain, as it went beyond criticism of economic policies to address political issues. In a January 2003 demonstration against the meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, some of its activists, including Germans, staged a “masquerade.” One person, disguised as President Bush, carried with another person a “golden calf.” Both “Bush” and the calf were marked with large yellow stars.

Subsequently ATTAC came under heavy criticism and tried to deflect it with a “Discussion Site of ATTAC-Germany on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”21 Although attempts were made there to deny anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, between the lines the message was clear: Israel is solely responsible for the escalation since September 2000, and European Jewish groups isolate themselves when they decline to attend “anti-racism” rallies together with ATTAC and other leftist groups.

According to one statement: “The killing of Israeli civilians is not only a moral, but also a political problem.” In other words, is it morally wrong to kill civilians, or is it understandable that suicide bombers act as they do? The “political problem,” however, is not attributed to the Palestinian Authority but to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for allegedly “using the bombings for his foreign policy.”

Later, this statement denies that Israel is actually fighting a war against terror and belittles what Israelis undergo. Palestinian terror is legitimized as a “just fight” against the “Israeli occupation,” whereas “Israel is only struggling for the continuation of the occupation.” ATTAC Germany also asserts at the same site: “During World War II the Allies committed war crimes like the bombings of Hiroshima and Dresden, but their fight against Nazism was just.” The Allies are meant to be analogous with the Palestinian terrorists, Nazism with Israel.



In Germany the circle between Right and Left, between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, seems finally to have closed. Israel is now blamed for worldwide problems, just as Jews were accused as the source of misfortunes during the Middle Ages. The centuries-old practice of demonizing Jews has now been transferred to the state of Israel, leading to its delegitimization and isolation amid open calls for its destruction.

The extreme leftist trend in Germany contains elements that envision a world cleansed of the Jewish state.


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1. Leon de Winter, “Das Boese existiert,” Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 18 October 2004 (the quotation is translated by Susanne Urban).
2. Der Spiegel, May 2002.
3. Wilhelm Heitmeyer, ed., Deutsche Zustaende (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2005).
4. See Frank Stern, Im Anfang war Auschwitz. Antisemitismus und Philosemitismus im deutschen Nachkrieg (Schriftenr. d. Inst. f. Dt. Gesch. Uni. Tel Aviv 14), Gerlingen, 1991.
5. Based on interviews by Susanne Urban with Asher Ben-Natan, published as a biographical account of Ben-Natan’s experiences in Germany: Bruecken bauen, aber nicht vergessen. Als erster Botschafter Israels in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (1965-1969) (Duesseldorf: Droste, 2005).
6. See also Bruecken bauen, aber nicht vergessen, pp. 111-145.
7. Jean Amery, “Die Linke und der Zionismus,” Tribuene, 32 (Frankfurt am Main, 1969); Thomas Haury, Antisemitismus von Links (Hamburg: Institut für Sozialforschung 2002); Martin W. Kloke, Israel und die deutsche Linke. Zur Geschichte eines schwierigen Verhaeltnisses (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp).
8. The article and appeals of these intellectuals were published in student journals, in the quarterly journal Tribuene (Frankfurt am Main), and in left-liberal newspapers like Frankfurter Rundschau.
9. B ruecken bauen, aber nicht vergessen, pp. 93-96 (the quotation is translated by Susanne Urban).
10. Kloke, Israel und die deutsche Linke, p. 17.
11. Bommi Baumann, Wie alles anfing (Frankfurt am Main, 1976).
12. Kloke, Israel und die deutsche Linke, pp. 137-143, where more such quotations can be found.
13. Bernhard Prosch, Reinhard Wittenberg, and Martin Abraham, “Antisemitismus in der ehemaligen DDR. Ueberraschende Ergebnisse der ersten Repraesentativ-Umfrage und einer Befragung von Jugendlichen in Jena,” Tribuene, 118 (Frankfurt am Main, 1991), pp. 102-120; Emnid (a polling institute), survey conducted for the American Jewish Committee, 1991.
14. See, e.g., a 1994 Emnid survey (Zentralarchiv für empirische Sozialforschung, Cologne, No. 2418), and polls by Infratest Burke (1996), Forsa (1998), and Infratest Sozialforschung (2002). Many of the polls were published in the weeklies Der Spiegel, Stern, and Die Woche.
15. Lothar Mertens, “Staatlich propagierter Antizionismus: Das Israelbild in der DDR,” in Siegfried Theodor Arndt, Helmut Eschwege, Peter Honigmann, and Lothar Mertens, eds., Juden in der DDR. Geschichte – Probleme – Perspektiven (Köln: Boehlau, 1988), pp. 125-159.
16. As stated in 1991 by Green Party member Christian Stroebele. See also Martin W. Kloke, “Kathartische Zerreissproben: Zur Israel-Diskussion in der Partei ‘Die Gruenen,'” in Herbert A. Strauss, Werner Bergmann, and Christhard Hoffmann, eds., Der Antisemitismus der Gegenwart (Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 1990), p. 124 ff.
17. Analyses of the anti-Israeli media coverage include a survey by Medientenor, published in Tribuene, 162 (Frankfurt am Main, 2002), p. 93 ff.; and a survey by the Duisburger Institut für Sprach- und Sozialforschung (DISS) on behalf of the German office of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), published in 2002. See under: In addition, in 2002 the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Center for Civic Studies) presented its study, “Nahostberichterstattung in den Hauptnachrichten des deutschen Fernsehens,”
18. One book has now analyzed these books’ influence and anti-Semitic bias: Tobias Jaecker, Antisemitische Verschwoerungstheorien nach dem 11. September (Hannover: LIT, 2004).
19. Website no longer available; the journal quoted was available online.
20. The quotations are from various websites that are no longer available. Such discussion groups of anti-Semitic incidents disappear quickly.
21.; search “Antisemitismus,” “Israel,” or “Palestine.”


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Dr. Susanne Urban is a historian whose current research, along with the subject of contemporary German anti-Semitism, deals with the topic of Youth Aliyah (an organization for Jewish children’s immigration to Israel) during the Holocaust. She is affiliated with Yad Vashem and the Hebrew University. Recently she published a book coauthored with Israel’s first ambassador to Germany, Asher Ben-Natan, about his experiences there (Bruecken bauen, aber nicht vergessen. Als erster Botschafter Israels in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland [1965-1969], 2005) and a book on Jews at the Volkswagen factory in 1944-1945 (Verschleppt, verborgen und ueberlebt, 2005).