Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Journey of a ("Self-Hating") Jew

Among other events in recent history, the formation of the group Independent Jewish Voices in the UK has once again pushed the debate on Israel and Palestine into the spotlight. Along with this, the usual, tired and outrageously misplaced allegations of “self-hatred” are made by the more shrill voices among the “Israel can do no wrong” lobby. Here are some of my ruminations on this discussion.

Journey of a (“Self-Hating”) Jew
David Rovics

There are few issues more divisive in US society, including on the left, than the issue of Israel and Palestine. Even the word “Palestine” is divisive! The state of Israel claims to represent Jews worldwide. This is a preposterous and plainly incorrect claim, but one often made and often assumed, to the detriment of much of humanity. People who vocally oppose Israeli policies are labelled anti-Semites. Jews who oppose Israeli policies – or who dare to question the right of this apartheid state to exist as such – are labelled “self-hating Jews.” Supporters of Israel are using historic anti-Semitism and the memory of the Nazi holocaust as a means to stifle dissent. Reason and compassion is not on their side, so they resort to name-calling. I have some personal experiences with this state of affairs, and I thought I’d recount some of them and share some thoughts on the subject.

I used to be lovers with a woman from Germany. She and I were visiting my grandmother at her retirement community in Florida. It seems about half the Jewish population of Brooklyn ends up in Florida by the time they’re 65, and grandma Diane was among them. One of the women grandma played Bridge with was a German Jewish holocaust survivor. When she met my partner, there was something she clearly felt compelled to tell her. “We were Germans,” she said. “We were Germans.” That was all, three words.

Any non-fascist historian can confirm this fact. By the early twentieth century most German Jews were what they call “assimilated.” They were about as German as any other German. For many, their Jewish identity was about as important to them as which Christian denomination their neighbors belonged to. They were integrated members of a European society, Europeans, Germans. They were communists, social democrats, conservatives. They were laborers and they were bosses. They were renters and landlords, rich, poor, and in between. Obviously, the rise of Hitler changed all that, and suddenly Jews recognized themselves as Jews again. The Nazis wanted to kill all of them, so Jewish identity suddenly became a matter of life and death. When people are thus threatened, oppressed, and ultimately slaughtered in their millions, this sort of thing tends to bring people together to attempt to defend themselves. Thus from this disparate group of people once again is born a “community.”

Enter 21st-century USA. There is no such thing as a “Jewish community.” There is no such thing as a “Christian community” either, or an “Irish community,” “Italian community,” etc. There is no oppression to speak of in the US or Europe directed at people based on their Jewish or Christian identity, any more than there is still oppression against people of Irish or Italian descent. Certainly there used to be all of these things, but it’s been a while. In the forty years I’ve been living in the US I have hardly ever heard a serious anti-Semitic remark. I’ve never been victimized in any way as a result of being Jewish, and I don’t think I have ever met anyone of my generation who has had a problem with anti-Semitism of any significance, either.

Jewishness of course is an unusual phenomenon that is often defined as a religious, ethnic, and/or quasi-national identity, depending on who’s doing the defining. Regardless of the definition, there is plenty of common history for Jews anywhere, but like Catholics, Poles or whoever else in the modern US, Jews do not have a common identity in terms of their politics, professions, geography, etc. Jews are not ghettoized anymore, whether by law or by a generalized discrimination. They are rich, poor and in between, and they live anywhere in the country where you might find other people. Sometimes in large numbers, sometimes in very small numbers. Sometimes they have contact with each other as Jews for one reason or another, usually they don’t.

Once I had a gig at a law school in Vermont. Three people came to hand out literature about my alleged anti-Semititic views to people coming to the show. These three people were in a group that called itself The Jewish Community, as I recall. But in the civilized discussion that followed my concert, it turned out that there were more than three people of Jewish lineage in the crowd who were not members of The Jewish Community and didn’t share their views on Israel. It didn’t seem to me that these Jews were any less Jewish than The Jewish Community -- they just weren’t in a group that called itself The Jewish Community.

This also, it seems to me, is the distinction between groups like AIPAC and the rest of the Jewish population. The rest of us don’t tend to organize as a “Jewish community,” but as whoever we are – environmentalists, anarchists, union members, real estate developers, whatever.

Of course, there is plenty of oppression in the US. Racism, for example, permeates society. Race, of course, is a social construct with no biological basis, but it is a social construct that is the basis for both historical and ongoing discrimination of massive proportions. But if a Jew, a Catholic, or even a Muslim is white, then he or she is white, and treated as such. This is how modern US society functions. There is a sort of caste system, and it changes in various ways over time. It used to be a liability to be most anything other than a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. This is no longer the case. Over the course of the post-war period the “white” category has expanded to include light-skinned Jews and other historically-oppressed ethnic and religious groups such as Irish and Italian Catholics.

This is not to say that white people don’t suffer from discrimination. You can still be discriminated against according to your regional accent, how you dress, whether you can read or write, etc. As a youthful, long-haired hippie driving an old beat-up car, I was pulled over by the cops many times more than most other white people, probably for all of those offenses – being young, having long hair, and driving an old car. But I’m quite certain it was not for being Jewish.

History is another matter entirely. While the label of “self-hating” is generally misapplied and used to try to silence Jews critical of Israel, self-hatred certainly exists, and other conditions like it. I think of my nanny when I was very young, living in upper Manhattan. She was a deeply loving woman full of enthusiasm for life, and children, her own two sons and the many young children she took care of. I visited her now and then for decades after my family moved from New York City when I was a small child. She was full of stories. She talked about all the gangsters in the area and how they never pick on her because she’s known them all since they were babies. New York was her city. She had a strange accent, impossible to place. She said she was English. She met an Italian-American jazz musician there in England and moved back to New York with him after the war. She talked about being a teenager in London during the blitz, and how she used to use the air raids to her advantage, to spend more time with boys. “Sorry mom, I can’t come home now, there’s an air raid happening.”

She raised her kids to be Irish-American Catholics in New York City. Several years ago I was visiting New York and I gave her a call. Her eldest son answered the phone. His mother had died a few months before, he told me. He also told me that he had found out during the last year or so of her life that she was not from England -- she was a German Jew. She was one of the last Jewish children sent to England during the Kindertransports. For whatever reason, she had hidden her identity from everyone, her friends, her family. She told her son on her deathbed about how her society, Germany, had rejected her. Perhaps the rejection was too much to bear, and she had to try to forget about her past, her German and Jewish identity. Perhaps the term “self-hating” could in some measure apply to this wonderful, vibrant, but apparently troubled woman, although the term seems far too simplistic to fit such a complex person so full of love for humanity.

Perhaps it was experiences she had after arriving in the US that strengthened her resolve to keep her ethnic and national identity hidden. My grandmother’s mother was from Russia, and spoke Yiddish, never becoming very fluent in English. When my dad was young it was Yiddish that the matriarchs of the house spoke, their secret language which they never taught him. Grandma Diane’s parents were refugees, leaving Russia because they didn’t want to be killed in the pogroms and didn’t wanted to be drafted into the Tsar’s army, a death sentence in itself. Before the Nazi holocaust, Diane Rovics and her mother were in touch with dozens of relatives in Europe, Diane once told me. Her mother died soon after the war, and I don’t know how much Diane tried to get back in touch with her relatives across the ocean, but she said she never heard from any of them, and presumed them all to be dead.

Grandma Diane’s Jewish identity was always terribly complex for her. For a long time she was looking for housing outside of Brooklyn. This search went on for years before she eventually moved to New Jersey and then Florida. In every community she visited there were either too many Jews or not enough Jews. She wanted the safety of having lots of Jews around, but didn’t want anybody else to notice. When I was a child she often told me that I was lucky to have blond hair and blue eyes and not to “look Jewish.” She’d say the same about our last name, from Grandpa Alvin’s part of the family, Rovics, which she informed me was not a typical Jewish last name.

Once when she left the safety of New York City to visit Connecticut about a half century ago, land of the “gentiles” back then, there was a sign on the beach saying “no Jews or dogs allowed.” I’m sure she had many other similar experiences. Being Jewish was for her a source of strength and a source of anguish, but mostly anguish. She always just wanted to fit in, to be an American, and ultimately, she did, and she was. She was traumatized by her family history and by the Nazi holocaust, but she wanted to put it behind her. She would often tell her idealistic leftwing grandson, “you can’t change the world.” She’d tell me to just look out for myself, get a good job, go to business school, become a dentist, be a respectable part of society and hopefully you will be respected in turn, or at least left alone.

For other assimilated, white, light-haired, blue-eyed US citizens such as Diane’s daughter, my aunt Judy, who knows where life could have gone. But as with so many others, the Jewish genocide that was going on when she was born in 1941 made a lasting impact. The Zionist movement for a Jewish homeland, not very popular among Jews worldwide before the Nazi holocaust, became much more popular after it. Lots of Jews – though far from all – joined that bandwagon, and my aunt was one of them. We haven’t spoken in years, but from what I understand, for her and her synogogue in New Jersey, criticism of Israel is completely unacceptable, there is no room for debate.

For people like Judy, “never again” means “never again to us.” Fuck everybody else, especially Arabs. The fascists in Europe killed us, nobody stopped them, and now if we need to steal somebody else’s land in order to have a home, so be it. People like Judy invent all kinds of outrageous theories to justify the fundamentally racist movement that has led to the state of Israel. There are no Palestinians, they’re all Arabs, and the 800 million Arabs in the world all hate Jews and want to “drive the Jews into the sea.” The Palestinians are really Jordanians and should be just as happy there as in the land of their ancestors. The hundreds of Palestinian villages destroyed by the Zionists never really existed. The Palestinians were all nomads if they weren’t Jordanian. The refugee problem is one created by the Arab states -- not the Jews who drove the refugees off their land.

People like Judy live in a sea of lies, and are miserable. At least they’re miserable. Hating other people so vehemently – Arabs, your fellow Jewish critics, and whoever else – causes one to be miserable. I’m sure there must be some happy ones out there, but the “ardent Zionists” I meet tend to be about as miserable as other members of hate groups I’ve met. I remember seeing the Orange marchers in Glasgow one time. What a miserable bunch. They all looked so pathetic, those men and boys dressed in their antiquated outfits, singing songs about being “knee-deep in Fenian blood.” These people have decided that the solution to their perceived problems lies in the oppression of another people. Not only does this kind of mentality breed misery, but it also doesn’t work.

Disenfranchised people always struggle for their liberty. Sometimes their struggles will be crushed, as in the case of the German left in the 1930’s. Sometimes their struggles will meet with relative success, such as the European labor movements that have been largely responsible for creating many of the most prosperous societies on Earth. Other times the oppression of a people leads to an ongoing struggle for justice that goes on for decades, such as the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. There can never possibly be peace and security for Israel as long as there are millions of impoverished, angry refugees surrounding it, no matter how high the walls they build, no matter how many children they massacre, no matter how many youths they torture in their prisons. History has demonstrated this fact, over and over again. Where there is oppression there will be resistance. The resistance may or may not be successful, but it will always harm the oppressor to one degree or another. This is not mere rhetoric. It is history and current events, all over the world.

There are those for whom “never again” takes on a very different meaning than for people like my aunt. For them, these lessons of history are learned. Of course, such people have existed since long before the Nazi holocaust, but the holocaust also was responsible for creating lots more of them. People who believe oppression should be opposed in all it’s forms, and those struggling for their lives and liberty should be supported. For these people, the term “us” means something much bigger than Jews, Catholics, Americans, or some other such limited category. Bob Steck is one such example.

Bob Steck died last December at the age of 95. He was a friend of mine, who I used to see much more of back when he lived near my mother in Connecticut, before he and his wife moved to Arizona. Bob grew up near Davenport, Iowa. When he was a boy in the 1920’s, Davenport was a town full of socialist intellectuals. The countryside around the town was full of radical farmers. When the fascist generals rebelled against the democratically-elected government in Spain in 1936, Bob was one of many thousands of Americans who volunteered – against the wishes of the US government – to fight fascism in Europe. Bob had never been to Spain, and I’m not sure if he had ever even met a Spaniard before, out there in the middle of the farm belt. He was not fighting for people he knew, or for “his people” in some kind of limited sense – he was fighting for humanity, for the future, for justice, for dignity.

Along with Bob, thousands of young men and women joined the International Brigades from England, Ireland and elsewhere. The biggest contingents of people ready to die in the fight against fascism came from Germany and Italy. After more than a year fighting the war in Spain he was captured, and spent 16 months in a concentration camp where he was regularly beaten, where the conditions were atrocious. Some German Nazis visited the camp once and measured everybody’s faces, thinking they could tell the Jews apart from the others by the size of their noses. He was Jewish, though that never occurred to me until one morning at his house when he made a particularly tasteless Matzo Ball omelette for me. Most of the Americans to go to Spain were killed there, but Bob was one of the those who ultimately returned home.

More than anything, Bob was a communist, and a historical optimist. He would tell me that ever since society has been divided into classes, several thousand years ago for much of the planet, there has been a class struggle, and this struggle will continue until we eventually abolish poverty, racism, and these sorts of divisions in society. Just as he fought against fascism in Europe, he fought against racism in the US. He was the Director of Activities of Camp Unity, a daring inter-racial working-class resort in upstate New York. He saw himself as a part of a movement, not as an exceptional individual, though he was most certainly both. He taught history for 30 years in the public schools of New York City, playing his part in the evolution of society, with books and lectures, just as he had in Spain with rifles and supply trucks. Yes, he was Jewish, and like so many Jews and so many other people of his generation, he was a communist first and foremost.

Bob was a very stoic man, by his own admission. He was stoic before the Spanish Civil War, but being held in the concentration camp taught him stoicism to a much larger degree. Never let the guards know how badly you are suffering, or it will demoralize the other prisoners. This was his view. I don’t know how much he may have had to question his beliefs from time to time, but when I asked him what his thoughts were on Israel, his response was quick and unequivocal. There must be justice for the Palestinians.

Long before I ever went to Israel I had strong opinions on the behavior of the Israeli government, and whether there should even be an Israeli government as such (that is, a government wherein non-Jews are systematically discriminated against, disenfranchised or killed). I had never been there, but my impression was that it was a colonial state, a society of settlers, like South Africa, Australia, the US, Canada and others. One of many societies where European invaders had colonized the place at gunpoint and either killed or driven out the indigenous population. The scars of living in societies like these can be seen on anybody living in them, whether they are members of one of the oppressed groups or one of the privileged groups. Whether they are being killed, doing the killing, or giving the orders to fire.

I was uncertain what to do when in 1999 I received an invitation from the Israeli Folk Music Society to do a tour of Israel that they would set up. But I quickly decided I should do it. I lived in one society that was brutally colonized by European invaders, so it seemed silly not to go, just because Israel was much more recently-conquered territory than the US. Besides, I wanted to see first-hand what was up there, and the offer to organize a tour was a perfect way to meet real Israelis.

And that’s what I did. Not Peace Now, not Gush-Shalom, not Women In Black, not Anarchists Against the Wall. They’re not members of the Israeli Folk Music Society. I met regular Israeli Jewish anglophone folk music fans. Like so many Israelis, the vast majority of the men and women I met were not born in Israel. Many were from New York, and others originally came from Britain, Australia and elsewhere. I was trying to be sort of undercover, wanting to see what Israeli Jews thought about their situation, not wanting to impose my viewpoint first. Besides, I hadn’t yet written any songs about the Palestinian struggle (at least nothing I liked enough to sing in public), so that made it easier for me.

What I found in my ten-day tour of Israel was the most racist society I had ever encountered. The secular yuppies of Tel Aviv were the worst, while the most compassionate people opposed to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza tended to be very religious, which was an unexpected revelation for me. The most sensible person I met on that trip was a religious man who was in the Israeli military for the wars of both 1967 and 1973. It was after 1973 that he had an awakening, and came to recognize the brutal reality of the Israeli occupation.

I met some other fairly decent folks there, but most people I encountered seemed to be right out of a Klan rally in 1950’s Alabama. Very odd, since many of the Americans among them had been involved with the Civil Rights movement back in the day. But they seemed to have no problem talking about “the Arab mind,” refusing to use the term “Palestinian” in conversation, even when avoiding it meant jumping through all kinds of verbal hoops. They talked fondly of one friend living on a West Bank settlement, whose politics were often described as “somewhere to the right of Ghengis Khan.” One of them talked often of her “Christian Arab” friend who lived in a “Christian Arab” town in Israel, who we should visit at some point. (We never did.)

Once I was doing a house concert there. As long as I sang about oppression elsewhere in the world people loved it. They were reminiscing of their days in the movement against the Vietnam war and their time in SDS. I was trying to end my show after quite a while, but they wanted more, more. It was at least the fifth encore, and I thought, OK, now I’m gonna hit ‘em with a song against the US bombing raids and UN sanctions that were currently causing mass suffering in Iraq. It was the first time I sang a song at a gig and nobody clapped.

After a very pregnant silence, a self-described socialist originally from Scotland began clapping, but no one joined him. There was basically unanimity in the room. The song was wrong, the bombing of Iraq was right. And how outrageous to sing that song in Israel, I was told, since “we had to put gas masks on our children and hide in bomb shelters.” A handful of Israelis were killed by the Scud missiles, a few years after Israel had itself bombed Iraq, and the Israelis had to sleep in bomb shelters, all emerging safely the next morning, unlike the Iraqis who were being killed in their hundreds of thousands, including those incinerated by the US Air Force while hiding in their bomb shelters.

But for these people, the suffering of the Iraqis simply was irrelevant. The Iraqis didn’t matter, they all wanted to kill the Jews, even the Iraqi children, I was told there to my unbelieving face.

My German girlfriend was with me on that tour. In the long discussion that followed me singing the song about the war on Iraq, she and I were told that the bombing of Dresden was a good thing. This man was telling us that the killing of a hundred thousand women and children, for no reason other than to kill them, was a good thing. He was telling us that one of the great war crimes of world history -- right up there with other mechanized mass killings, such as the blitz, the Nazi holocaust or the carpet-bombing of Korea and Vietnam – was a good thing. He couldn’t justify it in any way, but it was good, and he wanted us to know that.

This was around the time that I realized that the whole of Israeli society is full of trauma survivors of one sort or another. Palestinians inside and outside Israel traumatized by ongoing oppression of so many sorts, and Jews traumatized by living in the war zone they created when they declared their “independence” (from whom?) in 1948. Traumatized by their parents and other relatives being killed in Europe. Traumatized in such a way that most of them had decided, it seemed, that “never again” clearly meant “never again to us Jews.” To hell with everybody else.

About a year later, to my surprise, the Israeli Folk Music Society offered to organize another tour for me. I again decided in favor of constructive engagement. But then, a couple months before the tour was to happen, Ariel Sharon took a thousand troops to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the spark – along with the settlement-building, the road closures, the increasing numbers of checkpoints, the bulldozing of houses and olive groves -- that lit the powder keg that set off the second Intifada. And then I wrote a song about the Israeli soldiers gunning down children with live ammunition soon after Sharon’s visit to the mosque, and it was all over.

The organizer of the tour didn’t cancel it right away. One by one, the organizers of nine of the ten shows I was scheduled to do wrote me outraged emails. How could you write a song like this, how could you say these things, we thought you were one of us, you sound like them. From most of the presenters there, and then from other supporters of Israel from the US and elsewhere, I started receiving emails regularly calling me a self-hating Jew, a neofascist, a fascist, a Nazi, etc. One of the ten presenters wrote me and said he liked the lyrics and looked forward to hearing them. He was the veteran of 1967 and 1973 I mentioned earlier.

Then a few days later I started receiving emails from Palestinians throughout the diaspora who had gotten the lyrics to my song somehow, too. These emails far outnumbered the ones from the Israel supporters. Many were short, just thanking me for making this statement. Others were much longer and full of stories of the nakba, “the catastrophe,” as they call the events of 1948. Others wrote about the brutality and humiliation of life under occupation, or life in the refugee camps. I started meeting Palestinians of all walks of life, in the US, Canada, England, and eventually in Palestine itself.

The news lately is full of factional fighting between Fatah and Hamas. But this is not the sort of thing that characterizes Palestinian society. Palestinians do have a community. One reason for this is the fact that they are all under siege, and all struggling to live under the occupation, all wanting it to end. The Muslims and Christians get along fine. They are all Palestinian. When you’re there, these things are obvious, especially if you’ve visited other communities engaged in resistance. You see those common signs, that universal sense of determination, purpose, existing in the moment, not knowing what horrors tomorrow may bring, whether their house will be bulldozed, whether their daughter will be shot by a sniper while sitting in school, whether the olive grove will be burned by settlers. On the ground in Palestine, it’s very clear what’s happening. This is a place under occupation by a massive, fundamentally racist military power.

Most people in the world with a knowledge of world events recognize the situation for what it is. This is certainly true in Europe. According to polls I’ve seen lately, most Jews in Europe and in North America do not identify with Israel as a country that represents them. Most people in Europe do not have any problems with Jews. There are always a few boneheads here and there desecrating cemetaries. It doesn’t take many people to do that. But generally, serious acts of anti-Semitism are virtually unheard of in Europe or North America. Most Europeans, however, are very critical of Israel and concerned about the plight of the Palestinians. And most Europeans recognize that there is no contradiction here, since they understand that “Israel” and “Jews” are, thankfully, two different things.

Germany, however, is a unique case, where as far as Israel and Palestine are concerned, it’s a different story.

In my family there’s long been a bit of a suspicion of Germany and Germans. Most of us have been to Europe, but only a couple have actually visited Germany. Bordering countries, yes – Holland, France, Denmark, but not Germany. Of course, the neighboring countries are all much more attractive, since most of their cities survived WWII intact, while almost all of Germany’s were destroyed by British and American carpet-bombing. But the comparative lack of pre-war architecture wasn’t why my family avoided visiting Germany.

I was a bit hesitant about it the first time I visited. I didn’t know a lot about recent German history. I mostly knew German accents from WWII movies. After spending quite a bit of time there, though, I developed a real affection for German society. Spending lots of time with lots of Germans, I found so much beauty, and so much anguish. As much as German society suffered from the Allied bombardments, from a generation of young men being sent off to kill and be killed in battle, from so many non-Jewish Germans also being killed in the camps, Germans as a whole are even more paralyzed with an unbearable guilt about the genocide of their Jewish brethren. Most Germans today have no recollection of what society was like with millions of German Jews in it, but their absence is like a ghost standing on every street corner.

Most Germans would be horrified to be accused of anti-Semitism. Whereas the left throughout almost the entire world is critical of Israel and supports Palestinian sovereignty, the German left is largely quiet about it, or actively and uncritically supporting Israel.

I remember one guy in the neighborhood in Hamburg where I spent quite a bit of time, who had a radio show at the local free radio station (equivalent of what we’d call community radio in the US). For one of his shows he interviewed a Palestinian doctor about life under the Israeli occupation.
Specifically about the challenges of providing medical care under the circumstances, with the checkpoints delaying ambulances for hours or turning them back, with tanks firing at ambulances, etc. By consensus, the collective board that ran the radio station canned his show permanently for this offense. What did he do? He failed to have an Israeli on his show at the same time. To dare to have a Palestinian doctor with no Israeli to somehow balance out his views was unacceptable.

Many Germans on the left who have dared to try to be consistent internationalists in solidarity with oppressed people around the world, and have included Palestinians within that worldview, have suffered similar fates. When you know that this is the environment on the German left and in German society in general, the Autonomen become even more impressive. These were Germans in the tradition of Bob Steck, true internationalists who supported liberation everywhere, including for Palestinians.

In the 1980’s the German autonomous movement followed in the footsteps of the Italian autonomous movement a decade before. They ccupied buildings, reclaiming the commons, building a different society. They rejected the Soviet model as well as the capitalist one. They opposed US as well as German military and economic intervention in the Third World. They were antifascists to the core, spending much of their time physically battling Nazi boneheads on the streets of Germany, and often battling the German police as well. (When they have to choose, the police almost always side with the right in these situations.) They supported struggles for self-determination around the world. And, consistent with the rest of their principles around anti-racism and Third World liberation, at the top of their flagship squat in Hamburg, Haffenstrasse, were two words that shocked German society probably more than anything else coming from the Autonomen: “free Palestine.”

But with the decline of the Autonomen has come, among other things, the rise of a uniquely German organization known as the Anti-Deutsche.

I’ll be returning to Germany for the G8 protests this summer, but the last time I was there was several years ago, and the last concert I did there was in the town of Marburg. I had seen a flyer that the Anti-Deutsche had made, criticizing me and my music the night before. This time, when I got to the arts center in Marburg where my concert was to happen, there were eight or so blond men and women in their early twenties, forming a gauntlet in front of the entrance to the building, handing out the flyers. Some people didn’t go to the show as a result, I don’t know how many.

The flyers claimed I was an anti-Semite. I was clearly an anti-Semite because I support the Palestinian struggle, and the Palestinians all hate women and hate their own children, since they fail to prevent them from being shot by Israeli tanks. They furthermore argued that since I was critical of capitalism, I was therefore anti-Semitic because making statements against institutions like the World Bank is a veiled anti-Semitic thing to do. This kind of thinking seems to be supporting all kinds of strange anti-Semitic myths about the ranks of Jews being filled with rich bankers, but there you go. Also, since I opposed the war in Iraq, I was an anti-Semite, since the war in Iraq was being waged to benefit Israel, and therefore it was good, and therefore the US should be supported most of the time, and Israel all of the time. I approached them politely to try to have a civil discourse about the flyer, but was told by one of them that “we don’t talk to fascists,” so there would be no discussion.

If this was an isolated cult of wingnuts it would be one thing, but the Anti-Deutsche are a fairly common phenomenon all over Germany, with their base in Leipzig. They actually originally come out of the more communist end of the German left. Many Germans will privately acknowledge them as nutters, but they’re often loathe to confront them, fearing the label of anti-Semitism.

To their credit, the Anti-Deutsche apparently spend much of their time opposing actual fascists. But they seem to spend at least as much time harassing people like me. I haven’t seen any overviews on this sort of thing, but my friend Attila the Stockbroker, a punk rock songwriter and poet from England who tours in Germany regularly, has recently been banned from a number of music venues on account of his fairly mild opposition to Israeli policies. He hasn’t written any songs specifically on the subject, but just mentioning his opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was enough to get the Anti-Deutsche to actively denounce him. And that was enough to get several venues to ban him, and for some of his traditional leftwing punk audience to stop coming to his shows.

As irrational as the Anti-Deutsche patently are, they have a chilling effect on the German left, and they are a real product of German history, and of the German collective guilt complex. So in order to avoid being anti-Semitic, that is, in order to avoid being racist, they must support a racist regime. It’s convoluted logic that most people outside of Germany can see through, but in Germany this logic plays pretty well. Two wrongs make a right. We are traumatized because our people killed millions of Jews, therefore we must support the traumatized victims of the Nazi holocaust as they act out their displaced feelings of aggression towards us and focus them against the Palestinians, slaughtering thousands of them annually and making sure the rest live in a state of squalor.

Jews like my aunt or like so many Israelis say “never again to us,” while the Anti-Deutsche and other Germans say “never again to them.” The Autonomen and the Bob Stecks of the world say never again to anyone.

Who holds the moral high ground is obvious. The thing that allows people like me to sleep well at night, though, is having the knowledge that not only is this the moral view, the view that is easier to live with as a human being with a conscience, but it is also the sensible understanding of history and reality. Blinded by rage, trauma, or guilt, what the pro-Israel people apparently don’t see is that no matter what you do, a subjugated people will fight back. As anybody who’s visited a VA clinic in the US can tell you, the cost of oppression is also very high for those doing the oppressing.

So I say save the Jews and free Palestine!