Jacob Heilbrunn

Anti-Semitism on the German Left

Anti-Semitism is largely taboo in Germany. But in certain precincts it lingers on the far left as well as the right. Today Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung features a story by Mechthild Kuepper that delves into the tenebrous recent history of the successor to East Germany's Communist party. It is a political party known as Die Linke—The Left. It is stridently unrepentant about East Germany and favors Marxist economics. It also has a certain cachet among those—there is never a shortage in modern Germany—who wish to protest the iniquities of capitalism and the political establishment (which itself is wholly committed to a social-market economy). Die Linke, or the Left's, longtime member Gregor Gysi has gone to some lengths to try and distance the party from anti-Semitism. But it is not quite working. One of the party's leaders, Sahra Wagenknecht, is an admirer of old-time communism. She continues to refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist. Not that Israel should really care about what this twerp chooses to recognize. But it is also the case that a number of members of Die Linke refused to applaud when Shimon Peres addressed the Bundestag. Ditto for a measure mourning the 1938 Reichskristallnacht. Israel's behavior is always their excuse. This is the inverse of those politicians who try to use the Holocaust to explain away any untoward Israreli action. The members of Die Linke appear to be historically tone-deaf. Addled as well. The reasons for this historical amnesia are not far to seek. The East German Communist party purported to be the anti-fascist opposition to the allegedly Nazi-infested Federal Republic. The truth was that Nazis were amply represented in East German political and military institutions. It is also the case, as Jeffrey Herf has copiously demonstrated, that East Germany conducted anti-Semitic show trials. This sordid history has never been fully confronted in Germany. But it has a bearing on how Germany acts towards Israel. Israel, it seems safe to say, is not the most popular country in Germany or even Europe. It is a pity that some elements of the Left embrace both antagonism toward Israel and a refusal to face up to Germany's shameful past. At some point even Die Linke will recognize that it must rid itself of the suspicion of anti-Semitism—a grave charge that the head of the Central Council of Jews has now lodged against the party in an essay in the Suddeutsche Zeitung. In fact that point is long overdue. The party should face up to its record—as well as East Germany's—immediately.