Letter to the Damned of Israel

Abraham Serfaty. Translation: Meriam Mabrouk and Joe Haynes

28 September 1982.

To my brother and sister Arab Jews, oppressed in Israel.

My brothers, my sisters, I am writing to you from the depths of a prison where I am being held as a revolutionary, in the same country from which you were chased. It is now twenty or thirty years since the lies of the Moroccan Jewish bourgeoisie pulled you into the trap that is Zionism. The discriminatory and racist politics of the majority of the Moroccan Muslim bourgeoisie did the rest, even whilst you were under the supposedly protective tutelage of the Moroccan regime, itself nothing but a feudal subjugator, reinforced by the racist brutalities of the police. Since 1961, this regime never hesitated to sell you off to Zionism.

My brothers, my sisters, I address myself to you in order to speak of your future and the future of your children. I would like to speak to you about the struggles you will have to undertake, if you have not already, to guarantee your children the justice, the peace, and the dignity that your exploiters have denied you up until the present, in your country of origin just as much as in the land of Palestine; a land which you were assured would be a happy and welcoming one for you, with a state, the state of Israel, that you were told was founded by your Jewish brothers.

Your brothers; what bitter irony! They are your oppressors. They despise you, only calling you ‘Oriental’ or ‘Sephardic’ to further deny your identity, and in their own jargon referring to you as schwartze. They deny you access to education, to skilled work, to dignity. They reduce you to workhorses for the most backbreaking of labours and to cannon fodder for their army, with their senseless, criminal dreams of domination and conquest. They refuse you even the chance to exercise the religion that our forefathers practiced for centuries. They have transformed this religion of peace, of justice, of mutual respect, into one of hate, of war, of injustice.

What a shame for the sacred memory of our forefathers! Murderers like [Menachem] Begin and [Ariel] Sharon, having their mercenaries massacre women, children, the old, in the name of Judaism. What shame; what sacrilege!


This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition.All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.


Begin posed as someone who would put an end to the racism and the discrimination of which you are the victims. Begin is a terrorist trained in the fascist, Hitlerian demagoguery of Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionist party: a party that can accurately be described as a Jewish variant of fascism, with which he marched in the 1930s in brownshirt, chanting ‘Germany for Hitler, Italy for Mussolini, Palestine for us!’ This fascist demagogue claims that the discrimination which you suffer is merely the result of Labour Party policy. But has racism and discrimination decreased over the five years that Begin has been in power? Has your lot improved? Quite the contrary. Has Begin’s placing in his cabinet – like a puppet – a careerist such as David Levy changed anything in your life, in your misery? Your future and that of your children remains just as impassably blocked, whilst the madness of colonisation and conquest never stops worsening, dragging you further into cycles of massacres and death. Going from a Peres to a Begin or back again will not and cannot change anything: The situation will remain thus, as long as this oppressive, racist, conquering regime persists.

Indeed, the root of the problem is not to be found in the knesset’s puppet show. It is in the racist nature of the regime that oppresses you, a nature that cannot be altered by a change of leader nor of party, but only by a radical change of the regime itself. In Israel, such a change could never come through the parliamentary way. It will be the result of struggle – of your struggle and that of all those oppressed people who are suffering under this yoke. And in your case, the first thing to do is to bring your fight to the streets.

Remember my brothers, my sisters, how the demonstrations of the Black Panthers almost twelve years ago shook the regime far more than a dozen electoral cycles would. You have expressed your anger – but without organisation, without a programme, without definite objectives. As a consequence, this historic movement was appropriated by professional politicians and thus lost to the quicksands of Israeli “democracy”: a democracy like that of Ancient Rome, in which you are the plebeians, kept in the slums and in ignorance; a democracy that for you means oppression, and for the Palestinian people, massacre; a democracy where real power is held by a barbarous military junta made up of solidly fascist generals, from Raphael Eytan, to Mordechai Gur, to Ariel Sharon. The deeper reality of this regime, founded on the racist, expansionist essence of Zionism and its organic alliance with imperialism, is that it is a forward military base for American imperialism’s domination of the entire Middle East – a military base of which the Euro-Americans, the “Ashkenazis”, are the pilots and technicians, and of which you are the workhorses and cannon fodder.

Such is the reality of this regime; such is its nature!

It is founded on a racist ideology, one which has nothing to do with the religion of our forefathers and which was rejected from the beginning by the rabbis of Europe, of America, and of the Arab countries. This ideology was only able to impose itself as a result of the capitalist Jewish bourgeoisie taking it up in the context of first Britain’s, then America’s conquests. The Zionist leaders did not hesitate to use the Nazi holocaust to drag the whole of European and American Jewry into their venture, making them, as required, the objective accomplices of the holocaust. In 1938, for example, Ben Gurion was opposed to every offer of evacuation of German Jews to England and the United States (see his 17 December 1938 letter to the Zionist General Council).

Zionism, this racist and chauvinist ideology born from the crisis of Judaism in Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century in the context of European colonial expansion, is contrary to all the traditions and all the achievements of European Judaism: The same tradition that gave the world Spinoza, Einstein, Freud, and so many others.

Zionism is contrary to the glorious history, spanning more than a millennium, of Arab and Mediterranean Judaism, which was historically forged in symbiosis with Islam within the Arab civilization. The splendour of al-Andalous’ golden centuries continues, moreover, to illuminate our culture through works such as the Zohar: an expression of this symbiotic relationship that did not cease to bring its message of fraternity and justice from the bottom of the valleys to the very tops of mountains, and across the plains where our mothers and fathers laboured. Since it reaffirms the essential content of the biblical message – a universalist call for justice and human dignity – the Zohar is opposed to the distortions that the ancient Hebrew state itself introduced (for the purposes of its dominant classes), as well as to the various legacies of that same tribal fanaticism.

Today it is Zionism, this tribal and racist ideology of modern times, that exalts fanaticism. Witness how the criminal Zionist leaders and the sacrilegious rabbis, created by and in the pay of the Zionist apparatus, deform the biblical message and deny its fundamental reality – one which has, through both Christianity and Islam, won over half of humanity. That message, enriched by the Gospels and Liberation Theology, served as a clarion call for the oppressed masses of Latin America; that message which, throughout history, has been the unshakeable core around which Judaism has maintained itself, despite all persecution. Thus the sacrilegious Zionist leaders overturn the religion of our fathers, transforming it into an ideology of racial hatred and war. This ideology, and the state apparatus which upholds it, has incessantly aroused in you a hatred of our Palestinian brothers – of our Arab brothers – only in order to make cannon fodder of you, as required for their criminal, senseless projects.

Zionism, an ideology that issued from colonial Europe and that is a foreigner to the historical essence of Judaism, is above all an ideology of war and conquest. The aim of Zionist leaders – the aim of Ben Gourion, who had nothing but contempt for you and your culture – was to create a “Greater Israel” from the Nile to the Euphrates. As bloodthirsty a villain as Sharon, crazed with ambition, pushes for still more conquest, wanting to impose Israeli hegemony from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean – even into the heart of Africa! The Lebanese war, the massacre of the Lebanese and the Palestinians, the death of your brothers and of your sons who died only to satisfy the dreams of Begin, Sharon and other Zionist leaders: this entire parade of crimes and tragedies is but another phase of the insane fantasy pursued by the Zionist clique with such great perseverance for more than half a century. Every means is acceptable – lies, crimes, wars – none of which will end except by the defeat of these dangerous men and their political and military apparatus.

This ideology of war and conquest, this ideology of insane rogues, is above all a racist ideology. It is the Jewish counterpart of Hitlerism. Hitler made the Jews the least of the ‘races’ … along with Arabs. Zionism does not change this hierarchy, other than to make Jews the first of the ‘races’.

It is imperative and indeed urgent to put an end to the myths of the “Jewish people” and the “Chosen people” on which the Zionist ideology is based. These ideas, born in the tribal period of the history of the Hebrews, must be rejected in our era . Do you form one people with your oppressors? What an insult! Both the Arab Jewish and European Jewish traditions view this notion as having a purely religious content: the “Jewish people” is therein analogous to the Islamic “Ummah” or to “Christendom”. As for the idea of a “Chosen people” – whose inanity Spinoza has shown – the great Jewish thinkers of Andalusian mysticism and their Arab successors understood it as a requirement that Jews behave, wherever they find themselves, justly: thus they would encourage the advent of God’s Kingdom on earth, bringing a reign of justice and peace forall people. Today, in a time when the great religions have abandoned their pretensions of superiority over other faiths and when dialogue between believers and non-believers is finally allowed, it is time for Judaism to definitively move beyond this notion. Thus it would conform to the universal content of its own religion as well as its historical dynamic, and could thus overcome the fatal regression that Zionism has caused.

Indeed, as Martin Buber has written, “Once religious rites and dogmas have become so rigid that religious feeling is no longer able to alter them, or even comply with them, then the religion itself becomes uncreative and therefore a source of falsehood.”

Martin Buber speaks out against the ultimate mendacity of such a tendency without understanding that it is inherent to the fundamental logic of Zionism. This logic wants to reduce Judaism to the tribal mores it knew two thousand years ago, making Judaism another form of racism. It proclaims the State of Israel a “Jewish state above all”, just as Hitler proclaimed Germany “Aryan”.

In order to achieve its mythical, mad objectives, Zionism must above all erase “the Arab”. It must first of all disappear the Arab Palestinians as a people without hesitating to resort to genocide, as in the cases of Sabra and Shatilla, and indeed throughout its long and bloody history since 1948, at Deir Yassin, Qibya, and Kafr Qasim. Zionism must reduce the Arab to a sub-human, and certain ideologues are happy to justify this erasure. 

This is why Zionism, in its racist anti-Arab logic, wants to debase you too to this condition, even whilst proclaiming you as full citizens of the state of Israel as Jews. This citizenship is nothing more than the citizenship of the plebeians of ancient Rome. It is precisely here that the reality of Zionism is unveiled: you are Jews, but you are Arab Jews. Your conception of life, your culture, and even your practices of Judaism are rooted in the centuries-old past, in the lands of the Atlas Mountains, of Yemen and Iraq, which our ancestors contributed to shaping. An Arab culture that was as equally enriched by the Jewish Arab philosopher Moses Ben Maimoun as it was by the Muslim Arab philosopher Ibn Rushd; an Arab culture of the interwoven songs and dances of peasants and artisans, of Muslims and Jews, from the mountains of Yemen to the oases of Tafilalt.

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel – hold your heads high! This culture, our culture, is a culture of peace and justice, of harmony with nature, of familial and social warmth, and of fraternity and dignity.

What is this so-called “culture” that your oppressors want to impose? It is a mechanism of death and hatred, a world of bunkers and shrapnel that uproots the thousand-year-old olive tree in order to displace Palestinian peasants, and that makes of you slaves of Euro-American capital and indeed as the intended victims of its military maneuvers. What is this so-called “culture”, my proud and dignified sisters, that reduces many of you to prostitution? And you, my brothers, to unemployment and the misery of slums?

Hold your heads high! Wrest your freedom and your dignity from oppression! Destroy your oppressors and build a just society, a society of peace and fraternity!

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel, I am writing to you because even in the summer of 1982 – marked by the bloody reality and murderous insanity of the Zionist political-military apparatus, culminating on Rosh Hashanah, crimson with the blood of the innocents of Sabra and Shatila – a prospect for peace nevertheless lies before you. In the face of the Camp David fraud, the road to a realistic and lasting peace lies before you, in opposition to this murderous insanity.

Such is the objective of the realistic program of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO), sole representative of the Palestinian people, as adopted in Fez[1] alongside almost all the Arab states. I must insist that this program should be viewed as the PLO conceived it, that is, as a whole with eight inseparable points. It is important not to allow yourselves to be influenced by the propaganda claiming that this program is the PLO’s first step towards a capitulation, one which would converge with the projects of Ronald Reagan, Shimon Peres, and King Hussein.[2] Those latter projects are incompatible with the raison d’être of the Palestinian revolution: to win back the homeland whilst taking into account the right to life, peace, dignity, and respect for the culture of Jews who, deceived by Zionism, settled on this land.

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel: I am a revolutionary militant. I have paid enough in struggle and sacrifices to be without personal ambition, and to have acquired a certain degree of lucidity. I know that the fight is hard, and that it will be harder for many years to come. I know that I will not personally witness the victory of this struggle, which is inevitable. It is with full responsibility that I am addressing you. I do not tell you to trust the heads of Arab states, whether feudal or bourgeois, kings or emirs, generals or colonels. You know the responsibility that they bear, both those who were and those who were not at Fez – a responsibility that lies in their false independence and in racist and chauvinistic demagoguery. They forced you to leave the land of your ancestors for your current exile: No, I will not ask you to trust them.

However, I know the people of Palestine, its militants and leaders. Strengthened by half a century of suffering and struggles, rooted in the millenial culture of the Holy Land, the Palestinian people are by far the most advanced of all Arab peoples. The Zionist rulers hailing from Europe, from Ben-Gurion to Begin, wanted to tear them away from this land where Muslims, Christians, and Jews have continuously lived in fraternal harmony for thirteen centuries, the imprint of which the Palestinians bear. The Palestinian people’s leaders and organisations were forged in the fire of one of the most difficult revolutionary struggles of this century; they carry the best that humanity has built in its long, painful march towards a society of justice.

Since the Palestinian people began their revolution, which allowed them to assert themselves as a conscious people with their own organisation — the Palestine Liberation Organisation, independent of any external control and their sole legitimate representative — they have continuously reassured all Jews settled in Palestine that there is a possibility of living in peace on this land. Whilst continuing their legitimate fight to liberate Palestine, they promise Jews full respect for their democratic rights and full equality of religion and language, under the condition that they renounce Zionism, which is in its essence opposed to a just and humane solution. Since January 1969, the Palestinian people have not stopped affirming this noble objective, each time more concretely. And, since 1975, they have clarified the steps needed to achieve it.

The Fez Initiative is part of this search for a realistic and viable route to peace. Certainly, it does not require Israeli Jews to renounce Zionism for specific, concrete steps to be achieved. The Palestinian people have reaffirmed, through the voice of their leader Yasser Arafat, their determination to maintain their legitimate resistance across all of the territories occupied since June 1967, and that by all means: “nothing more, nothing less”. The Palestinian people resists occupation and colonisation, as well as the terror inflicted by the leading Zionist clique, alongside their diplomatic efforts to implement the Fez Initiative.

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel! Personally, I am convinced that the Zionist rulers — Begin, Peres, and the military clique who are the true masters of the state of Israel — will by every means block such a route to peace, and will not hide it either. Nevertheless, it is the only possible path, since the Palestinian people will accept neither submission nor any other form of capitulation: they will never renounce their legitimate and inalienable right to win back a homeland that was forcibly seized from them. This path – the only path towards a just and lasting peace for both Palestinians and Israeli Jews – is contrary to the very essence of Zionism, which can only bring its unreasonable, fanatical project to fruition through the negation of the Palestinian people. Thus, the Sabra and Shatila massacre, however deranged it may seem, speaks to the objective of the barbaric and criminal Zionist leaders: to block this opening to peace, precisely because it is realistic and viable.

The path to peace is possible. However, it is only possible if you throw off the yoke of your oppressors, the yoke of the Zionist apparatus. What is Zionism for you, concretely? What has it brought to you other than evermore suffering and misery? It has killed even hope. What is Zionism concretely, if not an institutional, political and military structure that ensures – through its interpenetration with the Jewish capitalist bourgeoisie of Western Europe and the United States – the survival and strength of the Euro-American caste that oppresses you? Within this structure, Israel is linked principally with American imperialism, which itself views the country as nothing but a means of dominating the region and as an immense advanced military base – of which you are the cannon fodder.

By fighting against the political apparatus of Zionism, against Begin, Peres, and the others, and by refusing to follow its military clique in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, you will fight against the core of your oppression: you will fight both for your liberation and a future of lasting peace for you and your children in the Near East.

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel! I cannot, from my prison, thousands of kilometers away from the social and political reality that you live, tell you how or through which political and social organisations, whether they exist or are yet to be created, to proceed, though I aim to follow your struggle both with heart and mind. It seems certain to me that any organisation that claims to be Zionist can only reinforce your oppression, even as it claims to do the opposite. It also appears certain to me that you must get closer, within and for this struggle, to your Palestinian Arab brothers onto whom the status of ‘Israeli citizens’ was imposed. You must refuse to take part in any acts of repression aimed at our Palestinian brothers in the occupied territories, and in any military adventures, whether they be in Lebanon or elsewhere. Undoubtedly, you must fight alongside other progressive Israeli Jews, who work courageously for a real and lasting peace, for the evacuation of all territories occupied since 1967, and protest against the bloody and criminal maneuvers of Zionist leaders.

However, I do not think that this should prevent you from simultaneously asserting yourselves specifically as Arab Jews politically, culturally, and in all areas of social and political action. Take control of your culture and your identity; they are your primary weapons of liberation! But, of course, do not let your struggle be hijacked by these opportunists who only flaunt the label of “Sephardic” to better succeed in their careers and political ambitions, whether they be unscrupulous demagogues like David Levy, bourgeois politicians like Yitzhak Navon, or corrupt rabbis like Abouhatzeira, who tarnish the names of the long line of rabbis of the people, righteous and respected.

You are Arab Jews, my brothers and sisters; you are, we are, Arabs. You are also oppressed workers, and it is alongside your fellow oppressed workers, and above all, alongside other Arab workers, that you must fight your battle – all without allowing yourselves to dissociate from your identity. On the contrary, the more you can assert your identity in this fight, the more it can be incorporated into the shared struggle with all Arab workers and the oppressed of Israel, in the shared struggle with the first victims of Zionist and racist oppression, our Palestinian brothers, and in the shared struggle with all the progressive voices of Israel. With regards to the latter in particular, one must be careful not to counter the anti-“Oriental Jewish” racism of the Zionist political military clique with a reversed, anti-“Ashkenazi” racism. The more you are able to reclaim and reassert your identity, the more you will be able to overcome the divisions and mistrust between yourselves and your brothers in oppression and struggle: all of your brothers in oppression and struggle!

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel, to say more would be presumptuous on my part. This is an appeal for militancy, for dignity, for a future of peace and justice. In a secular state of Israel – freed from Zionist oppression and racism; having evacuated from all the territories occupied since June 1967 and rectified the injustices of the 1948 colonial aggression; having rid itself of the tutelage of American imperialism and its role as aggressor against the whole Near East – you and all the citizens of this state will be able to work fraternally alongside a Palestinian state, preparing for a shared future where the Holy Land, the land of Palestine in its entirety, will become a Palestinian, democratic, secular, reunified state. It would then be a beacon of light for all humanity, and above all, for the entire Arab region — not that of kings, emirs, generals and colonels, but founded by the Arab peoples, liberated from imperialist oppression, feudal and comprador reaction, and the so-called bourgeois saviours. Thus, in this glorious land of Palestine, in which fraternal unity has been reconstructed and taken to a higher level, Arab Judaism will be able to flourish. It will exist in creative and democratic harmony with all the other Islamic and Christian components of Palestinian society – an Arab culture and a Palestinian people of tomorrow. Similarly, the distinctive culture of those European Jews that the tragedies of history have discarded onto this sacred land and who remain attached to it, will be able to assert themselves and integrate into its culture, both themselves and their descendants. And thereby, simultaneously, the spiritual home of Judaism as a religion – the objective need for which is the only explanation for the irrational attachment that so many Jews across the world have towards the state of Israel as a Jewish state – would be attained in the Holy Land.

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel.

Such is the noble prospect before you. Such is the path that your vital struggle must follow.

Rise up against your oppressors, against the racist and criminal Zionist rulers!

For peace, fraternity, justice, for dignity, arise!

[1] Translators’ note: the Fes Initiative’s eight-point document is provided in the appendix.

[2] Editors’ note: History has unfortunately proven Serfaty - and the PLO majority which he was echoing - wrong on this particular claim. By abandoning the strategy that focussed on the liberation of the entirety of Palestine, the PLO opened the way for the Oslo accords, the institutionalisation of the Palestinian bourgeoisie within the structures of the Palestinian Authority, and the bantustanisation of its territory and people (see Farsakh 2005). Since this historic defeat, the Palestinian revolution has rejected this approach and returned to an approach which struggles for the liberation of the whole of historic Palestine, including in the lands colonised in 1948, and all of its people.

Global Palestine Solidarity and the Jewish Question

Sune Haugbølle

The question of antisemitism continues to trouble and disrupt pro-Palestinian activism. Today, the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of antisemitism, agreed in 2016 along with a list of examples of antisemitism that tie it to critique of Israel, is routinely used by Israel’s proponents as a tool to silence, shame, and outlaw protest and debate. As of October 2023, the definition has been adopted by 43 countries. The roots of this linking of antisemitism and anti-Zionism can be traced back to the 1960s and 1970s, when much of the left globally adopted Palestine as a cause worthy of support. This article analyses the early debate about antisemitism, Israel and the ‘Jewish Question’ in Palestine Solidarity movements and among Palestinian groups. It shows that activists were aware of the need to address the issue sensitively, but at the same time found it essential to formulate a critique of Zionism being part of capitalist, racist and imperialist practices. By reading into early solidarity publications and drawing on memoirs and interviews with former militants, the article first outlines how the connection between the global New Left and Palestine was established.[1] The article focuses on Denmark’s Palestine Committee (founded in 1970) and smaller leftist groups and publications associated with it. On the Palestinian side, it draws on sources from al-Fateh, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the material they distributed globally. The aim is to understand the exchange of views between Palestinians and solidarity activists, and to compare the Left’s readings of the Jewish Question and the Question of Palestine. The article shows how a historical materialist understanding of Zionism became widely established through meetings, exchanges, and texts. The final part of the article traces the development of the debates in the latter part of the 1970s and illustrates how the solidarity offensive triggered a pro-Zionist backlash which, over time, set the tone for the accusations of antisemitism today.      


This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition.All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.


Bridging the New Left and Palestine

In the spring of 1970, the cause of Palestinian liberation was gaining ground around the world, drawing new converts particularly from student groups, Marxist-Leninist New Left parties, and anti-colonial movements and governments in the global south. In Western capitals like Oslo, Berlin and Copenhagen, groups of young activists were preparing to launch Palestine Committees, while others were packing for a summer camp in Jordan organized by the General Union of Palestinian Students. In Amman, they would overlap with Western journalists reporting on the Palestinian fedayin and their struggle for freedom. Meanwhile, part of the Left in the West, for the first time since World War II, began to question what had remained an overwhelmingly pro-Israel viewpoint.

The quick turnaround had begun with Egypt’s Arab nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser defeat in the June 1967 war and Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, and Gaza. In less than three years, the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its associated groups[2] had successfully broken away from Nasser and instead forged a national platform, creating independent alliances with states and civil society across the world. This internationalization or globalization of the Palestinian cause coincided with increased military confrontation with Israel through guerilla warfare from Jordanian territory, supported by the People’s Republic of China and other powers. The new militancy repulsed many in the West who already saw Palestinians as “Arab terrorists” bent on Israel’s destruction. For New Left groups, militancy often appealed as a necessary means to confront colonialism and imperialism that had proven successful in Vietnam, Algeria and elsewhere. As a result of these connected political impulses of the late 1960s, parts of the Left in Europe, which had until then favoured Israel, changed allegiance and became staunchly pro-Palestinian, all within a few years, starting with the June War in 1967 and culminating with the foundation of Palestine committees and other solidarity groups around 1970.[3] Scandinavia is a good example of this broader development on the Marxian New Left. Here, small groups of student activists had cultivated links to Palestinians since 1967. Now, in the summer of 1970, they were preparing to participate in General Union of Palestine Students activities in Jordan, after which they would return to their home countries and start up their national Palestine committees in Denmark and Norway. Swedish activists had already launched Palestine groups the year before. 

If Palestine bridged the gap between the Marxist-inspired youth rebellion in Western democracies and global South liberation movements, Amman, and later Beirut, became bridgeheads for those who wanted a taste of the revolution. The Palestinian space had become a new central node in revolutionary networks[4], where contingents of third-world politicians and Western solidarity activists coalesced, meeting in organised form in conferences such as the Second World Congress for Palestine held in Amman in September 1970, but also in less organized visits. For many revolutionary groups in the West, the Palestinians attained the stature of admirable front-line combatants in a global fight against US imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, and racism. Being with them involved a learning process, an exchange of theories and practical models for mobilization that in turn sharpened their own theoretical and organizational set-up. Ideas became entangled in this encounter, and differently situated struggles melted into each other in a new common revolutionary ‘problem space.’ Resolutions to key challenges that they all faced, albeit in different ways, emerged from their exchanges. One of these challenges concerned antisemitism.

Although evidence is often flimsy and ad hominem, the antisemitic slur has often been hard to overcome for the Left. In order to understand its roots, we do not have to go back all the way to the Judenfrage of Enlightenment Europe or the long trail of Marxist and socialist (ostensible) collusion in antisemitic descriptions.[5] The beginning of Palestine solidarity provides a more contemporary, and I would argue more compelling, perspective on the entangled origins of a problem that keeps reappearing and now, since the IHRA’s 2016 definition of antisemitism, is threatening to limit solidarity activities decisively. I show how, during this formative period, Palestinians made connections with activists elsewhere and drew strength from its entanglement with the counterculture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Marxist framework shared – not universally, but widely - across these transnational alliances and networks provided a way to separate the cause of Palestine from the Jewish Question. I analyse this process of separation and speculate on its relative merits. At the same time, the analysis shows the difficulty of truly disentangling Palestine solidarity and the Jewish Question. I argue that this has contributed to allocating the Palestinian cause a fringe position in the Western political landscape. While the movement won victories in the UN with the granting of Permanent Observer status to the PLO in 1974 and General Assembly resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism, great power politics moved only slightly in favour of the Palestinian position. Despite the hard efforts to change the parameters of the debate over Israel in the West, Palestine advocacy failed to persuade the Democratic Party in the US as well as most social democratic governments in Europe to take on their fundamental critique of Zionism. Instead, mainstream Western diplomacy worked to ‘de-radicalise’ the PLO, ushering their leader Yassir Arafat away from a one-state solution and towards a two-state solution that would include a land-for-peace arrangement, where certain elements of Palestinian rights to land and return would eventually be traded in for (ostensible) peace, first in the form of the Camp David Accords in 1978 and later the Oslo Accords in 1994.[6]

This article goes back to the time before all this came to pass – the flawed peace process, the Second Intifada, and the current impasse of Palestinian liberation - and also before the PLO was forced out of its headquarters in Jordan. Before September 1970, a different, more confrontational approach prevailed which spread to, and drew energy from, the Marxist-Leninist Left globally. In the context of this special issue of HM, I interrogate how solidarity activists in conversation with Palestinians dealt with the question of antisemitism back then - how they analysed it, confronted it, and in some cases resolved it. I draw on examples from across Europe and the US but highlight the case of Scandinavia in order to unfold how the delicate questions of Marxism, race, Jewish identity, and historical guilt played out in a particular context. My analysis shows that both Palestinians and solidarity movements were acutely aware of the dangers of antisemitic charges, and that they developed analytical models and explanations as well as practical operational measures to counter them.

Entanglement and Disentanglement on the Left

Framing Palestine as an anti-imperialist cause was the main defense against the charge of antisemitism. As the first activists coming out of Vietnam war protests saw it, the Zionist ideology of the Israeli state and its expansionist behavior epitomized rightwing ideologies of the US-dominated world order, which, so they believed, had to be challenged. Palestine activists who look back at the era remember an element of rebellion in their stance against the older generation of post-Second World War European leftists who had failed to see Palestine in a wider perspective. At the same time, once they had cleared their eyes of the internalised Zionist discourse that dominated mass media in the West, they felt not just changed but also utterly deceived by mainstream society. As the Danish Jewish historian and Palestine solidarity activist Morten Thing put it, “It was like the scales had suddenly fallen from our eyes. How could it be that when it came to this very crucial conflict in the world, we were never told the truth? We simply came to realise [after 1967] that we had been lied to, and that the lie was systemic and organised.”[7] Setting out to disprove the “lies,” as well shall see, Palestine solidarity confronted Zionist myths first and foremost. They drew on the analysis of Palestinians and in particular the work of Fayez Sayigh, founder of the PLO Research Center in Beirut, whose book series included several important volumes on Zionism, colonialism and racism that were distributed to solidarity activists globally. One of them, Zionist Colonialism in Palestine, written by Sayigh himself and published in English as early as 1965 and subsequently translated into several languages including Swedish [fig. 1], provided the historical background for interpreting Zionism as an expression of racism and imperialism. The booklet charts the development of Zionism as settler colonialism, and the Palestinian response in the form of military organization seeking allies across the world but particularly in the global south. As a colonial venture, writes Sayigh, Israel represents “a challenge to all anti-colonial peoples in Asia and Africa.”[8] However, the call resonated with anti-imperialists not just in the global south but across the world.  

fig 1 SH

In the act of engaging with this work, solidarity activists inevitably encountered the difficult Jewish Question and its long and bitter history in Europe. For someone like Thing, who grew up in a Jewish family, that encounter was self-evident, if problematic, painful and difficult. He had to face charges of treason and antisemitism from Jewish friends as well as Communist comrades, not just at the point of “coming out” as pro-Palestinian, but for the remainder of his life.[9] For other activists, concerns about antisemitism seemed trite and overblown, and to a large extent they ignored the charges. This led to several instances where the thin line between pro-Palestinian and what the IHRA definition today calls “Holocaust inversion”[10] – the portrayal of Jews as Nazis - was toed unsuccessfully.

Fig 2 SH 

One example is the Danish Palestine Committees’ 1971 boycott campaign against oranges from Jaffa [fig. 2]. These so-called “blood oranges” were pictured as Israeli general Moshe Dayan. Dayan was presented with highlighted Jewish features in several visual representations of the Left, as for example the magazine Ungkommunisten (The Young Communist) published by the Maoist organization KAK. Other examples include the use of the Star of David as a new swastika, such as in the drawings of the popular Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali, whose figure Handhala is an icon of the global solidarity movement to this day, or in the New Left magazine Politisk Revy. In a cartoon in the Palestine solidarity magazine Falastin [fig. 3], the swastika is lumped from Nazism on to the Jews, who pass it on, transformed to a Star of David, to the Palestinians/Arabs. The Swedish Maoist Palestine magazineFolkFronten (The Popular Front) went a step further and featured the swastika lodged inside the Star of David on the cover of their January 1975 issue on Zionism [Fig. 4]. The PFLP, whose translated material dominated in this group as well as in Denmark’s Palestine Committees, also often equated Israeli and Nazi practices. Instead of merely criticizing Israel for its colonialist practices, they routinely highlighted the hypocrisy of pretending to be a victim when in fact the Israeli state was making victims in their own occupation.

Fig 3 SH

If one were already looking for signs of anti-Jewish sentiments in pro-Palestinian material, these slogans and images could easily be interpreted as appropriations of tropes from the old antisemitic vocabulary of pre-Second World War Europe and even of Nazi propaganda. The PLO’s leadership was acutely aware how damaging and delegitimising for their cause this could be, particularly in powerful Western countries where public opinion was, from the outset, overwhelmingly pro-Israel. Therefore, when a wave of antisemitic soundings slogans in support of Palestine began to appear as graffiti in European cities in the spring of 1970, Fateh’s leadership was quick to denounce those who, in their own words, “wish to entangle the revolutionary cause of the Palestinian people struggling for national rights and return to the motherland with antisemites’ longing for racist schemes.”[11]

Fig 4 SH

This Fateh communique is instructive because it contains some of the key strategies that the Marxist-Leninist Left adopted for wrestling the antisemitic beast. The strategy derived not just from Marxist dogma but equally from an Arab intellectual tradition of critiquing antisemitism.[12] Three days earlier, another article in Le Monde reported on a Christian conference in Beirut, which gathered Arab Christian voices and organisations in support of Palestine. Their declaration highlighted the need to condemn “all explicit or hidden forms of antisemitism,” including those derived from a Christian tradition. Linking the use of Biblical texts to Zionist racist attacks on Arabs, the declaration stressed the need to oppose “all politico-religious systems (…) opposed to the dignity of mankind.”[13]

This logic, developed in Arab and European circles that connected through their affiliation with the cause of Palestine, created a blueprint for how to address the issue. First, the cause must be disentangled from antisemitism. Antisemitism is wrong and historically harmful, and must be critiqued, but on its own terms and not in relation to the question of Palestinian national rights. If it is critiqued, it must be contextualised as a European form of racism that was imported to the Middle East, and which mirrors anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotyping in Zionist rhetoric and practice. This separation requires particular labour and strategies at the intellectual and political level. A historical materialist reading of the Middle East conflict shows 1) the active role of US-led imperialism (which, so activists frequently repeated, was “the highest stage of capitalism” as Lenin had said) in Israeli colonialism; and 2) the common cause of Jewish and Arab workers and peasants who together should dismantle the Zionist state and build a socialist state based on secular religious parity. Moreover, since antisemites who long for “a racist scheme” are conspiring to sow hatred between people, those who defend Palestine must develop a counter-scheme based on education and factual enlightenment. Zionism, so the activists and the PLO believe, is itself a form of racism. Therefore, critiquing it risks implicating them in a “racist scheme.” In short, Palestinians and their allies must organise and educate the public if they want to win the information wars that from the late 1970s became known as hasbara (meaning ‘explaining’ in Hebrew) as a shorthand for the Israeli state’s public relations strategy to disseminate pro-Israeli information abroad and, if necessary, smear and undermine Palestine advocacy.[14] 

Wishing the Jewish Question Away

If early Palestine solidarity sometimes acted as if the Jewish Question did not exist, it was because they wanted to replace it with a different question: The Question of Palestine. What is known in Arabic as al-qadiya (the cause) became the single most important rallying point from the early 1960s onwards for revolutionaries of various shades, including Pan-Arabists, Communists, Marxist-Leninists, and Ba’athists, who would otherwise disagree on much else. This cause, or question, traveled to solidarity movements through translations of political programs, key texts, poetry of writers like Mahmoud Darwish, films, and conferences. Writing as an intellectual observer and a member of the Palestinian National Council, Edward Said developed a theoretical understanding of what he calls “The Question of Palestine” in his 1979 book by that name. Following straight after his famousOrientalism from 1978, Said replicates his Foucauldian method to interrogate the articulation and discursive contestation of Palestine, and how it has been used to legitimise the denial of Palestinian national claims. Palestine, he writes, is a contest “between an affirmation and a denial (…),” between those who seek to erase the historical facts of the presence of Palestinians on the land, and those who struggle to affirm and reestablish it.” This struggle between Palestinians and Zionists, therefore, is essentially “a struggle between a presence and an interpretation, the former constantly appearing to be overpowered and eradicated by the latter.”[15]

Said’s intervention highlights the existence of two questions, two entangled causes and problems metastasising throughout the global political field, where one is trying to sound out the other. In making this comparison, Said drew on a decade of international struggle since 1967 to ensure that a Palestinian Question existed next to the more illustrious Jewish Question. At the root of Said’s contestation, therefore, lies the challenge for Palestinians and their advocates to articulate the Palestinian Question and, if possible, separate it from the Jewish Question. Without the guilt of Holocaust and the weight of centuries of pogroms that include leftist complicity in antisemitism, the Palestinian Question appears as a clear case of unlawful appropriation of land. Articulating Palestine as a case settler-colonialism and necessary struggle to resist it puts it in a natural tandem with other related struggles in the formerly colonised world, and in theoretical harmony with Marxist-Leninist articulations of the global revolutionary cause.

Before we get to the Left’s attempt to disentangle the two Questions, let us consider the Jewish Question. The notion first emerged as a set of questions around the legal and political status of Jews in France and Germany in particular, but also in Europe more generally starting with the 1753 Bill of Naturalisation in England.[16] Should they be granted civil and political rights equal to those of Christian citizens and subjects? Would civic education make them loyal and integrated? In these debates, socialists often defended Jewish emancipation. But other times, socialists like Charles Fourrier and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon joined a populist view of Jews as opposed to the people: a group of deracinés cosmopolitans whose mercantilism served international capital and undercut socialist transformation. Towards the late 19th century, antisemitism had become a political weapon employed by opponents of liberalism and, in the case of France, the republican state which anti-Dreyfusards associated with Jewish France. This historical moment culminated in the Dreyfus Affair and gave rise to Zionism as an attempt to provide what Theodor Herzl called “a modern solution to the Jewish Question” in the form of a nationalist movement. Indeed, the Affair provoked Hertzl to make his political formulation of Zionism. The extreme and genocidal answer that Nazism gave to the Question was of course a dramatic escalation of this tradition of anti-Jewish thought in Europe, but also continued strains that were, from the beginning, supported by segments of the European Left.

In their study of two centuries of leftist reflections on the Jewish Question, Tire and Spencer have recently summarised the issue of antisemitism and the Left as a central dilemma first posed in the Enlightenment. The leftist dilemma is whether to stress a universalism for all, which sometimes overwrites the rights of minorities including Jews, or to stress a universalism of rights, including the right for minorities to be protected.[17] In relation to Israel, what is the strongest imperative: To defend universalism and therefore criticize Israel for its continued violations of humanitarian laws and principles as well as for the ethnic nationalism of its founding ideology? Or, conversely, to recognize the special status of Jews as a persecuted people in need of protection in the form of the state of Israel? Those who see global Palestine solidarity as capsized towards the broader ‘anti-Judaic’ tradition argue that it operates with an understanding of Jews as in some important regard the ‘other’ of the universal: “as the personification either of a particularism opposed to the universal, or of a false universalism concealing Jewish self-interest.” In making these statements, these critics claim, the pro-Palestine Left uncritically regurgitates classic antisemitic positions. Claiming to do so in the name of progress, justice or emancipation is nothing new: those were indeed the same terms of reference used by antisemitic socialists of the 19th century.

The answers given to this dilemma of universalism have waxed and waned since World War II according to changing sensibilities and historical contingencies. Arab nationalist, liberals, Marxists, and Islamists all refer to it as well.[18] We see the dilemma today in the clash between the recent Human Rights Watch report of April 2021 that accuses Israel of Apartheid, and the increasing number of countries signing on to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The emergence of Palestine as a global cause for the Left after 1967 marks the most critical juncture in the history that has brought us to this point. With that shift, a strong new narrative developed seeing Israel as a frontline opponent in the global struggle against imperialism, racism, and capitalism. These universalist concerns came to override the equally universalist apprehension regarding antisemitism. The entanglement of Palestine with the youth rebellion, student movements, Maoism, protests against the war in Vietnam and the whole counterculture of the late 1960s, powerfully questioned and challenged the narrative about Israel that most of the global Left had cultivated, learned and internalized through various means since 1945. In the old narrative – created and perpetuated by Israeli intellectuals and propaganda but adopted and reinterpreted in the context of post-war Europe - Israel is an embattled defender of Western humanism against fascist onslaughts in the region. By resisting “fascist” (or even Nazi, as in the common rendition of Nasser as an ‘Arab Hitler’ in the 1960s) regimes in the region, Israel continues the struggle during the second World War against fascism and Nazism, so the discourse went. Europeans can make amends for being on the wrong side of history, or alternatively continue their resistance if they were involved in the battle against Nazi Germany. This kind of post-Holocaust solidarity was deeply inscribed in close relations between labour unions and labour parties in Israel and Western Europe, but also involved individual connections between Israelis and socialist kibbutznik volunteers, and movements such as the Western German Aktion Sühnenzeichen (Signs of Atonement) that starting in 1958 sent young German volunteers to work in Israel in order to compensate for the Holocaust.[19]

It was this whole set of relations and inherited guilt and atonement that Palestine solidarity rebelled against. Holocaust continued to matter, but in the time of decolonial struggle, ‘never again’ could no longer be a ‘never again’ reserved for the Jewish people, but rather a slogan for all peoples suffering from expulsion, persecution, stigmatisation, and racialised violence. We see this point hammered home in the vast amount of material produced by the PLO Research Center and the Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut, and repeated by solidarity movements, including analyses of “the Zionist Mind,”[20] Zionism and Apartheid,[21] Zionist diplomacy,[22] Zionist terror,[23] and many other shades of Zionism. As Gilbert Achcar has shown, much of this material was written primarily in English with a foreign audience in mind. From the very moment of its birth, PLO members knew how important it was to communicate correctly about the Holocaust and Zionism.[24] 

Historical Materialist Readings of the Middle East Conflict

The June War in 1967 made many on the Left question the previously taken-for-granted understanding of Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East and Palestinians as “Arabs” who were either refugees in need of aid or terrorists threatening Israel’s existence. The change of mind was perhaps less dramatic in Scandinavia than in post-Holocaust Germany, but still significant enough to rouse suspicion and allegations of an underlying antisemitic motive from the beginning. Pro-Palestine groups in Scandinavia faced societies deeply embedded in sympathy for Israel. Even after 1967, state and private media continued to be dominated by pro-Israeli leanings. The Israeli labour party Mapai, which ruled Israel from 1948 to 1977 (after 1968 as the Labour Party), had institutional links with the Scandinavian Social Democrats, and the original Danish and Norwegian New Left parties (both called SF, short for Socialist People’s Party) created similar connections with their Israeli equivalent Mapam. To the left of Mapam, the Communist party Matzpen cultivated links with Palestinians and promoted a radical critique of Zionism, but this critique rarely reached a wider European leftist audience before 1967. Much more influential in Europe than Matzpen, Mapam and Mapai ran their own kibbutzim where thousands of young Europeans spent time in what they saw as a socialist microcosmos, places that served, as the Danish counterculture intellectual Ebbe Reich wrote in 1965, as “promising alternatives to the individualised life of Western society”.[25] The Communist parties in Scandinavia, as in all of Europe, kept close to the pro-Arab Soviet line in the conflict. The Soviet Union supported Egyptian and Arab League leadership, as opposed to the after 1965 increasingly vocal and independent PLO. However, this did not keep many communists from empathizing with the Palestinians’ plight and stressing their right to command their own struggle diplomatically and militarily. As a result, some eventually broke away from their party as part of the general upheaval of the New Left.

Since none of the established parties mobilized around Palestine, they left a fertile ground for the student protest movement and associated Marxist-Leninist groupuscules, as they were known in France. The Chinese position of supporting the PLO as part of a global emphasis on popular resistance and “people’s war” naturally attracted students who had wandered into new Maoist organisations. These were the milieus in which preparatory committees for Palestine solidarity movements developed. In fact, the Norwegian Palestine Committee, founded in October 1970, was almost uniquely associated with the Norwegian Maoist party AKP. The Swedish Palestine Groups (Palestinagrupperna) - various local branches that were not unified as PGS before 1975 – also had a heavy Maoist leaning. These first Palestine activists had to take an oppositional stance vis-a-vis many of their own comrades, some of whom remained skeptical about adopting a wholesale critique of Israel.

Morten Thing has provided an insightful account of this schism on the Left. Hailing from a Jewish background sympathetic to Communism, Thing was also active in the youth group Socialist Youth Front (SUF) and had, as was de rigeur, spent time in a kibbutz in the mid-1960s. After the June War in 1967, he began to question the basic belief that Israel in 1948 had indeed been “a land without people for a people without a land.” He began to criticize Israel’s occupation and the very nature of Zionism. He discovered Matzpen and wrote about them in the Danish press. Others on the Left joined him in developing a vocabulary drawing on writers like the French Marxist scholar Maxime Rodinson, who, inspired by Fayez Sayigh, articulated the notion of settler colonialism in an essay in Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous journalLes Temps Modernes immediately after the June 1967 war. Rodinson also wrote powerfully about the danger of amalgamating all kinds and degrees of enmity against Jews whatever the circumstances into one timeless, global nation. Particularly in light of the Holocaust, Rodinson argued, such a ‘nationalising’ approach risks lumping all expressions of hostility towards Jews, even those of the pre-Holocaust period, into one experience: the threat of total extermination. As several historians have shown, this is a gross misrepresentation of the complexities of Arab-Jewish relations before, during, and after the Shoah.[26]

This early critique and theorization of anti-Zionism can be tracked in the journal Politisk Revy in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a Danish equivalent ofLe Novel Observateur where leading Danish intellectuals of the New Left like Thing published their essays. The journal dedicated its July 1970 issue to the question of antisemitism and the Middle East conflict. The issue provides a detailed overview of positions towards antisemitism on the Danish New Left at the time. In a review of the Swedish Maoist Staffan Beckman’s influential booksPalestine and US Imperialism andPalestine and Israel: a Left Analysis, member of the Palestine Committees Niels Frølich notes that since 1967, the Left in Europe and the US has had to revise its view of Israel and Zionism. This “awakening” has modified “the often idealistic and un-dialectical notion of history” ignoring “economic structure, class struggle, and the development of the productive forces.”[27] In another article in the issue, Jacques Hersh unfolds a Marxist analysis of Jewish history, drawing mainly on the work of the Jewish Trotskyite Abraham Leon, who was killed by the Nazis in 1942, and the Belgian Jewish historian Nathan Weinstock.[28] They both stress the economic specialisation of Jewish diasporas that, from the late Middle Ages, led to direct competition with native merchants. The competition over resources more than religious hatred provided the base structure for pogroms. Their exposed position effectively locked Jews in many European countries into positions as money lenders and economic advisors to the ruling class, making them complicit in exploitation. In Marxist terminology, we can say that Hersh supports the view that antisemitism is a superstructure for the base of European Jewry’s historical affiliation with feudalism and, later, capitalism. The competition between native and Jewish bourgeoisie in early capitalism explains why the Jewish Question appears in the early 19th century, merging socialist and nationalist anxieties, and eventually eliciting a mirror-image response in the form of Zionism. In conclusion, Hersh writes, “Zionism was and is the attempt by European Jews to resolve the Jewish Question without changing the [capitalist] societal structures that created the problem.” Socialism, and a democratic Palestine for Jews and Arabs alike, would be the solution that Zionism eschews.

This reading does not seek to pardon antisemitism but to provide a materialist reading that relativises Jewish history. Antisemitism in this interpretation is not innate or cultural, even if it may appear as such. Rather, as any form of racism, it is rooted in economic structures. This deconstructive approach to Zionism was shared by Palestinian thinkers like Ghassan Kanafani, whose work engages deeply with Jewish history and the logic of Zionism. Reporting from Beirut for Politisk Revy, his Danish wife Anni Kanafani stressed in her contribution to the special issue that the Jewish experience is not unique. When Zionists claim that antisemitism is an inevitable product of Jews living outside of their national home, Anni Kanafani wrote, they forget that “hostilities usually ensue when a large amount of immigrants, such as Italians or Irish in the USA, settle.”[29]

For many, this logic of relativisation ultimately extended to the Holocaust, which they argued should not be seen as a unique historical experience, but alongside and related with the Nakba – the eviction of Palestinians in 1948. This was perhaps the most difficult argument for Palestine activists to defend in Europe. To this day, the idea that the Nakba and the Holocaust can and should be read as interlinked historical events animates strong responses, as evidenced from the reaction to the recent bookThe Holocaust and the Nakba : A New Grammar of Trauma and History edited by Bashir Bashir and Amos Goldberg.[30] First published in Hebrew in 2015, the book brings Jewish and Arab intellectuals together to discuss the conflicting narratives of their respective traumatic experience. While it generated much positive debate in Israel and elsewhere, it also deeply provoked those for whom the Holocaust is a sui generis atrocity.

Anti-Zionism in the 1970s

What can be said and what can only be thought when it comes to Israel, Zionism, and antisemitism? How much self-censoring is appropriate, and to what extent should Jewish sensitivities extend to other publics, and indeed to a global public? These questions tend to be answered more cautiously today than fifty years ago. Palestine solidarity provided a brash and frank critique that ignored set cultural norms, in an optimistic belief that confrontational activism could turn the tide of popular opinion, and that speaking truth, no matter what, would be liberating. The Danish Palestine Committee in the very first issue of their magazine Falastin published an article that outlined their understanding of the Israeli state as Zionist, as opposed to the Jewish people of Israel with whom neither Palestinians nor the Committee had a problem as such. “Many people mistakenly think that Judaism and Zionism are one and the same. This is not so. Judaism is a religion of great importance. Jews are considered members of a religious community, but are neither nationally nor ethnically connected to their fellow believers in other countries. (...) Zionism on the other and is an international political movement which, due to ostensible ethnic and national ties, seeks to unite all Jews in a worldwide organization.”[31] According to the PFLP-affiliated Palestine Committee, Zionism was not just ideologically problematic as a form of anti-universalistic, racist nationalism, but also served as a connecting point to imperialist powers, not least Great Britain and the USA. Danish activists saw Zionism as the primary identification for Israel’s colonial extensions abroad. For example, they consistently dubbed the center-left newspaper Politiken as the ”Zionist outlet,” due to its editor in chief Herbert Pundik, a Danish-Israeli dual citizen who in the 1970s defended Israel staunchly (and later admitted that he worked for the Mossad during this period).[32] In this way, left-wing activists made Palestine part of an already established anti-imperialist struggle that also involved confronting parties, institutions and individuals on the Left who supported Israel. 

The critique of Zionism took several forms. As we have seen, Marxian journals like Politisk Revy andFolkFronten gave space to long, theoretical interventions that analysed Zionism from a historical materialist perspective. Political meetings and demonstrations, pamphlets, solidarity magazines and speeches condensed the critique to slogans and short formulations. As an example, the following speech was given by writer Lars Bonnevie during a May 1971 demonstration organized by the Palestine Committee in Copenhagen. Reproducing Hersh’ argument almost ad verbatim, Bonnevie calls Zionism “the result of contradictions in capitalist society.” Antisemitism, he continues, “spawned its own tragic mirror image: Zionism. Both are equally an expression of the ugliest trait of bourgeois society: racism.” Having set the historical frames for his speech, Bonnevie continues:

You cannot be in solidarity with Vietnam if you don’t support Palestine. You cannot be in solidarity with the freedom struggle of the Third World if you are not in solidarity with Palestine. It is the Vietnam of the Middle East. The same struggle. It is a long people’s war, fought by the broad masses. It is a struggle that inscribes itself in the worldwide confrontation with imperialism. It is a struggle that expands the political consciousness of the people and teaches it to trust its own power.[33]

The speech highlights the generative power of struggling against Zionism, both in terms of connecting to global struggles and in terms of connecting ‘the people’ with its potentials for political consciousness and mobilization. To unlearn Zionism, people had to learn globally applicable theories of capitalism and imperialism that gave direction to the struggle. 

The Backlash: Advocacy and Hasbara in the 1970s

Unlearning Zionism required knowledge of its historical provenance, but also its contemporary manifestations. To that effect, the Palestine Committee published a special issue of Falastin dedicated to Zionism in Danish schoolbooks [Fig. 5]. In this little pamphlet, the authors methodically go through the most common textbooks on Israel and the Middle East conflict, illustrating and picking apart the Zionist logic that underpins learning material.[34] They correct facts as they go along and provide references to other books with a more truthful rendition of history. This deconstruction shows how 1948 in all Danish schoolbooks was rendered as a Jewish war for survival triggered by Arab aggression; how Palestinians featured as poor refugees in need of UN aid and development; and how Israeli society was presented as advanced and justified in its defense against Palestinians. Equally glaring, the pamphlet finds, is the absence of massacres such as Deir Yassin in 1948 where Zionist paramilitary groups Irgun and Lehi killed at least 107 Palestinians, including women and children, but also the political history and transformation of Palestinians since 1967, and indeed any mention of the occupation. The booklet concludes with a historical timeline that sets the record straight for the reader, and then describes the emergence of the PFLP, the principal partner of the Danish Palestine Committee.

Fig 5 SH

Whether this effort had much of an impact beyond a small crowd (the booklet had a print run of 400 copies) is questionable. But it inspired other attempts to reach the broader public. One of them was a string of documentary films about Palestine produced and shown in Denmark in the mid-1970s. Palestinian efforts to educate and counter Israeli propaganda internationally was concentrated in the Palestinian Film Unit, set up in Jordan in 1969 and integrated into the PLO with the aim of winning international sympathy and solidarity by showing Palestine as one dialect in a global language of anti-colonial struggle. The Vietnam war, the world’s first mass-mediated conflict, had proven the ability of living images to influence public opinion. Palestinian directors produced films and circulated them internationally but also worked with foreign directors. One of them was Danish filmmaker Nils Vest, who supported the Palestine Committee early on and in the following years went on to produce two widely watched documentary films in 1973 and 1975, the latter of which sparked huge controversy. The production, reception, and public debate surrounding An Oppressed People is Always Right shows how the anti-Zionist campaign developed after the initial spark, and how the late 1970s eventually saw the rise of a coordinated counter-campaign. I analyse this debate here to show the strengths and limitations of 1970s activism, the rise ofhasbara as a response to it, and the place of antisemitism.

The title “An Oppressed People is Always Right” neatly summarises the central ideological position of the global New Left that led it to support Palestine. Marxists and anti-imperialist like Vest came to the cause of Palestine with a pre-set interpretive framework but were also committed to let the militants formulate their own struggle. The film was shot in Lebanon in October 1974, in close cooperation with al-Fateh. A cousin of Ghassan Kanafani, Nabil Kanafani, who had also edited Falastin, acted as advisor and facilitator in the preparation stage, thus aligning the film with the PFLP’s particular articulation of Marxism. Over the following year, Vest edited the film before showing it to the public in November 1975. In 44 minutes, the film creates a counter-narrative to the Zionist-influenced schoolbooks thatFalastin exposed. Interlaced with interviews of Palestinian fighters in Lebanon, daily life in refugee camps, and images of Israeli bombardments of Nabatiyyeh in May 1974, the film recounts the expulsion of 1948, the Zionist ideology of Israel, and the birth of armed resistance. It also focuses on the role of Palestinian women in the PLO and their attempt to liberate themselves from traditional norms through the armed struggle [fig. 6]. Finally, it connects the Palestinian armed struggle to liberation wars in the Third World. The director himself was unapologetic about his intentions, which were never to produce an “objective” documentary but “to try to communicate my impression of the Palestinians as I met them in Lebanon. I have taken their side quite clearly, because I believe that a great injustice has been, and is still being, committed against them. In the same way that I would take any oppressed people’s side, no matter their religion or colour of skin.”[35] This counter-narrative was necessary, he stated, because of the lack of Arab and Palestinian voices in the Danish public, which is much more attuned to Israeli views. Add to that the “chronic bad conscience about the murder of Jews during Second World War” and fear of being labelled antisemitic, which “tends to make people shut up. Or go even further and become anti-Arab. Which is of course not nearly as incriminating [in the eyes of ordinary Danes].”[36]

Fig 6 SH

In April 1976, the film was distributed for showings across Denmark in schools and public libraries through the Danish State Film Central (SFC), a state-run organization with a large influence over public education in the 1960s and 1970s. SFC also funded the film. The general scandal that ensued in Danish media and politics over the film ran over several years and resulted in the state forcing SFC to withdraw the film and replace it with an edited version.[37] The debate brought out Jewish and pro-Israeli organisations and individuals in a coordinated attack that drew the lines sharply between supporters of Israel and Palestine and forced some on the Left to take a more cautious approach.

The main pro-Israeli voices were the Danish Zionist Union, Danish-Israeli Association, The Conservative Youth Party, The Jewish Youth Association’s Cultural Group, and various Danish Jewish intellectuals including Herbert Pundik, the editor of Politiken. Their argument was, in short, that the film was heavily skewed, used false material and argumentation, and that SFC had become a tool in the hands of radical Marxists. In a December 31, 1976, article in the conservative newspaper Weekendavisen Gert Glick of the Jewish Youth Association claimed to have proof that the film falsified historical material. He and others writing in the months following the release took offense with the linking of Zionism and imperialism and demanded that the film be withdrawn. In early 1977, the documentation was presented to SFC, and the Minister of Culture was subsequently drawn into the case. A legal examination concluded that the charges were unfounded. However, the attacks in the press continued across Denmark, even in local newspapers many of which raised charges of anti-Jewish sentiments against “the leftist cultural elite” and their “anti-Israeli propaganda film.” And on January 24, 1977, the conservative dailyBerlingske Tidende published an op-ed accusing Vest of antisemitism. Vest responded, as did other leftist intellectuals, but the Minister of Culture was eventually forced to intervene and in March 1977 the film was removed from distribution and did not reappear before late 1978 in an edited version.

The debate is notable because it marks a moment when the sometimes ‘sectarian’ Marxian critique of Israel – with its small magazines and initiated groupuscules - entered the mass public through the public institution of SDF. This prompted a counterattack that showcased the presence and political clout of the pro-Israeli line in Denmark, and in doing so arguably caused it to grow into a more organised structure. The influence of the New Left in the cultural and media field notwithstanding, Zionist influence had proven itself strong enough to counter and eventually – at least partly – repel the attempt to shape mass opinion in favour of Palestinians. They had used the antisemitic slur to good effect, and although Vest and his defenders on the Left argued their case, some of the suspicion inevitably stuck with them, along with other associated suspicions of ‘working for the enemy’ that were so characteristic of the Cold War. Were these ‘activists’ really representing foreign interests (a question rarely asked about the pro-Israeli side)? Were they democratically minded? If not, perhaps that explained whyAn Oppressed People is Always Right won a gold medal at the 1976 film festival in Bagdad, as one critic wrote surlily inPolitiken.

This association with Arab anti-democratic political culture and antisemitism became a running theme of hasbara in Denmark. It only intensified over the years, culminating in April 1989 when the so-called Blekingegade-gang was arrested after killing a police officer in failed bank robbery in November 1988. The ensuing court case drew attention to the Maoist organization KAK which, starting at the very solidarity conference in Amman in 1970 that opened this article, had operated a criminal underground organisation for 19 years funneling money to the PFLP and working closely with Wadie Haddad, head of the PFLP splinter group that planned plane-jackings. One of the scandalous findings in the court case and the journalistic uncovering of the ‘gang’ that followed was a project to compile a list of Danes with Zionist sympathies and links to the Israeli state. The so-called “Z-files” were ordered by the PFLP operative Marwan Fahoum and eventually handed over by the gang member Bo Weymann via agents in Damascus. Weymann, whose confession in front of a camera was broadcast as a documentary in 2009, proclaims to have had no antisemitic motives, even if he did realise in hindsight that he should have made the connection between his activities and possible antisemitic intentions of his Palestinian comrades.[38] Although we do not know what this list was intended for, many Danish journalists and commentators interpreted the “Z-files” as a potential hit-list when the story broke in the early 1990s.

The portended antisemitism at the root of this affair became the ‘smoking gun’ of the Dansh radical Left’s complicity in Arab antisemitism with explicit reference to the Nazi era’s persecution of Jews. In the context of the end of the Cold War, the Blekingegade-case was used by revanchist right-wing intellectuals to solidify the association between the Marxist Left and anti-democratic, anti-humanist thought and practice. Palestine’s friends in Denmark and elsewhere in Europe had finally been exposed as useful idiots for sinister terrorists. After September 11, 2001, this discourse only increased, intersecting with the Israeli state narratives of being a bulwark against Islamist forces threatening Europe and the free world. While these tendencies far from put an end to Palestine solidarity, as witnessed by recurrent demonstrations, Freedom for movement runs in Palestine, the flotilla to Gaza, and various other forms of activism in the 2000s, they gradually changed the problem space of antisemitism, while the early 1970s faded into memory.       

Conclusion: Lessons for today

How does the frank and direct anti-Zionism of the 1970s analysed in this article compare to the situation today? On the one hand, the linking and ‘frame bridging’ between Black Lives Matter and Palestine solidarity during the protests of spring and summer 2021 was reminiscent of alliances on the anti-imperialist Left in the 1970s. On the other hand, Palestine solidarity today is also increasingly conditioned by the sensitivities fed by the IHRA definition of antisemitism. In the early 1970s, activists pulled no punches when they attacked Zionism. Reading their texts, which rarely if ever cross the line to antisemitism per se, it is almost as if the activists drew strength from the central and easily categorisable nature of Zionism. It provided a focal point for the thoughts and practices that activists struggled against and therefore gave them an easy frame of reference. In short, it made imperialism a concrete reality beyond just American military intervention. The internationalist, materialist reading lifted Zionism out of the problem space of the Jewish Question and sheltered the solidarity activists, so they thought, from allegations of antisemitism. Activists were encouraged by the broad vague of new Marxism making inroads in academia, writing, art, and popular culture.

A straight comparison between 1970 and today may be unjust. The international context was very different at the heigh of decolonisation which provided African, Latin American, Asian, and Middle Eastern nations leverage in international organisations, not least the UN. The push to connect Zionism with racism started in Palestinian groups but gathered momentum in coordination with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. This campaign culminated in the 1975 UN General Assembly Resolution no. 3379 determining that “Zionism is a form of racism and racist discrimination”. Israel reacted furiously and proceeded to rename “The UN Avenue” in Haifa, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv “The Zionism Avenue”. Apart from Cyprus, no Western European country supported the resolution, which was later abandoned in 1991, after Israel made that a condition for participating in the Madrid peace conference. But the resolution shows that Third World solidarity including solidarity movements in the West and (at times) East Bloc countries provided a powerful counterpoint to Western hegemony. The remnants of these structures lived on after the end of the Cold War but provided much less diplomatic and economic clout. Instead of formalised partnerships between Palestinian parties, self-declared “progressive” states, and solidarity movements, Palestine solidarity had to reinvent itself in the form of the International Solidarity Movement and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions alliances between Palestinian and international grassroots organisations. The contemporary struggle over the definition of antisemitism must be seen in light of this altered balance of power which is related to geopolitical shifts and the transformation of Third Worldism after the end of the 1970s.[39]    

At the grassroot level, as this article has shown, the New Left played a central role in formulating a response to the charge of antisemitism. The transgression of accepted norms and the ability to stick it to ‘the man’ and bourgeois society was at the heart the New Left’s aesthetics and ideology. The fact that their Israel critique provoked the establishment as well as much of European society and ‘old Left’ parties like the Communist Party pleased activists in Denmark and elsewhere. Palestine activists did, however, also react to events and take sensibilities into consideration. In the summer of 1972, as Nils Vest was preparing to launch his first Palestine film, Denmark-Palestine – Same Struggle (1973), the Munich massacre took place. Most solidarity activists condemned the attacks, as did al-Fateh. But they did raise principal questions over the use of violence. The initial idea, Vest remembers, was to produce a poster that would illustrate “that Danes and Palestinians have a joint interest in fighting imperialism. [The art director] suggested a money bag wearing a top hat [symbolising capitalists] being attacked by armed men.” But after Munich happened, “we chose another poster with a less aggressive expression.”[40]

This kind of light editing was never enough to please their opponents. They wanted delegitimisation and, preferably, silencing. Sometimes they went further and tried to frame Palestine activists as antisemites. The wholesale attack on Zionism, which I have analysed in this article, provoked severe counterattacks. To Israel and its supporters, anti-Zionism represented a significant threat for several reasons. First, it created a conceptual focal point that tied in with the political agenda of Palestinian groups. Secondly, it tapped into the energies of anti-imperialism, Marxism, and youth rebellion. While those forces lost steam in the 1980s, the revanchist energy and organisation of hasbara only grew, powered by Israeli state funding. However, as Miriyam Aouragh has shown, the results are not always as intended, and the dialectics of denial and presence are often paradoxical. Arguments designed to undermine counterarguments can unintendedly back them up. A central claim of the IHRA definition is that there are antisemites hiding behind an anti-Zionist mask. But that argument seems to imply that anti-Zionism is not per se antisemitic and first must be de-masked or provoked to reveal its ‘true’ intentions. By focusing so intensely on anti-Zionism, its adversaries – whether it is Israeli interest organisations, the press, or security services – inadvertently shine light on the critique that they seek to conceal. Just as Zionism needs its other – antisemitism – to thrive,hasbara often destabilises Israel’s diplomacy by exposing settler colonialism.[41] Suppression of solidarity for Palestine stimulates criticism and may, in turn, help to shift public opinion. Looking back at the history of Palestine solidarity today on the backdrop of a bleak political reality of occupation, this dialectics of protest and propaganda may be the silver lining.


Aouragh, Miriyam. 2016. “Hasbara 2.0: Israel’s Public Diplomacy in the Digital Age,” Middle East Critique 25 (3), pp. 271-297.

Bashir, Bashir and Goldberg, Amos (eds.). 2019. The Holocaust and the Nakba – a New Grammar of Trauma and History. New York: Columbia University Press.

Bashkin, Orit. 2021. “The Colonized Semites and the Infectious Disease: Theorizing and Narrativizing Antisemitism in the Levant, 1870–1914.” Critical Inquiry 47 (2).

Bishuti, Bassam, 1969. The Role of The Zionist Terror in the Creation of Israel. Beirut: Palestine Research Center.

Boum, Aoumar and Abrevaya, Sarah (eds.). 2018. The Holocaust and North Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Fine, Robert and Spencer, Philip. 2017. Antisemitism and the Left - On the return of the Jewish question. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Gersoni, Israel. 2014. Arab Responses to Fascism and Nazism

Attraction and Repulsion. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Gillou, Jan, 2018. Den som dödar drömmar sover aldrig. Stockholm: Pirat Forlaget.

Haugbolle, Sune, and Rasmus Elling. 2023. “Introduction: The Transformation of Third Worldism in the Middle East. In The Fate of Third Worldism in the Middle East: Iran, Palestine, and beyond, edited by Elling and Haugbolle. London: Oneworld Academic, pp. 1-26.

Judaken, Jonathan. 2006. Jean-Paul Sartre and the Jewish Question. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press.

Kyhn, Carsten and Höök, Steffen. 1978. En Undertrykt Sandhed (An Oppressed Truth).Copenhagen: Demos.

Levine, Mark. 2013. Impossible Peace: Israel and Palestine since 1989. London: Zed Books.

Mihr, Anja. 2017. “From Guilty Generation to Expert Generation? Personal Reflections on Second Post-war Generation West German Atonement,” in: Replicating Atonement: Foreign Models in the Commemoration of Atrocities, ed. Micha Gabowitsch. New York: Palgrave, pp. 305-323.

Rodinson, Maxime, 1981. “Antisémitisme éternel ou judéophobies multiples?,” in: Peuple juif ou problème juif? Paris: Maspero, pp. 265-327.

Sayigh, Fayez, 1965. Zionist Colonialism in Palestine. Beirut: PLO Research Center.

Sayigh, Fayez, 1969. The Zionist Diplomacy. Beirut: PLO Research Center.

Stevens, Richard P., 1969. Zionism, South Africa and Apartheid: The Paradoxical Triangle. Beirut: PLO Research Center.

Taylor, Alan R., 1974. The Zionist Mind. Beirut: The Institute for Palestine Studies.

White, Ben. 2020. “Delegitimizing Solidarity: Israel Smears Palestine Advocacy as Antisemitic,” Journal of Palestine Studies vol. 49 (2).

[1] Twenty-four interviews with former and current Palestine solidarity activists were carried out as part of the research project Entangled Histories of Palestine and the New Left, in Denmark and Norway between May 2018 and April 2021. I refer generally to the findings and to more specific interviews when necessary.

[2] Most importantly al-Fateh, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (later DFLP), Palestinian Workers Union and General Union for Palestinian Students.

[3] Chamberlin 2012.

[4] Building on previous existing spaces, such as Algiers, see Byrne 2016.

[5] Judaken 2006, pp. 7-18.

[6] Levine 2013.

[7] Interview with Morten Thing, November 2018.

[8]  Sayigh (1965), p. 51.

[9] Interview with Morten Thing, 17 November 2018.


[11] “Le Fath condamne l’antisémitisme”, Le Monde, 15 May, 1970.

[12] See the work of Orit Bashkin, in particular Bashkin 2021.

[13] “L'appel de Beyrouth condamne toutes les formes "explicites ou cachées" de l'antisémitisme,” Le Monde, 12 May 1970.

[14] White 2020.

[15] Said (1979), p. 8.

[16] Judaken 2006, p. 1-22; Fine and Spencer 2017.

[17] Tire and Spencer 2017, pp. 1-15.

[18] Achcar 2010, p. 39.

[19] Mihr, 2017.

[20] Taylor, 1974.

[21] Stevens, 1969.

[22] Sayigh, 1969.

[23] Bishuti, 1969.

[24] Achcar, 2010, p. 217.

[25] Ebbe Reich: “The Collective as a way of life”, Politisk Revy no. 35, June 1965 p. 9.

[26] Gershoni 2014; Boum and Stein 2018.

[27] Niels Frølich, ”Two books on Palestine”, Politisk Revy, July 1970, p. 3.

[28] Jacques Hersh, ”From antisemitism to Zionism, a Jewish tragedy”, Politisk Revy, July 1970, p. 13.

[29] Anni Kanafani, ”The fate of Palestine and its Future”, Politisk Revy, July 1970, p. 4.

[30] Bashir and Goldberg 2019.

[31]Falastin issue 1, 1970, p. 3.

[32] Lasse Ellegaard, ”Ja, jeg var agent for Mossad.” [Yes, I was a Mossad agent]. Interview with Herbert Pundik in the Danish newspaper Information, 27 February 2010.

[33] Lars Bonnevie’s speech at the Palestine Demonstration May 1971, Falastin 8, 1971, pp. 5-7.

[34]Falastin, special booklet, ”Zionism in Danish Schoolbooks – Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” 2nd edition 1974.

[35] Niels Vest quoted in Kyhn and Höök, 1975, p. 52.

[36] Ibid.

[37] The debate is documented and analyses in Kyhn and Höök 1978, pp. 54-95.

[38] ”Blekingegadebanden” – TV documentary in two parts aired on Danmarks Radio, March 2009.

[39] Haugbolle and Elling 2023, pp. 1-26.

[40] Niels Vest, 2015. http://www.vestfilm.dk/palaestina-film/omfilmene,40aarefter.html

[41] Aouragh 2016.

“For Israel and communism”?

Making sense of Germany’s Antideutsche

Leandros Fisher

As the Israeli state’s dispossession of the Palestinian people becomes more difficult to obscure by the day, the Left in one country is conspicuous in its absence from the global solidarity movement with the oppressed between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. With some exceptions, the German Left largely avoids taking a stance on the conflict between the state of Israel and the Palestinian people. In some cases, it has even joined the national pro-Israel chorus, stretching all the way to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. This attitude encompasses a diverse set of actors, from the leadership of Germany’s left reformist party, Die Linke (“The Left”), to squats such as the celebrated Rote Flora in Hamburg. This hostile attitude towards Palestinian liberation is often attributed to guilt for the Shoah and the corresponding semantic identification of Israel, Zionism, and Judaism in public discourse. A complementary explanation identifies the Antideutsche (the “anti-Germans”) as a factor in shaping the Left’s current approach to Israel. These started out as an ultra-left critique of Germany as a nation, following a wave of nationalist jingoism triggered by reunification. However, rather than criticising nationalism, today’s Antideutsche engage in an Ersatz nationalism around one particular state. Elements of this include flying the Israeli flag and wearing IDF shirts, hatred of Muslims as natural-born antisemites, not to mention a disturbing celebration of Israeli violence against Palestinians framed as “anti-fascism”.


This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition.All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.


There is truth in both explanations. Notwithstanding its frequent degeneration into national narcissism – for only those who can truly feel guilty about the Judeocide can be “real Germans” – the guilt is real and understandable. The accusation of antisemitism is indeed one of the most destructive weapons that can be levelled against any leftist in Germany.[1] This stems from both the unparalleled nature of crimes against European Jewry, and the German Left’s historical failure to prevent them. However, it also derives from the consciously selective policies of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (“confronting the past”) of post-war Germanelites. Reducing Nazi crimes to those against the Jews not only helped to obscure other crimes, such as the Porajamos, the genocide of Sinti and Roma communities. It also absolves the German state from any historical responsibility towards other victims of Nazi terror to this day. When, for example, in the context of German-imposed austerity, Greek politicians began raising the issue of German war debt – which Greece was coerced into “forgiving” in the late 1940s by its Western allies – politicians and tabloids decried this as a populist stunt aimed at guilt-tripping the honest German taxpayer. If Germans pledge unconditional support to the self-proclaimed “Jewish state”, then Vergangenheitsbewältigung [“overcoming the past”]is complete, so goes the implicit reasoning.

On the other hand, those who would still describe themselves as Antideutsche are shrinking politically, confined to a fringe subculture that adopts left-wing aesthetics but has politically moved markedly to the right. The Antideutsch label has become so toxic, even for many whose stances on Palestine would incur that adjective. Treating the Antideutsche, however, as a legitimate component of left pluralism for many years, has led to the mainstreaming of racist postulates within the wider Left. The Antideutsche are usually framed as the other extreme of an outdated “Marxist-Leninist” anti-imperialism, whose stances on Israel-Palestine are potentially open to anti-Semitic interpretations. The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s fellowship programme, for example, applied such an approach for years. While tolerating Antideutsch associations within the ranks of its fellows, it aimed at formulating what it called a “master narrative” centred on language. Left-wing Germans are thus given the task to understand the legitimate grievances of both Zionism and the Palestinians and to become exponents of a balanced approach towards the conflict, away from both Antideutsch and “anti-imperialist” extremes.[2] This symmetrical discourse centred on German projections and Befindlichkeiten (“sensitivities”) predictably obscures the conflict’s defining asymmetries, not to mention the German political establishment’s active role in sustaining them through extensive political, economic, and military backing of Israel. By treating them as a necessary but over-the-top corrective to an alleged antisemitism of past German anti-imperialism,[3] the mere existence of the Antideutsche has slowly but steadily shifted the entire Left’s discourse on Palestine to the right.

Yet the combination of German guilt and the Antideutsche do not by themselves explain the Left’s current Sonderweg. For two decades, support for Palestinian liberation was something uncontroversial among the German radical Left in the majority of its manifestations, and even within the SPD and the Greens.[4] Reunification brought back the “German question” with a vengeance: how could one now positively relate to Germany? Seen from this perspective, the exponential rise of the political class’s identification with Israel – which by default precludes any substantial criticism of its treatment of Palestinians – can be understood as part of the general ideology underpinning a more assertive German role in world affairs since 1990. All major political forces in Germany subscribe to this ideology. This is either because Germany must assume its perceived share  of “responsibility” in global leadership (the centrist argument), because of humanitarian-interventionist concerns (the Greens), or due to national-sovereigntist reasons (the AfD). This ideology necessarily also radiates to those forces like Die Linke, which although critical of it, ultimately wish to eventually enter a coalition government with the SPD and the Greens. Like obedience to NATO and the EU’s single currency regime, support for Israel forms part of the preconditions for joining the legitimate political game.[5] However, and like in other European countries, this support for Israel is also intimately entangled with the rise of anti-Muslim racism as a mode of projecting society’s vices – including antisemitism (equated with anti-Zionism) – into a Muslim Other.[6]

In this case, the ideological entrenchment of a pro-Israel consensus and its manifestations on the Left are also reflective of the German Left’s overall diminishing influence in a political terrain characterised by the stagnation of the labour movement on the one hand, and the corresponding hegemony of so-called “culture wars” over the public sphere on the other. However, the hypothesis that the side-lining of the Left’s socioeconomic agenda makes a pro-Israel orientation within it a foregone conclusion – as joining a coalition government forms the ultimate political horizon – is one that requires some scrutiny. For despite the radical Left’s decline, manifested by Die Linke’s increasing electoral irrelevance, Germany has witnessed massive mobilisations against the far right and in support of refugees in recent years, as well as its own reckoning around racial justice following the murder of George Floyd – both developments that indirectly challenge the social pro-Israel consensus as well as its exponents within the Left.

This intervention is not about Germany’s complex relationship to its Nazi past. It rather deals with how the German Left has historically understood antisemitism and how this has influenced its position vis-à-vis the issue of Palestine and beyond. Indeed, the Left’s positions in this regard exist in constant dialogue with hegemonic discourses, in a dialectical process of cross-fertilisation involving moments of co-option, convergence, but also rupture. However, the Left must be understood here as a relatively autonomous field structured by its own norms and values.

Specifically, when it comes to explaining the emergence of the Antideutsch phenomenon – rightfully perceived as a key, if not the key subjective factor for many German leftists’ current understanding of antisemitism – two schools of thought can be (schematically) discerned. Using mostly discourse analysis, one views the current as an initially legitimate response gone wrong to perceived antisemitic and nationalist phenomena within the German New Left.[7] Utilizing a more historical approach, another school situates the Antideutsche as a by-product of political defeat, ideological degeneration, and a shift of former left-wingers to the (far) right.[8] The Antideutsche are viewed primarily here as renegades, whose excesses are sometimes nothing but dialectical opposites to pro-Palestinian-cum-antisemitic excesses within the 1968 Left.[9] While the latter approach is considerably more solid than the former, due to its placement of the Antideutsch phenomenon in a specific historical context, it has the disadvantage of often veering towards a moralistic condemnation of the Antideutsche as “not part of the left”, implicitly leaving the defeat of 1989 and the sui generis German historical context as the only potential explanations for the emergence and subsequent resilience of the Antideutsche.

This article similarly views the post-war German Left’s perceptions of antisemitism from the standpoint of German history, as well as of the real-existing conflict between Zionist settler colonialism on the one hand and the resistance this colonialism has engendered among the Palestinians on the other. To put it otherwise, it does not treat the conflict as an irrelevant projection screen to which the German Left has nothing practical to contribute, like so many allegedly balanced but ultimately self-serving accounts of the issue do.[10] The article contends that the current hostile attitude of large parts of the German Left towards Palestinian liberation owes much to a distorted understanding of antisemitism that results to, but also stretches beyond a conflation of Jews with Israel and Zionism.

I argue that the main explanatory framework for this distorted understanding is not to be found in either the specificities of the German historical context, guilt over real or alleged antisemitic excesses of the German New Left, or the bitter experience of the 1989 defeat. Neither is it to be found in distorted readings of either Adorno’s critical theory or value-critical Marxism. Important as these variables are, they are not of determining significance. The existence of the Antideutsch phenomenon and the perceptions of antisemitism it has inspired owes much more to the (West) German Left’s sociological makeup and its general isolation from the working class after 1945.

In this context, the radical Left historically committed two mistakes. Either it dissolved the question of Nazi antisemitism entirely into a general critique of racism and colonialism; or it resorted to readings of Marxism that reduced antisemitism to its pseudo-socialist pretensions. Both one-sided explanations failed to account for the enduring dual character of antisemitism as both false anti-capitalist consciousness, as well as a phenomenon whose manifestations under capitalism are intimately linked to lineages of biologistic racism, which would be inconceivable without the formative experience of colonialism.[11]

Today, three key factors account for the enduring relevance of Antideutsch ideas within left-wing debates. First, the institutionalisation of the radical Left in the form of Die Linke, which has transformed the question of “left-wing antisemitism” into an object of public discourse, (i.e., a weapon against the Left in toto), against the backdrop of the German labour movement’s stagnation and Die Linke’s declining electoral fortunes.  Second, the mainstreaming in hegemonic discourse of individualised explanations of racism, providing Antideutsch accounts of antisemitism as an inescapable pathological disease a lease of life. Third, the triumph of allegedly progressive liberal-idealist, or “post-national” justifications for the projection of German power, in which support for Israel features as a key legitimizing cornerstone. These factors do not represent the reasons for the Antideutsche’s emergence, and they are increasingly challenged by the growing visibility of uncomfortable narratives, such as those of Palestinian Germans and non- or anti-Zionist Jews. They do, however, account for the discrepancy between the Antideutsche as a dwindling subcultural fringe phenomenon on the one hand, and their outsized influence on the wider Left on the other.

This article chronologically follows the evolution of the German Left’s perceptions of antisemitism, which eventually led to the emergence of the Antideutsch current, from the post-war Left’s emergence after 1945 to the appearance of Die Linke in the mid-2000s. Particular attention is paid to the dominant character of Maoism within the German New Left, its decline, the significance of Moishe Postone’s theorization of German fascism, as well as the role of the German autonomist movement. 

From the ruins, a new Left emerges

To say that the question of antisemitism figured prominently in the history of the German labour movement would be a gross understatement. The early labour movement and the party it brought forth, the SPD, were confronted with a resurgence of völkisch antisemitism in the Kaiserreich as well as with the resulting strategic dilemmas this resurgence brought forth. While it has become fashionable in German mainstream discourse to paint early Social Democrats and pre-1933 Communists as naïve at best, complicit at worst in the social entrenchment of the antisemitism that enabled the rise of the Nazis, the reality could not be further from the truth. The Left’s central mistake was to underestimate antisemitism as a pre-modern residual bound to disappear, an assumption in line with pre-1914 Social Democracy’s broader evolutionary belief in the inevitability of socialism, as well as the KPD’s pre-1933 underestimation of Nazism as simply another form of reactionary right-wing dictatorship.[12] The German labour movement fought antisemitism at decisive moments, recognizing it as an inherently reactionary ideology and an enemy of the workers.

Nazism, however, destroyed the entire German Left, understood here as the parties of the major labour movement, the SPD, and the KPD, as well as the various “in-between” dissident groups like the Communist Party Opposition (KPO) and the Socialist Workers’ Party (SAP) advocating a united front to stop Hitler. The Nazis did not merely destroy the labour movement by banning it and killing its leaders. They did so by co-opting its lifeworld and redirecting its sense of collective identity into a völkisch outlook. True, there was resistance, but there was no mass uprising. Plundering Europe’s resources to keep German workers from rising like in 1918 was a top priority for the Nazis. For good or for bad, liberation from fascism in Germany came on the back of the Allied armies, not from within.[13] In the critical timeframe between the collapse of the Nazi regime and the arrival of Allied armies, workers did indeed form anti-fascist committees, returning to their previous communist and social democratic allegiances. The links between big business and the horrors of Nazism were so obvious, that even a reconstituted Christian Democracy could proclaim “transcending capitalism” as its goal in its 1947 Ahlen manifesto.

Nevertheless, this hopeful period was short-lived. In the East, Stalinism became another form of compulsion, and the crushing of the 1953 workers’ uprising by Russian tanks made the German Democratic Republic’s claims of being a “workers’ and peasants’ state” appear ludicrous. In the West, de-Nazification ended in 1951 and anticommunism reigned supreme again. The KPD became increasingly isolated and was eventually outlawed in 1956. The Bonn Republic was a CDU party-state. The oppositional SPD still adhered to Marxism, but this was a losing battle. The economic miracle accompanying the expansion of a generous welfare state, made the idea of class struggle look increasingly outdated. Eventually, the SPD abandoned Marxism in its 1959 Bad Godesberg manifesto to become a broad “people’s” rather than class party.

What constituted the radical Left during this period – a movement dedicated to a fundamental critique of capitalism – was confined to an intellectual and overwhelmingly middle-class milieu at the intersections of the SPD’s left wing and the student movement, primarily the SDS: the Socialist German Student Federation. The SDS was expelled from its mother-party in the early 1960s after the latter’s abandonment of Marxism, thus evolving into the main vehicle of extra-parliamentary social opposition to the Bonn Republic. The Left rallied around a series of demands: acceptance of (but not ideological identification with) the GDR; pacifism and opposition to NATO and German rearmament; the fight against prevailing Nazi-era structures, such as the student fraternities in universities; as well as the general fight against historical amnesia. Theoretically, the Left drew heavily on writings of the Frankfurt School, such as Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s  Dialectic of the Enlightenment.[14] That the political resignation of Critical Theory was a major influence should come as no surprise. The elevation of critique to the highest form of subversion appealed to those enduring the suffocating climate of the Adenauer years, as did its elaborate critique of consumer society, the culture industry, as well as the correlation of antisemitism and fascist rule. For the Frankfurt School, Nazi antisemitism represented the violent return of the suppressed irrationality of a totally administered society. It did not, however, provide any explanation for the Shoah, beyond its characterisation as the epitome of civilizational collapse. For Adorno – now back at Frankfurt’s Institute for Social Research, teaching a new generation of radicals –Marxism could only recognise the Shoah “at the price of its self-mutilation”.[15] The experience of Nazi antisemitism functioned as a guiding moral principle for a New Left, which refrained from any systematic attempt at understanding its root causes.

Regarding Israel, the positions of this Left did not differ from those of its counterparts in the rest of Europe. First, Israel was viewed exclusively as the result of the Shoah, a safe haven for the now nationally re-constituted Jews. In this reading, Zionism was but a legitimate response to the horrors inflicted upon the Jews, especially given the evident failure of historical alternatives, such as communism or Bundism. Accepting it as a minimum converged with a general process of atonement for Nazi crimes. Working in Israel, for example, was part of the programme of the Protestant Church’s Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (Aktion Sühnezeichen), an organisation otherwise dedicated to sending young Germans to volunteer in countries directly victimised by Nazi rule. A mixture of ignorance, falsehoods, and colonialist racism rendered the indigenous Palestinian Arabs invisible to left-wing discourse. Second, establishing official relations with Israel was a progressive cause, as the Federal Republic withheld recognition for fear of Arab recognition of the GDR. Third, the mythology of Labor Zionism – notably thekibbutzim – appealed to those seeking an alternative between capitalism and state socialism. There was hardly any challenge to this position from the left. After all, the Soviet Union had, for its own short-term geopolitical purposes, supported the UN Partition Plan and armed the Zionist militias, effectively destroying the communist movement in Palestine.[16] That it did so by referring to a vaguely defined right to self-determination for Jews and Arabs – a policy that the GDR would also adopt – did little to untangle the conflation of Jews with Zionism within the Left’s perception.

These myths have been thoroughly deconstructed, both as regards to the circumstances of Israel’s founding,[17] as well as to the idea of Zionism’s socialist origins.[18] As for the absence of official relations, this obscured the wide-ranging military and intelligence cooperation between Bonn and Tel Aviv. The Luxemburg Agreement, where West Germany joined the international community in exchange for vital economic aid and infrastructure to Israel was pushed by Adenauer with the support of the SPD, already enjoying close relations with Ben Gurion’s Mapai party and the Histadrut Zionist trade union federation. Furthermore, Israel’s aggressive posture in the 1956 Suez War stood in contrast to American restraint and factual acceptance of the bipolar world order. The latter was anathema to German conservatives, who sought to delegitimise the GDR and overturn the new territorial status quo of German partition.  Far from viewing it with suspicion, German elites began seeing Israel as an asset in an anti-Soviet crusade.[19]

However, it can be argued that the German Left took a false position for the right reasons. It supported Israel not as a colonial settler state, but as a small benevolent and quasi-socialist endeavour, which antisemitic German elites would not recognise for anti-communist reasons. The one challenge to this thinking originated in the growing importance of anti-colonialism. Parts of SPD engaged in active solidarity with the Algerian National Liberation Front from the mid-1950s onwards.[20] The Algerian War pointed to contradictions of the Left’s stance on Israel; while France was Israel’s biggest backer at the time, Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel Nasser supported the FLN. This contradiction was not unique to the German Left. It was also shared by eminent personalities in France, notably Jean-Paul Sartre.[21] However, it pointed to a slow process that would unravel more forcefully following the 1967 War.

Image and reality of German anti-imperialism

In 1965, Bonn and Tel Aviv established official relations. This was preceded by a series of Cold War-related events, including leaked revelations of US supplies of weapons to Israel via West Germany, as well as an official visit by the GDR’s leader, Walter Ulbricht, to Cairo. As such, the Left’s demand for diplomatic relations became obsolete. The 1967 war, however, was the event that accelerated the Left’s disengagement from Israel. Two reasons were conducive to this process. First, the same detested and Nazi-infested establishment was now enchanted by the Israeli victory, seemingly the triumph of a European militarist nationalist collective over Soviet-backed Third World armies. To criticise Israeli expansionism now was primarily to condemn the hypocrisy of West German elites. Trying to balance sympathies for both Israel and Arab anti-colonialism, for example, Ulrike Meinhof[22] would attempt to square the circle by attacking the German establishment’s cynical philosemitism. Second, the influence of Maoism and the Vietnam War were making themselves felt on German campuses. China was already a prominent backer of the PLO, routinely denouncing Soviet moves towards “peaceful coexistence”, which, in the case of Israel, did not challenge the 1948 status quo. Opposing Israel primarily meant opposing an American asset in the Middle East.

Developments in the Middle East caught the SDS by surprise. The organisation’s theory review, the Neue Kritik, hosted a debate on its pages following the 1967 war. At its conference in September that year, the SDS experienced a three-way split on the issue. Many of the older cadre socialised in the SPD took a position, which was critical albeit supportive of Israel.[23] On the other hand, many younger members influenced by Maoism took a position of uncritical support to radical Arab nationalism. A Trotskyist minority expressed a stance of critical support for the Arab side. The debate was shelved to the relief of many members who felt this was a complex and awkward issue. However, the pro-Arab tilt of the SDS at large would accelerate, especially as the PLO and a new Arab Left centred on it would become more visible following the defeat of Nasserism.

In the following decade, the German radical Left would support the Palestinians in one way or another. Examples include the marxisant Young Socialists within the SPD (Jusos), the pro-Soviet German Communist Party (DKP), and the myriad Maoist K-Gruppen, all the way to theAutonomia-inspired anti-authoritarian “Spontis”.[24] Differences were mainly programmatic, reflecting allegiances to specific organisations on the ground. The K-Gruppen, for instance, leaned heavily towards the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; the Jusos developed a relationship with Fatah within the framework of the Socialist International; the DKP adopted the positions of the non-Zionist Israeli Communist Party; whereas Trotskyists had relations to the Israeli anti-Zionist group Matzpen, as well as Palestinian students from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.[25] 

Today, the Left’s conversion to radical anti-imperialism forms a constituent part of the German establishment’s narrative of discrediting the subversive elements of 1968. As in other countries, this narrative relies on separating the “positive” elements of the era – sexual liberation, the revolt against conservative elites, individual autonomy – from the “negative” ones – anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, and an anti-Zionism easily degenerating into “antisemitism”. The Left’s intentions – so the narrative – were noble, but it took a wrong turn as it ditched the pedagogical teachings of the Frankfurt School for an anti-intellectualism of the Little Red Book, which paved the way for violence, bureaucratic authoritarianism, and ultimately antisemitism. Blockbusters likeThe Baader Meinhof Complex reinforce this image in their portrayal of hedonistic German radicals training in Palestinian guerrilla camps and driven by an almost nihilistic need for violence. All this begs the question if there was an antisemitic element within the German New Left, as detractors claim, and if so, to what extent.

Like any other form of racism, antisemitism is a social phenomenon – there is no rule stating that those belonging to the radical Left are immune to it. The dominant positive conflation of Jews with Zionism was not always easy to untangle in the West German context and some degree of guilt deflection and projection was potentially involved, expressed for instance in the elevation of “anti-Zionism” to a form of political identity. Then there was, of course, the cooperation between West German urban guerrillas like the Red Army Faction (RAF) and the more “anti-authoritarian” Revolutionary Cells (RZ) - notorious for their hijacking in Entebbe and the separation of Jewish from non-Jewish hostages (Israelis, according to one hostage)[26] – with Palestinian counterparts.

Predominantly focusing on left-wing terrorism however, the hegemonic narrative on the German 1968 elevates the era’s widespread anti-imperialism and support for Palestinian liberation to concrete ideological expressions of a latent antisemitism, crypto-nationalism, or both.[27] Actual anti-Semitic incidents like the bombing of a Jewish community centre by a West Berlin radical group in 1969 are often provided as evidence. Nonetheless, what such narratives fail to mention, is that the majority of the radical Left – which was several times larger than the RAF and the RZ combined and included Palestine solidarity committees – condemned this and other similar incidents.[28]. Ultimately, the arguments of “renegades” like Gerd Koenen[29] rest on the accusation that the radical Left made common cause with organisations that wanted to kill Jews for the sake of it, an intention cleverly masked behind formulas such as “secular democratic state”. In other words, the case for an allegedly widespread “antisemitic anti-Zionism” rests on the racist assumption of dubious Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, following in the footsteps of Nazis, simply for refusing to accept a colonial fait accompli on their homeland. Although easily debunked,[30] such claims of Nazi lineages of Arab nationalism and Islamism have been popularised by none other than former Maoists with no knowledge of Arabic,[31] lending legitimacy to contemporary racist discourses.

Another problem with this reading is the Eurocentric reduction of the German Left’s position on Palestine to a purely psychological dimension. In fact, as Quinn Slobodian[32] shows, foreign students – including Palestinians – were active agents in shaping the German Left’s anticolonial and anti-imperialist outlook on a number of questions. Palestinian struggles in West Germany were not reducible to soliciting solidarity for their struggle against Israel. Large parts of Left joined civil society organisations in defending Palestinian workers from collective punishment and mass deportations, following the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes in Munich, for example.[33]

Nonetheless, the German Left’s thinking regarding the connections between antisemitism, fascism, and Zionism remained severely under-theorised, for both subjective and objective reasons. Contrary to Britain or France – one thinks of Daniel Bensaïd, Alain Krivine, or Tony Cliff – there  were hardly any prominent anti-Zionist Jews, within the German radical Left, who could explain Zionism’s appeal as a tragic consequence of the horrors of the 20th century rather than primarily as an imperialist plot directed by Washington. Remaining Jewish communities in West Germany were miniscule, composed largely of Eastern European refugees generally hostile to the Left’s agenda, for both socioeconomic and ideological reasons.

On the other hand, the dominant anti-American framing drowned out more sophisticated analyses of Israel as a colonial settler-state, such as the ones pioneered by Maxime Rodinson or Matzpen. Like in the GDR,[34] “Zionism” was attacked as simply an expansionist ideology, not as a misguided response to real-existing antisemitism. The all-determining context of the Cold War in West Germany meant that Israel’s alliance with US imperialism was the key question at stake, while the Palestinian struggle was not rarely simplistically framed as merely one of state-centred territorial national liberation, with the far more complex mechanisms of settler colonial oppression – themselves justified with the experience of European antisemitism – left largely ignored.    

The Left’s stance was so overwhelmingly contingent on a state- rather than class-centred worldview pitting nationalist movements and “objectively progressive” regimes against Western imperialism, that it was bound to unravel the moment this anti-imperialism was thrown into crisis. Nixon’s visit to China, revelations on the horrors of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, but also the bloodbath mounted against the Iranian Left following the Khomeinist counter-revolution, all resulted in a collapse of the anti-imperialist paradigm by the early 1980s.  The blindspots in this regard, however, were compounded by an even greater weakness.

The SDS’s self-dissolution in 1970 resulted from a concerted turn to class politics, which the pessimism of Adorno or the utopianism of Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm could not address. This turn was influenced by outside events – popular demonstrations against the “Emergency Laws” in the late 1960s, wildcat strikes in 1969 and a radical movement of young apprentices (Lehrlingsbewegung), as well as the 1968 general strike in France and Italy’s “hot autumn” of 1969. Such movements were less successful within the more prosperous West German capitalism. One the one hand, the new social-liberal coalition under Willy Brandt was able to co-opt many of the student movement’s demands for a democratisation of society. On the other hand, the most militant strikes, such as the 1973 strike at Ford’s Cologne plant, were led byGastarbeiter. Both the state and the trade union bureaucracy confronted these strikes with an iron fist, often deporting rebellious migrant workers under the premises of a racist migration policy.

This structural weakness of working class militancy was fertile ground for a campus-centred Maoism, which became hegemonic among the West German radical Left. This is not to say that the working class played no part in the emergence of West German Maoism; the Hamburg-based Kommunistischer Bund (KB), for instance, largely sprang up from the young apprentices’ movement.[35] But the ebbing for militant workers’ struggles from the early 1970s onwards contributed to the increasingly subcultural character of the K-Gruppen, in many ways resembling that of the Antideutsche two decades later. The K-Gruppen – notably the KPD/ML, the KBW, the KPD/AO, and the KB – had memberships numbering thousands, incidentally providing the first political socialization experience for future SPD and Green ministers, and top trade union functionaries.[36] But the discrepancy between their dominance of German universities on the one hand, and their isolation from the broader labour movement on the other, translated into their overt investment in sectarian squabbles. Each K-Gruppe laid claim to the “correct line” in light of increasingly confusing developments in China – the death of Mao, the “three worlds theory”, the downfall of the “gang of four”, and – most importantly – China’s increasing tilt towards he US and its hostility to the Soviet Union.

Dogmatic adherence to Maoist teachings and a corresponding lack of theoretical sophistication[37] enabled the prevalence of an anti-intellectual agitprop posture among the K-Gruppen. Part of this was the importation of Stalinist tropes on fascism as “the open, terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital”.[38] Another part was the dissolution of anti-fascism into a generalised opposition to capitalism and imperialism, exemplified by the slogan of that era, “USA-SA-SS”. Though framed less vulgarly, similar takes on fascism were echoed by the DKP and Stamokap-wing[39] within the SPD Left. Their theorems of GDR and Soviet origin reduced fascism to an instrument of big capital and counterpoised a cross-class “popular front” as an answer.

However lacking in sophistication and depth, these approaches must nevertheless be understood as responses to the state’s Cold War doctrine of “totalitarianism theory”. By equating Nazism with Stalinism, this doctrine served to obscure the Federal Republic’s continuities with the Hitler era. Nevertheless, Maoist-Stalinist “anti-fascism” was by default unable to explain the specificities of both Nazi antisemitism and the Shoah. Combined with the radical Left’s pessimistic outlook about the German working class, the KB in particular would develop this understanding of fascism further with its thesis of the “fascisation of state and society”. This theory argued that capitalism’s mounting contradictions in Germany would not result in a revolution, but rather in the return of fascism.[40] This was important, insofar as the main ideologues of the early Antideutsch current would mostly originate from the KB.

Pershings, punks, and historians quarrelling: the road to 1989

The Antideutsche emerged from the convergence of chronically distinct yet intimately connected dynamics. The events of the “German Autumn” of 1977 accelerated the radical Left’s decline. Faced with kidnappings and hijackings by the RAF and sympathetic Palestinians, the German state responded with an unprecedented wave of repression targeting the entire radical Left and culminating in the deaths of the RAF’s founding generation in prison. The ferocity of state repression was shocking, laying bare the radical Left’s isolation from wider society. Spontis and K-Gruppen members flocked en masse to the newly formed Green Party. Despite emerging in the context of radical anti-nuclear protests, the party was decidedly oriented towards parliamentary respectability from the start, encompassing many rural conservative milieus as well. Other “new social movements” of that time like feminism were joined in the early 1980s by a movement against the stationing of US Pershing nuclear missiles. This large-scale movement was not only backed by the Greens and the SPD’s left wing, but also by an assortment of public intellectuals, and institutions like churches. In contrast to the anti-Vietnam War movement, however, the prevailing pacifist moralism provided few openings for what remained of the revolutionary Left.

The most radical movement to emerge in the late 1970s built on preceding struggles within the sphere of social reproduction, such as those against housing speculation spearheaded by the anti-authoritarian Spontis. Inspired by the punk wave, a new movement emerged, which like the Spontis drew on Italian operaismo but was generationally younger. The Autonomen made their presence felt around 1980-81, establishing squats in Hamburg and West Berlin as protest against unaffordable rents. Other struggles included anti-nuclear and anti-NATO protests. The autonomists were much of a movement as they were a scene. In the squats and on the barricades, they nurtured close relations with the “Antiimps”, sympathisers of the RAF’s “second” and “third generation”. Their differences were of a primarily tactical nature. While both saw themselves as revolutionary currents, the Antiimps clung on to the RAF’s concept of underground struggle, whereas the autonomists had a more social-revolutionary outlook.

Another important shift of that era revolved around the growing mediatisation of the Shoah, a process originating in the United States in the context of the re-negotiation of Jewish-American identity.[41] A product of this process, the miniseries Holocaust, aired in West Germany in 1979. Its impact challenged dominant assumptions of the Judeocide’s perpetrators as exclusively composed of an inner Nazi core.The radical Left had led the most decisive struggle against the endurance of Nazi-era structures and mentalities. Now, as primetime viewers found themselves identifying with the persecuted Jewish characters of the series, the wall of denial around the Shoah characteristic of mainstream society was collapsing.

This processwould culminate in the mid-1980s during the “Historians’ Quarrel”. Mainly pitting historian Ernst Nolte – who interpreted the Holocaust as a pre-emptive strike against Bolshevik “class genocide” – against Jürgen Habermas – who correctly accused Nolte of historical revisionism – the debate focused on the question of the Shoah’s singularity.[42] The exchange was heated, as the Kohl government embarked on a neoconservative project of whitewashing German nationalism, and was understood as being tacitly supportive of Nolte’s theses. Proclaiming the impossibility of any contextualisation of the Judeocide, however, the postulate of the victorious Habermas would be gradually elevated into a national discourse in the years to come.

The Historikerstreit was the precursor to a series of discourses on the German past, played out in the 1990s, such as discussions on Daniel Goldhagen’sHitler’s Willing Executioners,[43] debates around the construction of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, and others. Their cumulative effect was to gradually replace the “old German catechism”[44] of externalising responsibility to a few bad apples, with a new redemptive one centring the Shoah as the Republic’s “moral foundation”. This solidified Germany’s special responsibility for “Israel’s security”, predictably expressed in the equivalence between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. This new attitude was also contingent on the triumph of liberal-idealist framings over the realist approaches that characterised German foreign policy before 1990.[45] The former Sponti Joschka Fischer gave an apt example of this during the Kosovo War in 1999. When faced with turmoil within his Green Party for leading Germany into its first war since 1945 during the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, he famously responded by saying he didn’t only learn “never again war” but also “never again Auschwitz” and “never again fascism”.

Postone’s theory of Nazi antisemitism as “foreshortened anti-capitalism”

Radical Left reactions to Holocaust in Germany were the subject of Moishe Postone’s 1980 easyAntisemitism and National Socialism.[46] The essay retroactively became one of the Antideutsch movement’s foundational documents. In it, Postone castigated the German Left’s inability to conceptualise the specificity of Nazi antisemitism, framing the Left’s excessive anti-Zionism as guilt deflection rather than genuine concern for the Palestinians. Furthermore, Postone attempted to fill class-struggle-oriented Marxism’s perceived deficits in explaining Nazi antisemitism, by defining it as a form of “foreshortened anti-capitalism”. This was reflective of the commodity’s inherent tension between concrete use value on the one hand, and abstract exchange value on the other. For Postone, National Socialism essentially constituted a movement of the “concrete” against the quasi-mystified abstract rule of capital. For reasons of historical contingency, the “abstract” is equated with the Jews and their presence in the sphere of circulation. Auschwitz thus represented the culmination of the destruction of abstract value. Postone’s analysis was responding to serious deficits within the hegemonic Marxist traditions of West Germany regarding the nature of the Judeocide. By effectively reducing it to merely an extreme form of right-wing dictatorship by big capital, Stalinist readings of German fascism were downplaying its pseudo-revolutionary articulation in the context of a mass movement of the petty bourgeoisie.[47] By counterpoising the concrete to the abstract, Postone was alluding to Nazi propaganda’s distinction between good “productive”, and “hoarding”, i.e. financial, or “Jewish” capital.

On a narrow theoretical sense, Postone’s interpretation of the meaning of abstraction in Marx as denoting something incomprehensible, rather than a condensation of social relations not visible in money’s physical form, has been criticised as arbitrary.[48] Politically, Postone’s theory of the Nazis as foreshortened anti-capitalism was not entirely original. Even if assassinated before the Shoah was set in motion, Trotsky’s awareness of the imminent danger facing the Jews stemmed from his analysis of fascism as a specific form of counter-revolution masked as revolution, carried mainly by a petit bourgeoisie destroyed by crisis.

However, unlike Trotsky, Postone was emptying National Socialism of any concrete class content, as well as any mention of its relation to the other two relevant social forces: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Following Postone’s logic, if National Socialism’s anti-Semitic impetus stemmed from alienation in a world dominated by abstract value, then its base should have consisted of the class most alienated under capitalism, the proletariat.[49] That all this did not concern Postone, should come as no surprise given his stature as an exponent of a “value-critical” Marxism, a current that emphasises the specificity of labour under capitalism while rejecting its capacity for revolutionary change.[50][51] Finally, while the 1968 Left did negate the Shoah’s specificities, viewing it exclusively through the prism of capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism, the biologistic racism constituting its framework was indeed rooted in 19th century colonialism. Research in recent years has emphasised lineages between the Herero Genocide committed by the German Empire in Namibia between 1904 and 1908 and the Shoah, rendering a complete extrapolation of the latter from the histories of colonialism, both European and German, untenable.[52]

Postone’s framing of antisemitism as “foreshortened anti-capitalism,” responded to the Left’s difficulties in explaining the Shoah’s economic irrationality, especially following its incremental salience in public life. In doing so, his theory signalled both a break and continuity with the post-war German Left’s key tenets. It was a clear break from the economistic takes on National Socialism prevalent within West German Maoism and Stalinism. It was continuity, in the sense that here again was an interpretation of Marxism that ascribed no role to the real-existing working class. Such a strategy of “critical critique” would speak to the radical Left’s largely middle-class composition and its isolation from workers, when the Antideutsch current entered the stage in the late 1980s. It would increasingly fulfil the function of an apologia of neoliberalism, when capitalism’s contradictions began accelerating, even in prosperous Germany – first slowly in the late 1970s, then more rapidly from the 1990s onwards. Today, the influence of Antisemitism and National Socialism is visible in Antideutsch discourses. A caucus within Die Linke’s youth wing named “Shalom”, for example, defines itself as a working group against “antisemitism, anti-Zionism, anti-Americanism, and regressive anti-capitalism”.[53] Besides smearing Palestine solidarity as antisemitic, the Antideutsch reject any kind of opposition to finance capitalism, such as the Blockupy protests against the European Central Bank during the height of the Eurozone crisis, as “structurally antisemitic”. Labelling any movement from within the capitalist process as “regressive” would become an Antideutsch trademark.

The coming of a “Fourth Reich”? The Antideutsch current is born

Nevertheless, the Antideutsche as a current owe their existence to a sequence of events taking place during the subsequent decade. First, as the Intifada raged on in the late 1980s, the KB publicly withdrew its participation from a coalition of solidarity involving organisations of the radical Left ranging from the DKP to the Autonomen, citing the non-mentioning of Israel’s “right to exist” in the call. The debate between German revisionism and its discontents was being echoed within the Left, albeit in a distorted way. For the KB, denying Israel’s self-ascribed right to exist was tantamount to ignoring the historical context of its foundation, and by extension a concession to German revisionism. However, such arguments were not about supporting the Zionist viewpoint per se. One author of an intervention criticising antisemitic tendencies for example, spoke of the “internationalist duty” of supporting the Palestinian struggle.[54] It was far cry from the Antideutsche, who during the second Intifada would proclaim “tanks in Ramallah” to be the “true Antifa”. These debates originated in an overall process of critique against real-existing nationalist phenomena within the Left. Circumstantial evidence includes a Maoist K-Gruppe advocating a reunited Germany against Soviet “social imperialism”, nationalist tendencies within the early Greens, as well as imagery within the 1980s peace movement of Germans as the victims of a “nuclear Holocaust”.  

However, the cataclysmic events of reunification were the spark that would trigger the eventual unravelling of the radical Left. With the SPD and the Greens passively accepting Helmut Kohl’s assertiveness in pushing for rapid reunification, what remained of the radical Left – whether orthodox communist, autonomist, Maoist remnants like the KB, or radical Greens – converged around a coalition fittingly named “Radical Left”. The RL notably organised a large demonstration in Frankfurt under the motto Nie wieder Deutschland! (“Never again Germany!”) on 12 May 1990, as well as a congress three days later in Cologne.

Nevertheless, different perceptions of the reunification process emerged among these strange bedfellows. While one wing understood it in primarily economic terms – the wholesale privatisation of industry and the transformation of the East into a low-wage zone – another wing adopted a far more sinister perception of reunification. KB member and author Jürgen Elsässer[55] had expressed this sentiment in an essay called “Why the Left must be anti-German”.[56] It reasoned that reunified Germany, now in control of full sovereignty in foreign affairs, was on its way to becoming a Fourth Reich. It was thus necessary to support anybody opposing this process. The Antideutsch current was born, now constituted around the critical theory-oriented Bahamas magazine launched by a minority in the KB espousing the Antideutsch perspective on reunification. It is not hard here to discern, not only the pessimism of the KB’s “fascisation” thesis in this quasi-Maoist dictum of the “primary contradiction” between “Germany” and anyone “against Germany”, but also a radical makeover of the essentially liberalSonderweg thesis.

Other crucial events would ensue. The RL collapsed following disagreements around the 1991 Gulf War. Revelations had surfaced of West German firms supplying components to Iraq’s chemical weapons programme. It did not matter that this programme was actually directed against Iran, with blessings by the entire West. When Saddam Hussein launched Scud missiles against Israel, some in the RL saw this as proof of the antisemitic continuities of Germany’s emerging sovereignty in global affairs. They thus wondered if this wrong war was not actually being waged for objectively good reasons. The war also witnessed the emergence of a large-scale protest movement composed of newly politicised pupils. However, this movement collapsed overnight. It wasn’t just that leftists-cum-liberals like the publicist Hans-Magnus Enzensberger were equating Saddam’s Iraq to Nazi Germany in mainstream outlets like Der Spiegel.[57]  Ostensibly left-wing commentators began likening the pupils to the Hitler Youth[58]. Nazi comparisons and the accusation of antisemitism were now being used to stifle opposition to imperialism in post-Historikerstreit Germany.

As reunification carried on, more disillusionment followed. East German workers were for economic reasons the most enthusiastic supporters of rapid reunification. The democratic-socialist gradualists of the newly formed Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), around which GDR’s declassed professionals coalesced, were quickly sidelined. When Kohl’s promises of an economic miracle failed to materialise, the government responded by scapegoating migrants in a concerted campaign, which eventually pushed the SPD to consent to a drastic rollback of asylum rights. This campaign provided legitimacy to pogroms against asylum seekers, often carried out by working class youth. Scenes like in Rostock-Lichtenhagen in the summer of 1992, where neo-Nazis attacked refugees as onlookers cheered on, functioned to discredit the “popular front”-based anti-fascist paradigm, the doctrine of both the GDR and a sizeable part of the West German Left. Fascism, it seemed, could only be confronted by the direct action of a vanguard, if the majority was now part of the fascist rabble. Quickly spreading to the old Länder, the Nazi onslaught swelled the ranks of an autonomist Antifa overnight, a process effectively obscuring the radical Left’s collapse around the same time.[59]

Antideutsche and Autonomen: A love-hate relationship

As the prophecies of a Fourth Reich remained unfulfilled as the 1990s moved on, the Antideutsch current was thrown into an existential crisis and was thus in search of a new purpose. Here, the autonomist scene offered itself as an object of activity. An enduring characteristic of the Antideutsche is to compensate for inferior numbers with provocations, overwhelmingly against the rest of the Left. Thus being “against Germany” signaled not just a rejection of nationalism but of any class-oriented Marxist analysis pointing to contradictions within German society. Now, the Antideutsche were ridiculing the autonomists’ alleged rigid political correctness and sexual puritanism in the midst of a sexual abuse scandal splitting one of Berlin’s largest Antifa groups in the late 1990s, placing themselves on the side of the accused.[60]

The incident was typical of a pattern whereby Antideutsch provocations would serve making the miniscule current relevant for the autonomist scene, paving the way for an interaction that seemed bizarre at first. The Antideutsche devoted more time to obscure renditions of critical theory or value-critical Marxism, whereas the autonomists disdained theory in favour of direct action. There were, however, undeniable similarities. Both currents did not think much of the working class. That class was reactionary because of Germans’ natural propensity to mass murder (the Antideutsche), or irrelevant because it ceased to exist, at least in the way “traditional Marxism” had envisioned it (the Autonomen). Both were furthermore engaged in an ultra-left critique of German nationalism, albeit in different ways. The Antideutsche sought inspiration in the imagery of the 1940s anti-Hitler coalition, exemplified by the morbid slogan “Do it again, bomber Harris!”.[61]

The autonomists, on the other hand, were going through their own process of ideological transformation. Already in 1991, the Revolutionary Cells – perceived to have wide-ranging sympathies among the Autonomen – had published a renunciation of anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism, following the summary execution of a group member in Damascus by the group around Carlos the Jackal.[62] In their document, the RZ also described their selection of hostages in Entebbe as antisemitic. The document furthermore signalled a break with armed struggles for national sovereignty, citing the authoritarian character of many post-colonial states, and counterpoising to them the goal of social liberation. This thinking converged effortlessly with the growing appeal of post-structuralism within progressive academia throughout the 1990s. When the last vestiges of Keynesianism were being dismantled in the early 2000s, post-operaist anti-statism and hostility to trade unions, complemented Antideutsch takes on the welfare state as the incarnation of the Volksgemeinschaft.

However, the relative convergence of the Antideutsche and the Autonomen must additionally be viewed within the context of the deeper crisis of the autonomist Antifa of the early 1990s. The SPD-Green coalition under Gerhard Schröder elected in 1998, embarked on a programme of socially modernising German capitalism. In contrast to the previous Kohl government, whose attitude to neo-Nazi violence oscillated between indifference, appeasement, and outright instrumentalisation, the Schröder government defined right-wing extremism as a problem of the highest order. This awareness was already present within the establishment since the early 1990s pogroms, driven by fears that far-right violence was tarnishing Germany’s image abroad. Now, the government was institutionalising a version of anti-fascism, manifested in community-based initiatives against the Right, as well as so-called Exit-programmes for those wishing to abandon the Nazi scene.

Nevertheless, in promoting the latter, the government was embracing an outlook whereby perpetrators were being “transformed into [victims] of a harmful addiction or internal disease induced, in all probability, by a crisis in masculinity within the white working class”.[63] Such a perspective was in full agreement with a “progressive neoliberalism”,[64] seeking to individualise racism and fascism by releasing both from any connection to social or political structures. The sanctification of former Nazis as recovering victims of something akin to an addiction served to marginalise actual victims, thereby perpetuating the racist state structures that a few years later, would hinder an effective inquiry into the murders committed against migrants by the “National Socialist Underground” neo-Nazi terror group.[65] The reduction of fascism to a pathological question of “political extremism”, on the other hand, predictably facilitated calls by conservative politicians to focus equally on “left-wing extremism”, and – following 9/11 -“Islamic extremism” . 

For the Antideutsche, this mainstreaming of anti-fascism had a contradictory effect. It appeared as if the idea of neo-Nazism and antisemitism as pathologies unrelated to dynamics of class oppression was finally going mainstream. Indeed the idea that anything could be antisemitic, and one must constantly police him/herself for any signs of Jew-hatred would be instrumental for Antideutsch ideas to spread from more radical Autonomen circles into the mainstream youth organizations of the SPD and the Greens. However, the Antideutsche were self-proclaimed enemies of “Germany” and the mainstream in general. A self-professed radicalism and group dynamics meant that new political antagonisms had to be constructed. It was 9/11, the Second Intifada, and the Iraq War, which completely shifted the Antideutsch focus from opposition to German nationalism to a vehement identification with Israel, but also US imperialism as a form of contemporary anti-fascism. A typical example was a Bahamas cover in 2003 unironically titled “Bush – The Man of Peace”, which proclaimed:

The BAHAMAS [sic] congratulates the governments of the United States of America and Great Britain and their allies […] for their swift victory over the Iraqi Baath regime. The editorial board acknowledges with relief that this first anti-fascist battle of the new century has taken a much lower toll than was feared on the Allies as well as on Iraqi civilians, especially given the particular evilness and inhumanity of the Saddam regime.[66]

For the Bahamas and other Antideutsche, Palestinian suicide bombings were evidence of a regressive culture of killing Jews for the sake of it. Paraphrasing Goldhagen, it was an “eliminatory antisemitism” in the Middle East. The peace movement was now the main enemy at home, for it was appeasing “Islamofascism” and was regressively anti-American. The fact that Germany was officially opposed to the Iraq War was proof that theSonderweg was alive and kicking.[67] The war on Iraq was supported as a necessary defence of bourgeois society’s individual liberties against collectivist cultures prone to totalitarianism.

Here again were echoes of West German Maoism. By adopting the idea that one has to line up with Western imperialism for the greater good, the Antideutsche were reminiscent of some Maoist K-Gruppen that called for strengthening NATO as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. The “apotheosis of humanitarian barbarism”[68] expressed by renegades beyond Germany such as Christopher Hitchens and the French “New Philosophers”, found its German expression in the Antideutsche, albeit in much less sophisticated form. Furthermore, accusing “the Left” of antisemitism became for the Antideutsche a way of compensating one’s own increasing political irrelevance, especially at a time when elements of a left renewal were appearing in the form of the alter-globalisation movement and discontent with both the SPD’s embrace of neoliberalism and the Greens’ abandonment of pacifism. Allies were thus sought in hegemonic discourses always eager to cast the Left as anti-Semitic. Eventually, and like Hitchens and the New Philosophers, many Antideutsche stretched their fight against the Left to its logical conclusion, freeing themselves from any association with it.

The deepening crisis of the autonomist Antifa, the autonomist disposal of anti-imperialism, the mainstreaming of a classless antifascism by the red-green coalition, as well as the ultraradical self-perceptions of both the Autonomen and the Antideutsche led to some of the former adopting the overt pro-imperialism and pro-Zionism of the latter. However, most Autonomen still regard neo-Nazi violence against migrants and non-white Germans as a real issue, whereas the Antideutsche today openly flirt with right-wing populism.[69][70] What many Autonomen did adopt, however, were Antideutsch ideas on antisemitism, such as those expressed in Postone’s essay. Theorisations of antisemitism became increasingly abstract, unrelated to actual Jews, and located within linguistic structures. Papers on “structural antisemitism” – rehashed Zionist tropes of Israel as “the Jew among the nations” – were churned out en masse, discovering linguistic homologies between antisemitism and “traditional Marxist” anti-imperialism. Micro-sociological dynamics also mattered.

For Markus  and Sebastian Haunss,[71] the pre-existing autonomist propensity for “monocasual explanations patterns” is key to understanding this overnight conversion. Whereas 1980s street-fighting autonomists had erected a mural on Hamburg’s Hafenstrasse calling for a boycott of Israel, their (far fewer) counterparts in the early 2000s were imploring Scandinavian comrades to refrain from using slogans such as “global Intifada” during protests at an EU summit in Copenhagen, for example.[72] In a moralistic anti-fascism emptied of any class content, one’s sole duty now was to be one of the “good guys”. If the Antideutsche said that Palestinians were today’s Nazis, that might sound exaggerated, but then again, who would risk being associated with any “bad guys”? More sophisticated autonomists simply refrained from talking about Palestinians, other than to explain that there were not any “emancipatory actors” to support among them.[73] The distancing of autonomism’s majority from the Antideutsche, however, was half-hearted at best, owing to the subcultural fluidity between two currents, which in many ways reflected the relationship between 1980s Autonomen and Antiimps. The Jungle World weekly newspaper expresses this condition up to this day. Formed in the mid-1990s as an Antideutsch-inspired split from an orthodox-communist daily, the paper evolved into Germany’s eminent left-libertarian outlet, covering everything from the Zapatistas to Judith Butler. It has, however, a long history of publishing Islamophobic rants, next to unconditional support for the Zionist state.[74]

Besides their subcultural affiliations with the Autonomen, another factor that goes some way in explaining the longevity of Antideutsch ideas within the contemporary German Left is the additional character of the Antideutsch movement as one of cultural critique since its inception. A prominent actor here was the publicist Günther Jacob, a former member of the KABD and KBW and co-initiator of an artistic movement in 1989 against the prevailing nationalist climate. The driving impetus for these cultural Antideutsche was disgust with what they perceived as a parochial pop nationalism creeping into the German mainstream. They correspondingly sought to confront this by exposing their readership in various music fanzines to cultural influences from abroad. However, as Hanloser notes, this “decent” subversive attitude was not without its contradictions. In discussing US hip hop, for example, Jacob criticised black separatist and antisemitic tendencies therein, describing them as elements that reunified Germans in their new national identity could probably identify with.[75] Using an abstract affirmation of “communism”, evidenced in the Antideutsch slogan Für Israel und den Kommunismus (“For Israel and communism”), as well as projecting the chauvinism of German nationalism into any kind of identity affirmation – whether coming from the oppressed or not – would thus become a hallmark of Antideutsch criticism. In the run-up to the Iraq War, such thinking enabled the construction of an opposition between the war’s alleged objectively progressive character on the one hand, and a regressive identitarianism that united Third-Worldism with German nationalists and antisemites. In discussing this cultural dimension, Hanloser is correct to identify the bourgeois antifascism of Thomas Mann as an intellectual ancestor to the Antideutsche. In contrast to Bertolt Brecht, who stressed the existence of class contradictions within German society, Mann in his US exile would flip-flop from his earlier writings, riddled withvölkisch and antisemitic undertones, to an uncritical supporter of the indiscriminate bombardment of German cities by the Allies and an exponent of the collective guilt thesis.[76]

Enter Die Linke: The debate goes mainstream

What was essentially a debate within a politically marginalised spectrum increasingly became more known in the 2000s. A significant development in this regard was the formation of Die Linke, the merger of the PDS and a trade union split from the SPD. Thus, for the first time since the banning of the KPD in West Germany in 1956, a parliamentary force left of social democracy with a following in the East and West entered the fray. Besides bringing together two essentially reformist actors, Die Linke signalled the political institutionalization of radical left currents, from Trotskyists to autonomists. Debates around Israel and Palestine that were confined within a radical milieu became politically more relevant, as the new party sought to chart its course. Hailing from the PDS’s libertarian current, for example, the former party chair, Katja Kipping could use Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire to criticise those within her party who thought the state and imperialism were still relevant, while castigating “anti-emancipatory” movements like Hezbollah and Hamas that work against peace and challenge the historical necessity of “Israel’s right to exist”.[77] Autonomist “anti-nationalism” converged with selective readings of Rosa Luxemburg, specifically her critique of nationalism, as a libertarian antidote to the “authoritarian Lenin” and his allegedly uncritical support of anti-imperialist nationalism – If imperialism did not exist, then all nationalisms were equally bad, so the reasoning. In the process of Die Linke’s parliamentary institutionalisation, Antideutsch caucuses would willingly play the role of foot soldiers for the party’s office-seeking wing. If accepting the Israel-centred German Staatsräson was precondition for joining government, then accusing the party’s left wing of “Israel-centred antisemitism” or sympathies for “regressive Islamists” was highly convenient. Like in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn,[78] scandals on “left antisemitism” would paralyse Die Linke for months, eliciting futile apologies by more radical members to avoid a potentially devastating split.[79]

Surely enough, the mainstream of Die Linke is committed to Palestinian statehood as a minimum (even if silently), while Antideutsch ideas cannot be said to be dominant. Their influence, however, is not so much a result of their strength but rather of the enormous ideological concessions of the rest of Left towards them. The historically dominant conflation of Jews, Israel, and Zionism since the 1950s, combined with sympathies of the obviously oppressed Palestinians, meant that the majority of the German Left – and this includes also large sections of the SPD and the Greens – became particularly passionate advocates of the two-state paradigm, which frames the conflict as an issue of “peace” and land, rather than justice and equality.[80] That this paradigm is still strong owes much to the inherent psychological need to balance feelings of guilt towards Israel as the substitute for Jews on the one hand, with the evident need for justice for Palestinians on the other. This is why German civil society organisations were particularly invested under the auspices of the “peace process” in 1990s Israel-Palestine. When Palestinians rejected Israeli demands of total capitulation, such as Ehud Barak’s “generous offer” in 2000, the majority of the German Left was ideologically disarmed vis-à-vis racist postulates of Palestinian “eliminatory antisemitism”. It did not adopt the Antideutsch viewpoint but did not show any active solidarity with Palestinians either.

That Antideutsch ideas are still prevalent also owes also to the fact that a generation of German leftists came of age under the influence of the debates on “left-wing antisemitism” initiated by this current. What emerged during the long period of retreat after 1990 was a Left that mystified antisemitism as something inherently distinct from – and even worse than – racism, even if it did not share the Antideutsche’s increasingly racist and pro-imperialist views. Racism was in turn understood purely in biologistic terms of one’s skin colour. Here, the Left was inadvertently echoing establishment academia, whose banishment of racism to a distant Nazi past and mainstreaming of the inherently exclusionary Fremdenfeindlichkeit (“hostility to foreigners”) as the word for actual racism has only recently become the subject of a concerted challenge.[81] For this Left socialised under the impact of the Antideutsche, but also under the growing popularisation of the Shoah in public discourse, antisemitism became simply an empty signifier denoting everything from Palestine solidarity to a “foreshortened” critique of finance capitalism.

Such a shift blended seamlessly with both the onslaught of post-structuralism after 1990. It not only reflected the radical Left’s decline after 1989, but also the long march of its post-operaist fragments through the institutions of German parliamentarism in the form of Die Linke, academia, or publishing. It was thus possible in 2018 for Missy Magazine, a queer feminist outlet with radical pretensions, to unironically run a piece on how antisemitism lurks behind every criticism of Israel.[82] Much like the case of pre-Brexit glorification of the EU’s “cosmopolitanism” as an antidote to “Little England”, this projective image of Israel is framed here as opposition to a German parochialism, notwithstanding the fact the divergence from the global left-wing consensus on Palestine makes this type of German left look increasingly parochial from the outside.

Epilogue: The end of the Antideutsche?

The Antideutsche can rightly be regarded as another episode in a long history of German petit bourgeois radicalism – familiar since the 1848 revolution – which in the light of defeat shifted from challenging to affirming the status quo. That so many key founders of the current were Maoists is not surprising. Whatever their opposing political directions – castigating imperialism or celebrating it – both Maoists and Antideutsche have conducted their struggles almost exclusively in a field of ideas cut off from the organised labour movement, with the primary aim of showing why they were right and other leftists got it wrong.[83] This isolation from the working class was not entirely the post-war German Left’s own fault but can be traced back to the particular circumstances this Left found itself in after 1945. These did not only include the trauma of Nazism, but the condition of a highly affluent consumerist society at the frontlines of the Cold War and the spectre of lacklustre “real-existing socialism” next door, as well as a working class segregated from its more militant Gastarbeiter components and hegemonised by the right-wing components of Social Democracy.

The cynical philosemitic attitude of the West German establishment, manifested in its definition of Israel and Zionism as representatives of Jews victimised by the Nazis, was not just intended to rehabilitate Germany in the eyes of the US-led “international community” but to also obscure the Federal Republic’s numerous personal and structural continuities with the Third Reich, as well as to accuse the New Left of antisemitism due to its support for the Palestinian struggle. The New Left’s key demand for a more comprehensive rather than superficial reckoning with the past was being materialised precisely at the time when it was collapsing. It was thus understandable that “antisemitism” – as an issue separated from the wider dynamics of capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, and racism – would function as the code enabling the accommodation of so many former radicals to the status quo, while allowing them to retain progressive and even radical pretences. This – and not the long-lasting effects of German guilt – is the actual historical meaning of the Antideutsch current and its influence over the rest of the German Left.

However, Germany is not a static society. The superstructure on which the Antideutsche emerged and thrived has witnessed enormous transformations during the last two decades. The “long summer of migration” of 2015 and the widespread solidarity between locals and mainly Muslim refugees, solidified Germany’s status as a “post-migrant society”,[84] with a growing plurality of non-white and migrant narratives expressing a newfound assertiveness. The arrival and mainstreaming of the Black Lives Matter movement in Germany has made it increasingly difficult to gloss over the connections between racist police brutality in the US and Germany on the one hand, and the plight of the Palestinians on the other. Equally important, an increasingly vocal dissident Jewish current in Germany is actively challenging the false conflation of Zionism with Judaism. The Habermasian post-Historikerstreit consensus of a fundamental incomparability of the Shoah with other historical injustices like colonialism is also under strain, as the backlash following the attacks on the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe in 2020 demonstrated.[85]

Do these developments mean that the contradictions between the Left’s universalist aspirations and its parochialism on the question of Palestine are dissolving? The answer is far from simple. As an organised current, the Antideutsche are hardly relevant today. One could argue, however, that the “edgy” debates initiated by the Antideutsche – specifically the idea that the Left has an antisemitism problem – have been appropriated by hegemonic public discourse in a Gramscian-style passive revolution, in line with the overall progressive-neoliberal revamping of German capitalism, of which events like the Historikerstreit and the transformation of the Greens from a protest into an elite party represent significant milestones among others. After all, far from becoming Antideutsche, the majority of renegade Maoists, but many other leftists as well,[86] mutated into Third Way social democrats and humanitarian-interventionist Greens. 

The new mainstream awareness of structural racism does also not mean that the German Left is automatically rediscovering its previous solidarity with the Palestinians. Like in other Western countries, the radical impulses of Black Lives Matter and other movements are constantly the object of co-option from above. In the case of Germany four observations can be made in this regard. First, there are concerted attempts to exclude Palestinians from the variety of increasingly visible groups affected by racism.[87] This had led many to speak of a specific “anti-Palestinian” racism in Germany, as the existence of Palestinians as victims of Zionism is perceived to disrupt of script of a redemptive positive German identity in which support for Israel figures prominently as its foundational cornerstone. Furthermore, like in Britain in the midst of Labour’s manufactured scandal on antisemitism, Zionism is constructed by mainstream discourses as integral to all forms of Jewish identity. Thus, under the prism of “lived experience”, any criticism of Zionism can be labelled antisemitic if the person criticised may wish to do so.

Moreover, if class has nothing to do with racism, then all what’s left is an implicit hierarchy of victimhood, which leads to the question of where white progressive Germans fit it. Being “against every antisemitism” (gegen jeden Antisemitismus) – that is, not just neo-Nazi but “Islamic” and “left-wing antisemitism” too – has evolved into a racist dog-whistle that secures white Germans a more comfortable spot in this hierarchy, as the scourge of antisemitism can be safely externalised to Palestinian or Muslim Others, and to those in solidarity with them. That all three elements can claim some kind of radical patina in Germany, more than they can in Britain, France, or the United States, is testament to the long half-life of the Antideutsche and their autonomist fellow-travellers.

Finally, the exponential increase of repression against supporters of Palestinian liberation in Germany cannot be viewed in isolation from the current condition of economic malaise, prolonged crisis, and the rise of the far right. The banning of pro-Palestinian demonstrations has as much to do with the German state’s cynical philosemitism, as it has to do with a war being waged against a significant part of the German working class, which has a so-called “immigrant background”. The externalisation of antisemitism to Palestinians and Arabs in general today merges seamlessly with calls for “mass deportations” due to this alleged “imported antisemitism”, signalling the mainstreaming of the far right’s agenda. Any Antideutsch-influenced Left is by definition incapable of providing, not just a defence of racialised groups in society, but of the working class in general.

What can ultimately break this impasse is not so much an intensification of education among the Left. Crucial as this might be, it should not be forgotten that the accusation of antisemitism against the Left is merely part of using the Left’s own weapons to crush it.[88] That is, Israel or antisemitism are just convenient alibis from the standpoint of capitalist interests and their political elites. More important in the long run will be a militant labour movement firmly opposed to imperialism, as well as all forms of militarism, colonialism, and racism.


I would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their highly constructive feedback and suggestions. I would also like to express my gratitude to Dirk Moses for his insightful comments on my draft.


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Timm, Angelika 1997, Hammer, Zirkel, Davidstern: Das gestörte Verhältnis der DDR zu Zionismus und Staat Israel. Bonn: Bouvier.

Tsianos, Vassilis 2014, ‘ Homonationalismus und new metropolitan mainstream. Gentrifizierungsdynamiken zwischen sexuellen und postsäkularen Politiken der Zugehörigkeit’, suburban, 2, 3: 59-80.

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[1] Zuckermann 2010

[2] The author was a fellow of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation between 2011 and 2014. During that time, the Foundation’s department for political education had a special focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict, centred on providing fellows with an overview of different narratives around the conflict through workshops. An edited volume, Der Nahostkonflikt: Befindlichkeiten der deutschen Linken (edited by Marcus Hawel and Moritz Blanke, Berlin, 2010) is emblematic of this approach. While the attitude towards the Antideutsche is highly critical, there is an acceptance of the narrative that German 1968 Left had an antisemitism problem in discussing Israel and Palestine. Ultimately, the Foundation’s approach never went beyond seeing the Palestine conflict as primarily one of competing narratives.

[3] E.g., Novak 2013.

[4] Fischer 2016.

[5] Fischer 2019.

[6] Badiou, Hazan, and Segre 2013.

[7] Peter Nowak’s (2013) Kleine Geschichte der Antisemitismusdebatte in der deutschen Linken, as well as Peter Ullrich’s (2013)Deutsche, Linke und der Nahostkonflikt: Politik im Antisemitismus- und Erinnerungsdiskurs can be seen as representative of this approach.

[8] The two most representative works in this respect are the volume ‘Sie warn die Antideutschesten der deutschen Linken‘. Zu Geschichte, Kritik und Zukunft antideutscher Politik, edited by Gerhard Hanloser (2004), as well as Hanloser’s more recent monograph,Die andere Querfront (2019).The volume Antifa heißt Luftangriff, edited by Susanne Witt-Stahl and Michael Sommer (2014) represents a critique of the Antideutsche’s pro-imperialist and classless “antifascism”, and one that also applies a historical contextualization in the analysis. A third critical approach to the Antideutsche is Robert Kurz’s (2003)Die antideutsche Ideologie: Vom Antifaschismus zum Krisenimperialismus, written from the theoretical standpoint of Kurz’s value criticism, a strand of thought partially coopted by the Antideutsch current.

[9] E.g., Hanloser 2004.

[10] The idea that the German Left should not talk about Palestine because doing so is “divisive”, because it cannot do solve the dispute, or because the conflict is just a projection screen for various biographical psychopathologies (i.e., Nazi grandparents), is a very widespread one within the broader Left. There is little need to point out the racism of such a posture, given that thousands of German leftists today have a so-called “migrant background”, not to mention the fact that German support is of vital importance to the maintenance of Israel’s system of systematic discrimination and expulsion of Palestinians.

[11] On the character of antisemitism vis-à-vis other forms of racism in the US context, see Benjamin Balthaser’s thoughtful essay “The death and life of the Jewish Century” (2019), on the resurgence of antisemitism in the Trump era. Rejecting liberal views of antisemitism as a personal pathology, Balthaser draws a distinction between the structural character of the racism affecting Afro-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and other groups in the United States on the one hand, and the institutional character of antisemitism as the foundational ideology of American institutions like Ivy League universities, the Republican Party, and many churches on the other. Balthaser furthermore contends that the West offered “communal membership” to the Jews after World War II in exchange for their political loyalty during the Cold War. As such, Jews as a relatively privileged ethnic group in the US cannot be considered on the same boat with those suffering structural forms of oppression; nonetheless, their whiteness is at best precarious and contingent on their political preferences. A similar conclusion can be drawn for contemporary Germany. While Jewish Germans do not endure the structural discrimination of Germans of African, Turkish, or Arab descent, their membership in the Mehrheitsgesellschaft (“majority society”) is contingent upon their identification with Israel, which has evolved into a key component of post-war German national identity.

[12] For a useful historical overview of the German Left’s attitude to antisemitism before 1945 see the works of historian Mario Kessler, specifically Arbeiterbewegung und Antisemitismus (1993) and his recentSozialisten gegen Antisemitismus: Zur Judenfeindschaft und ihrer Bekämpfung (1844-1939) (2022).

[13] The indiscriminate Allied bombardment of working class neighbourhoods near industrial zones was certainly an additional decisive factor that prevented the German working class from rising against Hitler during the war.

[14] Adorno and Horkheimer 1988 [1944].

[15] Traverso 2000, p.88.

[16] Budeiri 2010.

[17] E.g. Pappe 2006.

[18] Sternhell 1998.

[19] See Scheffler 1988.

[20] See Scheffler 1995.

[21] Said 2000.

[22] Meinhof 1968.

[23] Volkhard Mosler, former member of the SDS federal steering committee in 1967, interview conducted with author, 2014.

[24] A collection of Palestine-related statements by various organisations on the German Left can be found in the book by Ernst Vogt (1976) Israel.Kritik von links. Dokumentation einer Entwicklung. The Jusos notably broke off relations with the youth wing of the Israeli Labor Party following a resolution during their 1973 congress that called for a Palestinian right of return (see Vogt 1976, 186pp). Relations were only fully reestablished amidst the Second Intifada in 2002.

[25] The relatively weaker Trotskyist currents maintained relations with the Israeli Revolutionary Committee Abroad (ISRACA), an offshoot of Matzpen, which in turn had contacts with the DFLP. The DFLP was the only Palestinian faction willing to engage with Israeli anti-Zionist left-wingers and discuss the question of binationalism in a future de-Zionised Palestine, unlike the PFLP which adhered more strongly to its foundational Arab nationalism. In 1976, a delegation of students in Germany that included Arabs (including the Syrian author Rafik Schami) and Israeli anti-Zionists attended a workshop in Cyprus organised by the German Protestant Church’s student association ESG: The Arabs in the delegation were instrumental in convincing other Arabs already on the island to allow the Israelis to participate in a spontaneous demonstration against the Syrian invasion of Lebanon (Alexander Flores, delegation participant, personal communication).

[26]‘Setting the Record Straight: Entebbe Was Not Auschwitz’, Haaretz, 8 July 2011.

[27] Hanloser’s (2019) Die andere Querfront provides numerous examples of a left-wing criticism of an uncritical support of Palestinian nationalism within the German Left.

[28] Slobodian 2013, p. 209.

[29] cf. Koenen 2004, p. 181.

[30] See Achcar 2009.

[31] E.g. Küntzel 2019.

[32] Slobodian 2012.

[33] Slobodian 2013.

[34] See Timm 1997.

[35] See Michael Steffen’s (2002) monograph on the KB.

[36] For a comprehensive overview of the K-Gruppen see Andreas Kühn’s (2005) Stalins Enkel, Mao’s Söhne (“Stalin’s Grandchildren, Mao’s Sons”).

[37] The notable exception being the KB.

[38] Dimitrov 1935.

[39] This refers to the powerful tendency within the Jusos, which adopted Soviet-inspired theories of “state monopoly capitalism” – the idea of the capitalist state as beholden to the interests of few monopolies – while advocating for a popular front alliance with the DKP.

[40] Steffen 2002.

[41] Novick 1999.

[42] The debate has been extensively documented in Augstein et al (1987).

[43] Goldhagen 1996.

[44] Moses 2021.

[45] See Kundnani 2015. The realist justification of German foreign policy arguably reached its apex with Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik, whose premises of using the country’s economic clout to pragmatically advance national interests were adopted by successors Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl. Faint echoes could be discerned in Gerhard Schröder’s refusal to join the war on Iraq in 2003 and Liberal foreign minister Guido Westerwelle’s refusal to drag Germany into the war on Libya in 2011. The far more hawkish “idealists” are mainly to be found within the Green Party. Realists have usually sought a degree of independence from Washington, while idealists like current Green foreign minister Annalena Baerbock are stringent Atlanticists.

[46] Postone 1980.

[47] Callinicos 2001.

[48] Sommer 2014.

[49] Haenisch 2013, p.22.

[50] Like critical theory, value-critical Marxism would go on to serve as theoretical framework for various Antideutsch outlets. This has not remained uncontested, however; the Israeli exponent of critical theory Marxism, Moshe Zuckermann is one of the most outspoken and prolific critics of the Antideutsche in the German-speaking world, while Robert Kurz (2003) has done the same from the standpoint of reclaiming value-critical Marxism from perceived Antideutsch distortions.

[51] Hanloser (2019, pp. 115-117) hints at the contradictions in the Antideutsche’s reception of Postone. While his subjectivist account of capital as automatically bringing forth its own transcendence through technological advancement, and the corresponding negation of class struggle, certainly appealed to the middle-class Antideutsch milieu, the rather historically optimistic tone stood in contrast to the pessimism of critical theory to which many Antideutsche subscribed to. Ultimately, the rather undertheorised Antisemitism and National Socialism had a much bigger impact than Postone’s more sophisticated work, as did his political role as a critic of the German New Left.

[52] Langbehn and Salama 2011.

[53] Bundesarbeitskreis Shalom, website.

[54] Kommunistischer Bund 1988, p.42.

[55] Following a brief return to the anti-imperialist Left in the early 2000s, Elsässer would move to the far right in the following years. He is known today as a prolific conspiracy theorist, Strasserist, anti-immigrant activist, Islamophobe, and AfD supporter. Although this conversion appears bizarre, there are some elements of continuity with his earlier political activity. In light of the German government’s active role in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, the early Antideutsche were fervent supporters of Slobodan Milosevic. Even during his days in the radical Left, Elsässer would popularise the idea of Serb nationalism as a European bulwark against jihadism.

[56] Elsässer 1990.

[57] Enzensberger 1991.

[58] Wolfgang Pohrt, considered another intellectual ancestor of the Antideutsche, referring to Jürgen Habermas’s accusation of “left fascism” against the 1968 Left, wrote in the radical left magazine Konkret:

“The term left fascism sounds like an understatement, since one can spare the adjective ‘left’, and the rule is: The further to the left one was standing, the more of a committed Nazi he is [sic]. All political organisations have remained the same and have merely changed their signs. One doesn’t require imagination anymore to picture the Antiimps or the Autonomen as Hitler Youth stormtroopers or Aktion Werwolf squads [the teenage army set up by the Nazis during the last days of the war to sabotage the invading Allies]”, quoted in Hanloser 2019, p. 64, translation by the author.  

[59] Koltan 2004, p.91.

[60] Mohr and Haunss 2004, p.74.

[61] Referring to Sir Arthur Harris, head of the RAF Bomber Command during World War II.

[62] Revolutionäre Zellen 1991.

[63] Fekete 2014, p. 92.

[64] Fraser 2019.

[65] A quite telling example is the story of former neo-Nazi Jörg Fischer, a well-publicised Aussteiger (“exiter”), who later converted to Judaism and now runs a Zionist and Islamophobic website.“Vom Neonazi zum Israel-Erklärer”, Deutschlandfunk, 21 January 2011, available at:https://www.deutschlandfunkkultur.de/vom-neonazi-zum-israel-erklaerer-100.html.

[66] Quoted in Hanloser 2019, p. 52, translation LF.

[67]Antideutsch discourses were now slowly seeping into the left-liberal mainstream. The Jusos’ chair had claimed that the movement against the Iraq War was characterised by “anti-American and anti-Semitic argumentation patterns”, because of the US being associated therein with “money” and “power politics”. Jungle World 2003.

[68] Seymour 2007.

[69] See for instance “Lieber rechts als gar kein Israel“, Tageszeitung, 16 July 2018, available at:https://taz.de/Streit-unter-Leipzigs-Antideutschen/!5517963/. Antideutsche had organised a discussion in the alternative Conne Island youth centre in Leipzig in 2018 with a speaker who described the AfD as “the only remaining voice of reasons in the German Bundestag” and “the parliamentary arm of a materialist critique of ideology” (translation by author). 

[70] Indeed, and in the backdrop of today’s “culture wars”, one of the main dividing lines between esoteric Antideutsche á la Bahamas and less ideologically rigid Autonomen nowadays concerns attitudes towards movements like #metoo or other forms of “political correctness”, to which the former are firmly hostile.

[71] Mohr and Haunss 2004, pp. 78-9.

[72] Avanti 2002, cited in Fischer 2016, p.183, footnote.

[73] Non-participant observation at a panel discussion on “The 1968 Left and the Middle East” with Moshe Machover, Khalil Toama, and Thomas Seibert during the “1968 Congress”, Berlin, 2008.

[74] One such rant in 2011 claimed that “Islamophobia” was not a valid term, for what is actually antisemitic hatred in the form of envy at the successes of “jihadist collectivism”, see Scheit 2011.

[75] Quoted in Hanloser 2019, p. 25.

[76] Hanloser 2019, pp. 28-29.

[77] Kipping 2010.

[78] See Lerman and Miller 2019.

[79] See Fischer 2016.

[80] Honig-Parnass 2011.

[81] Cf. Tsianos 2014, p. 63-8.

[82] Hindesmith and Lohaus 2018.

[83]Admittedly, Maoists were not the only current suffering from this pathology, as the example of post-war Trotskyism’s highly fragmented nature testifies.  

[84] Foroutan 2019.

[85] Mbembe’s keynote speech at the Ruhrtriennale festival was cancelled following an intervention by the Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life and the fight against antisemitism, Felix Klein, who accused Mbembe of relativizing the Holocaust and denying “Israel’s right to exist”, due to the latter’s comparisons between the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and South African apartheid. Despite a climate of manufactured hysteria against Mbembe, the case highlighted the stifling climate of censorship inspired by the Bundestag’s 2019 anti-BDS resolution, while provoking interest on the lineages between colonialism and the Shoah, something which would have been unthinkable in the past. See Zonszein 2020.

[86] Current chancellor Olaf Scholz and former chancellor Gerhard Schröder were Stamokap-Jusos.

[87]The Amadeo Antonio Foundation, a liberal NGO, has been notorious in silencing and smearing Palestinian and dissident Jewish voices as “antisemitic”, promoting instead a sanitised version of anti-racism similar to that advanced by SOS Racisme in France. 

[88] The two well-known other examples are to equate opposition to the European Union with a regressive return to the nation-state, or to claim that opposition to NATO expansion is synonymous with support for Putin’s authoritarian regime.

Commodifying Indigeneity

Settler colonialism and racial capitalism in fair trade farming in Palestine

Gabi Kirk
The recent proliferation of settler colonial and Indigenous studies of Palestine have addressed historical and present-day enclosure of Palestinian land, yet the question of ‘indigeneity’ is underexamined in this literature. Claims to indigeneity in Palestine straddle varied definitions: a racial category; as constructed through the colonial encounter or preceding colonialism; and as a local relation or an international juridico-political category. Using discourse analysis of a specific Palestinian sustainable agriculture initiative. I show how for Palestinians, claiming indigeneity brings into tension potential political economic gains, social relations of struggle, and discursive formations of collective subjectivity. A valorisation, commodification, and privatization of indigeniety narrows notions to the biological-cultural, offering challenges for Palestinian struggles for sovereignty. I conclude by asking what theorizing from Palestine offers to Marxist theories of racial capitalism and settler colonialism, and whether indigeneity can exceed its commodification.