Gerd Koenen, who in the 1970s, was a leading member of the Communist League of West Germany, an eclectic but numerically substantial Maoist (and pro-Pol-Pot) organisation, has recently published memoirs. He has learned some things over the years: and one of them, as this extract shows, is the rottenness of standard left "anti-Zionism".
His rethinking is relevant outside Germany, too.
The extract is from The Red Decade: Our Little German Cultural Revolution, 1967-1977, Gerd Koenen, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 2002.
Jordan Kunzelmann [a leading figure on the German "anti-authoritarian" left, part of "Commune 1" pictured right] sent crazy letters to the AGIT 883 magazine in Berlin... "Solidarity means taking up our struggle Our task is to make the enemy visible again That the pretend-politicos of the Palestine Committee did not use the opportunity for a bombing in order to start a campaign only demonstrates the domination of the Jew-complex."
The "opportunity for a bombing" with which the "domination of the Jew-complex" should have been broken was the attack on the Jewish Community Centre in West Berlin on 9 November 1969, the anniversary of the pogrom of 1938. The bomb had been discovered before it went off.
And so there was not the hoped for conflagration, destruction and (at least readily accepted) loss of life, but only a leaflet with the title "Shalom and Napalm". During the night the same slogan had been painted on a number of Jewish monuments, together with the symbol of Al Fatah.
The leaflet - signed by the Black Rats TW (TW being the abbreviation for Tupamaros of West Berlin) - was totally in the style of the Soviet anti-Zionism campaigns of these years. It was a series of tirades against the build-up of an imperialist military base in the Near East, while European and US capital supported "the Zionists in their aggressive expansionist campaigns in the Arab region"...
The actual message of Kunzelmann's text, however, was directed at his own comrades and their eternal "Jew complex": "The failure of the left to date to escape from its theoretical paralysis in analysing the conflict in the Near East is the product of the German consciousness of guilt The neurotic-historicising analysis of the historical absence of any justification for an Israeli state does not overcome this helpless anti-fascism. True anti-fascism is clear and simple solidarity with the fighting fedayeen."
Kunzelmann continued: "The Jews who were driven out by fascism have become fascists themselves and want to exterminate the Palestinian people." In the face of this imperialist-Zionist power bloc it was a matter of "building up a revolutionary liberation front in the metropolises".
According to Baumann [another leader of the "anti-authoritarian" left], who was certainly not involved in the attempted bombing but who knew who was, it was "exactly this bomb which was to be the start of guerrilla warfare in Germany." Instead of involvement in the Vietnam war, which was already "quasi finished", the revolutionary left should involve itself in "the issue of Palestine" so that that would become "the new superstructure which would lead forward the struggle here".
You could be forgiven for believing that a deeper interpretation is almost superfluous. The first bomb of the "guerilla war in Germany" was to be directed against - of all things in the world - Zionism as the "new fascism"! And precisely the struggle against Israel and the chimera of world Zionism was to be the "new superstructure" for the struggle in the Federal Republic.
But this was not a purely German phenomenon. The sixties and seventies were the time when there flourished a worldwide "anti-Zionism" which was being revived from the left. The solid axis of this "anti-Zionism" was the alliance between the Soviet camp, "Arab socialism" and/or pan-Arab nationalism (from Nasser to Gaddafi) and the Palestinian liberation movements and terrorist groups.
Numerous other liberation movements and national-revolutionary founders of new states adopted this caricature of a new global enemy as their own, and soon a large part of the "New Left" in the west did so as well.
In doing so it had long ceased to be only a question of the conflict in Palestine. The propagandistic and theoretical productions of the Soviet and other ideologues of this new "anti-Zionism" powerfully extended the concept of the absolutely Evil and Negative which had been linked in older forms of anti-semitism to the concept of "world Jewry". They did this precisely through separating out the concept from the narrow physical substratum of Jewry.
According to these new left-wing theories, "Zionism" was a quite specifically perfidious form of racism and fascism which operated at an international level. And particularly in the USA, it was claimed, "Zionist organisations" and "Zionist capital" already largely dominated banks and the stock exchange, the media and the universities, and, of course, the huge "military-industrial complex" and, in reality, the government.
In these elaborations and resolutions "Zionism" took on the status of an invisible, gigantic, internationally active power. And it was not always clear whether it was only an instrument of imperialism or whether it was in fact the latter's centre of power and secret spiritus rector.
How did the road lead from Auschwitz to Entebbe (scene of a joint German-Palestinian plane hi-jacking and selection of its Israeli passengers for killing)? How did the road lead from a "deeply moral" anti-fascism to a murderous "anti-Zionism"? This was a road which became the secret centre of gravity for the actions of all German terrorists, at least in the 1970s.
Ulrike Meinhof herself provided a paradigmatic explanation in an early text of the Red Army Fraction. [Meinhof was one of the leaders of the terrorist Red Army Fraction.] The pamphlet was written in the autumn of 1972 during her solitary confinement in the "isolation prison block" in Cologne-Ossendorf. The only appropriate "political concept" which could describe her situation, she wrote, was "the gas".
And so, in this imagined gas chamber, she wrote a long explanation of the "action of Black September in Munich", more exactly: an explanation of the bloody hostage-taking of Israeli sportsmen by an Al Fatah squad during the Olympic Games of 1972. Her explanation was subsequently published as a pamphlet.
The title, On the Strategy of the Anti-imperialist Struggle, was itself an indication that what was involved was more than a statement on the event itself. The same holds true of the text as well:
The action of Black September in Munich has made recognisable the nature of imperialist rule in a way in which no other revolutionary action in West Germany and West Berlin has. It was simultaneously anti-imperialist, anti-fascist, and internationalist. It has demonstrated a sensibility for historical and political connections which is always the possession of the masses alone
The massacre being carried out against Palestinians had been "brought back to where it had originally been thought up: West Germany - formerly Nazi Germany". It was from here that Israel had "received its restitution capital", by means of which it had been developed into an imperialist base in the Third World.
And even more: by the action of Black September the "deep complicity between the façade of the 'democratic state' of the Federal Republic" (as the successor to the Third Reich) and "Israel's Nazi-fascism" had been clearly revealed - precisely because the action of Black September had been targeted at "the Olympic games, which were intended to extinguish the memory of 1936, Auschwitz, and 'Kristallnacht'." Israel was now shedding "crocodile tears", while it also "burns out its sportsmen just like the Nazis did with the Jews - material for the imperialist policy of extermination" which, "under Moshe-Dayan fascism, this Himmler of Israel", had long become everyday reality.
It is hardly possible to unravel in retrospect this confusion. To what lowest common denominator can it be reduced? The formula of "left anti-semitism" hardly fits. And Ulrike Meinhof, according to everybody who knew her, was the person least suited to this role. The other members of German terrorist groups also indignantly rejected - at that time, and even more so later on - the charge of anti-semitism.
To be sure, the extent to which the guerrillas of the German metropolis - whatever their political orientation - let themselves be trained and indoctrinated in the Palestinian training camps, and then participated in common actions with the Palestinians tells you something. But what does it tell you?
It must be remembered that this was the time of the Soviet-bloc-led campaigns against "international Zionism", which (even in UN resolutions) was defined as the world enemy pure and simple. The unending flood of writings, partly of Moscow provenance and partly of Arab provenance, was neither qualitatively nor quantitatively inferior to the modern political anti-semitism of the early 20th century. Obscurantist conspiracy theories and revisionist historical theses of every kind were manufactured in these writings.
Zionism appeared in these writings as the militant spearhead, if not even as the true centre and the secret spiritus rector, of the whole of world imperialism. This "anti-Zionism", however, certainly did distinguish itself from traditional anti-semitism in that it furiously denied being against Jews as such. That would have been racism! But the racists were the Israelis "as a people" (as Ulrike Meinhof wrote) and, secondly, the representatives of Jewish ("Zionist") organisations in the west, including the Federal Republic of Germany.
And so it did not weigh upon the consciences of young German "internationalists" to take part in activities which would have been more appropriate for neo-Nazi activists: for example, the participation in 1976 of three leading members of the Red Army Fraction in a Palestinian brigade which attempted to shoot down with a SAM-7 rocket an Israeli passenger-plane in Nairobi (which was only narrowly prevented).
Or the plans discussed in the Red Cells to kidnap Simon Wiesenthal, the head of the Nazi-Documentation Centre in Vienna, or to murder the chairpersons of the Jewish communities in Berlin and Frankfurt, Galinski and Lipinsky. But when Hans-Joachim Klein finally dropped out of the group in 1977 he made these plans public -- and thereby possibly prevented them from going ahead.
You can believe this, or you can doubt it. But what speaks volumes was the tearful-aggressive denial issued by the Revolutionary Cells themselves in an open letter to the magazine Pflasterstrand: "You take up HJK's (Klein's) horror story instead of considering what role Galinsky plays for the crimes of Zionism , what propaganda function, what material-support function this guy, who is anything but just a 'Jewish community chairperson' has, and what you have to do and can do against that in a country like ours "
Not until the beginning of the 1990s - shocked by the (delayed) news of the execution of one of their members, Gerd Albertus, by a tribunal of the same Palestinian organisation to which he had committed himself, or possibly even at the hands of his own comrades - did a section of the Red Cells begin to argue self-critically with the road and ideology of their group.