Norman Finkelstein
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Germany’s Finkelstein Phobia

Renowned scholar and descendent of Holocaust survivors prevented by German Israel Lobby to speak about Gaza

Norman Finkelstein, an internationally renowned scholar of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, was due to talk about the state of the decades-old conflict and the situation in Gaza one year after the Israeli assault last week in Munich and Berlin. As part of a European speaking tour which would have led him to Germany for the first time since 2002, Finkelstein has been invited to speak in Prague at a number of prestigious institutions, such as the Institute of International Relations Prague, the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, and the Faculty of Philosophy and Arts at Charles University in Prague.

 

One of Finkelstein’s Berlin lectures was initially planned to be sponsored by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, an institution affiliated to the German Green Party. The event was scheduled to take place at the Protestant Trinitatis Church. In a statement announcing its decision to cancel the event, the church “regrets to have been implicated, against its will and its publicly known stances, in anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli polemics”. Soon thereafter, on 9 February, the Böll Foundation announced its pullback stating “Due to inattention, insufficient investigation and trust in our cooperation partners, we have made a severe mistake. In our judgment, Finkelstein’s behavior and his theses do not remain within the limits of legitimate critique.” It finally „thanked the many notes and interventions pertaining to this event.”

The other Finkelstein lecture was scheduled at the headquarters of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (RLS), a German institution affiliated to the Left Party. But on 17 February, the Left Party think-tank also withdrew its support. It stated to have underestimated the event’s “political explosiveness”, saying further that for the sake of guaranteeing a “controversial and pluralistic debate” its proposition to provide for a counterpart to Finkelstein has been rejected by the organizers. Aside from the unusual insistence to invite a “counterpart”, Doris Pumphrey from the organizing committee stated that the RLS had not wanted to name this counterpart.

Finkelstein’s projected two lectures in Munich, one of them at the America House Munich, were likewise cancelled.

The German Israel Lobby and the Anti-Semitism Claim

The wave of cancellations came after a concerted campaign by neoconservative and pro-Israeli pressure groups, such as Honestly Concerned and BAK Shalom, which are known for their unconditional support of Israeli policies and the defamation of critics as anti-Semites. BAK Shalom, a pro-Zionist working group within the Left Party’s youth organization, was one of the main drivers behind the campaign to cancel Finkelstein’s public lectures. A statement, signed by BAK Shalom offshoots and like-minded groupings, reads that “Finkelstein is internationally popular among anti-Semites” while accusing him – a “self-proclaimed historian” – of “historical revisionism” and “anti-Semitism.”

Finkelstein, whose parents were survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and of Nazi concentration camps, was awarded a Ph.D. in political science from Princeton University and is the author of many academic books on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. His Image and Reality of the Israel–Palestine Conflict (1995; 2003) has received much praise from eminent scholars such as Oxford University professor Avi Shlaim (“a major contribution to the study of the Arab–Israeli conflict”) and leading intellectual Noam Chomsky (“the most revealing study of the historical background of the conflict and the current peace agreement”). In 2007, after a denunciation campaign with the involvement of Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, despite academic approval he was denied tenure at Chicago’s DePaul University where he has been teaching. Dershowitz’ book The Case for Israel, whose scholarly integrity has been highly disputed by Finkelstein and others, has been publicized by BAK Shalom. Dershowitz has also called Finkelstein “a classic anti-Semite”.

McCarthyism à l’Israélienne vs. Jewish Humanism

 

Finkelstein has repeatedly argued for a settlement of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict according to international legal prescriptions and rulings while stressing that the lesson he learned from his family’s Holocaust suffering was to call attention to the Palestinians’ plight. His new book entitled This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion (OR Books) will be published in mid-March.

In a response to the pro-Israel lobbying groups, Professor Rolf Verleger, chair of the German section of the European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP) – one of the sponsors of the Berlin lectures – rejected the claims put forward against Finkelstein. Instead, Verleger described him as “a proud and conscious Jew, who defends himself against the appropriation of Jewish tradition by Jewish blood-and-soil nationalism”. Criticizing those pressure groups for their lack of opposition to human rights violations and nationalism when it came to Israel, Verleger compared their tactics to McCarthyite agitation, this time directed against “un-Israeli activities”.

Verleger, who is the author of Israel’s Wrong Way: A Jewish View (PapyRossa, in German, 2nd edn., 2009), is a former member of the board of delegates of the Central Council of Jews in Germany but was not re-elected due to his open criticism of Israeli policies.

In a letter sent earlier to the Trinitatis Church in a plea to reverse its decision, Verleger rejected the idea that criticism of Israel’s policies would amount to anti-Semitism and instead talked of “Jewish responsibility” to do so. Verleger, who in the letter reminded that his father had died on the very day of the projected Finkelstein event in Berlin 45 years ago with an “Auschwitz number on his arm” and who had lost his family in Auschwitz, consigned Finkelstein to stand in the “humanistic tradition of German Judaism” à la Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt and Rabbi Leo Baeck.

 

Leftist Raison d’Etat

 

In particular, the withdrawal of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (RLS) engendered ongoing protests. In an open letter some Left Party Members of Parliament and leading sympathizers criticized the foundation’s handling of Norman Finkelstein. Therein, they consider the denunciatory claims against Finkelstein as “absurd”. In another open letter, former and current RLS scholarship holder conclude that the foundation might lose its “character as location for Leftist debates and controversies” if it were to continue to avoid criticism of Israeli government policies. Also many other Leftists voiced criticism of the RLS’s decision noting that the latter would be unworthy of the Jewish philosopher and activist Rosa Luxemburg’s famous quote of “Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.”

 

The RLS had come under harsh criticism last summer when allowing three well-known war-mongers – amongst them a leading representative from BAK Shalom – to speak at its largest students-led annual conference. The Left Party and its think-tank find themselves in an internal strife on the question of anti-Zionism and anti-imperialism, not at least since the chairman of the party’s parliamentary group Gregor Gysi advocated in spring 2008 to reconsider those principles. This was seen as an effort to align the Left Party with German raison d’état. In a speech before the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) in March 2008, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had said: “Here of all places I want to explicitly stress that every German Government and every German Chancellor before me has shouldered Germany’s special historical responsibility for Israel’s security. This historical responsibility is part of my country’s raison d’être. For me as German Chancellor, therefore, Israel’s security will never be open to negotiation.” Displaying “unconditional solidarity” with Israeli policies, two days into Tel Aviv’s military operation “Cast Lead” in Gaza, the German Chancellor and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “agreed that the responsibility for the development of the situation in the region clearly and exclusively lies with Hamas.” Such an assessment had also been echoed then by the chairman of the Left Party in Berlin at a pro-Israel rally.

After the cancellations of venues for Finkelstein’s lectures, at the end the junge Welt (“Young World”) – an independent left-wing daily known for its staunch opposition to illegal wars – had stepped in by offering its rather small-spaced shop in Berlin.

 

Finally, in a statement issued on 20 February, Finkelstein explained why he would not travel to Germany: “Some Germans seem determined that their fellow German citizens only hear opinions on the Israel-Palestine conflict that support the policies of the Israeli government. Such intolerance is not good for Palestinians who are living under a brutal military occupation. It is not good for Germans who want their country to support human rights and international law. It is not good for courageous dissenting Israelis who need support from the European Union.”

Finkelstein was also going to elaborate on the Goldstone Report, commissioned by the United Nations, which finds Israel guilty of war crimes in its assault on Gaza during the winter of 2008-2009. Further, in violation of domestic and EU laws that would prohibit the selling of arms to conflict-torn regions, Berlin has been continuing to do so.

Precedents of Handling Critics of Israeli Policies

There have been a number of occasions most recently in Germany where critics of Israel’s policies have been faced with comparable treatment. In January this year, three female Left Party members of the German Parliament (who also signed the above mentioned open letter to the RLS) had been attacked by similar groups in concert with Evangelical clerics for not offering standing ovations after Israeli President Shimon Peres’ Bundestag speech on Holocaust Memorial Day. The parliamentarians, who had paid tribute to the victims of Nazi crimes at ceremonies ahead of Peres’ talk, explained their rejection by pointing to the Israeli President’s exploitation of the event for a pro-Iran war call. In his speech, Peres considered Iran’s government to be “a danger to the entire world”. In spite of ongoing Israeli calls for a military strike on Iran, the Israeli President also said “we identify with the millions of Iranians who revolt against dictatorship and violence.” The German section of the EJJP had criticized the invitation of Peres in the first place.

In early 2009, a projected discussion on Germany’s major political TV show “Anne Will” about the Israeli military offensive in Gaza was cancelled only a few days before, in what was considered to have occurred after political interference.

In October 2009, following a lobbying campaign similar to the Finkelstein case, a projected talk in Munich by the exiled Israeli historian Ilan Pappé was cancelled by the city’s authorities. In an open letter, Professor Pappé – who was then speaking at a different venue – wrote that his father “was silenced in a similar way as a German Jew in the early 1930s”. Like himself, he went on, his father and his friends were regarded as “’humanists’ and ‘peacenik’ Jews whose voice had to be quashed and stopped”. Pappé said he was “worried, as any decent person should be, about the state of freedom of speech and democracy in present day Germany” as witnessed by the decision to censor his talk.

Both Finkelstein and Pappé have authored leading studies on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and are considered as eloquent advocates for a just and legal settlement of the conflict. Their Jewish background makes them especially troublesome for hardline defenders of Israel who frequently resort to labeling critics of being anti-Semites or even “self-hating Jews”. One might argue that such a distinction between “good” and “bad” Jews would in itself amount to a sort of anti-Semitism.

 

Update | Norman Finkelstein’s projected talk at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic on “Prospects of Peace in the Middle East, Current Situation and the Goldstone Report on Gaza” was cancelled by the Academy on very short notice.

SOURCE

Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2010) “Germany’s Fear of Finkelstein”, The Palestine Chronicle, 2 March

republished on Eurasia Review, 02/03

republished on uruknet.info, 02/03

republished on CounterCurrents.org, 03/03

republished on Information Clearing House, 03/03

▪ republished as “Germany’s Finkelstein Phobia” on Pacific Free Press, 04/03

▪ republished as “Silencing Critics of Israel: Germany’s Finkelstein Phobia”, Global Research, Montreal: Centre for Research on Globalization, 04/03

republished on INCnews Global Intelligence, 04/03

republished on Political Theatrics, 04/03

slightly edited version published on Monthly Review Webzine, 01/03 (top story of 1 & 2 Mar.)

▪ republished on the website of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JFJFP), 10/03.

IN FRENCH |Finkelstein fiche la trouille à une certaine Allemagne”, trans. M. Charbonnier, Palestine – Solidarité, 04/03

republished as “La phobie Finkelstein en Allemagne“, Mondialisation.ca, Montreal: Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation, 04/03

republished as “L’Allemagne a peur de Finkelstein“, trans. M. Charbonnier, edit. F. Giudice, Tlaxcala, 05/03.

IN ITALIAN |Zittire i critici di Israele: La fobia della Germania de Norman Finkelstein“, Arianna Editrice, trans. A. Carancini, 07/03

republished on Global Research, Montreal: Centre for Research on Globalization, 08/03.

IN CZECH |Německé obavy z Finkelsteina a umlčování kritiky Izraele”, Outsider Media, 08/03.

IN JAPANESE | In excerpts.

About the article | “Germany’s Finkelstein Phobia” by Ali Fathollah-Nejad touches on the background of a series of cancellations of projected talks by the renowned scholar on the Israel/Palestine conflict Norman Finkelstein in Germany.

German Media Censorship on Gaza? Merkel’s Will

PRAISE

»Pretty grim scene« (Prof. Noam Chomsky)

»Fabulous« (Prof. Michel Chossudovsky)

Germany’s most prominent political debate TV program “Anne Will” had announced to run a show on Gaza on 11 January, but in what many observers believe to be an unprecedented step canceled the topic only three days earlier. The talk show is broadcast every Sunday night by the country’s foremost public-service broadcaster ARD while attracting on average 3.6 million viewers. The “Anne Will” show which in the fall of 2007 succeeded the successful primetime talk hosted by Sabine Christiansen – who is now anchoring CNBC’s “Global Players” series – is named after the presenter.

Official Germany Adopts Israeli Propaganda

On the evening of the second day (28 December) of the Israeli attacks on Gaza, the German government’s spokesperson said that in a telephone conversation German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “agreed that the responsibility for the development of the situation in the region clearly and exclusively lies with Hamas”. The same further outlined the official version of the conflict according to the Berlin government which assembles the Christian-Democratic (CDU/CSU) and Social-Democratic (SPD) Parties: “Hamas unilaterally broke the agreement for a ceasefire, there has been a continuous firing of […] rockets at Israeli settlements and Israeli territory, and without question – and this was stressed by the chancellor – Israel has the legitimate right to defend its own people and territory.”[1] The Italian newspaper La Stampa commented “that with this outright German backing for Israel the policy of velvet gloves has ended with which German diplomacy was used to approach this region. It seems as if the Chancellor […] had decided to choose this moment and this topic of tremendous importance to let Germany return to the stage of grand foreign policy”.[2]

Along with the United States, Germany is fully backing Tel Aviv in its anew massive recourse to arms. Thus, unlike Britain and France where the political leaderships have to be attentive to avoid the explosion of outrage voiced particularly by their Muslim communities, German officials have to fear much less political ramifications resulting from protests that however occurred to a much lesser extent than e.g. in major U.S. and European capitals. This is due to two factors: One, compared to Britain’s and France’s Arab communities, it seems that German Turks – after all almost three million – are less politicized, especially when it comes to the Arab/Palestinian issue; second, as they are largely excluded from the political process due to the country’s comparatively harder path to gain citizenship, the responsiveness of political authorities tend to be on a lesser degree than in traditional ius soli countries.

What is more, the German media overwhelmingly and across the political spectrum represent the interpretation from the Israeli leadership, i.e. that the “Jewish State” would fight a defensive war against rocket-throwing Hamas terrorists with the noble cause of defending Western enlightened democracies, such as Israel, in the “war on terror” against Islamism. Those views are echoed in conservative-right papers such as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Welt, in “liberal” ones such as the weeklies Der Spiegel and Die Zeit, up to “liberal-left” ones such as Süddeutsche Zeitung and Frankfurter Rundschau. The only German newspaper that has consistently and extensively covered the Gaza tragedy is the left-wing junge Welt – but which only has small readership.

“Anne Will”’s Promising Selection

Differing from this general media and political patterns, those considered to be invited to the “Anne Will” show would have proposed a more accurate interpretation of the situation. It is widely suggested that the following guests should have appeared:

· Avi Primor, former Israeli ambassador to Germany (1993–99), relieved from that office by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon due to his critical remarks toward the right-wing Israeli Shas party. Primor, who is a member of the Club of Rome, at an “Anne Will” appearance on 23 September 2007 said: “War is raging, a world war. The war against world terrorism is a world war – a world war against the West.”[3] Despite statements close to those made by Israeli governments, Primor is known for his advocacy of an Israeli–Palestinian understanding.

· Joschka Fischer, former German Foreign Minister (1998–2005), and a founding member and chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). In an interview with Germany’s weekly Die Zeit on the current conflict, the former long-year head of the Green Party claimed: „Hamas has declared the end of the truce and has resumed the shelling of Southern Israel with rockets. These are facts on which there is international consensus.”[4]

· Daniel Barenboim, the renowned Jewish pianist and conductor, is known for his commitment to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In 1999, together with Edward Said (who died in 2003) he created the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra in which Palestinian and Israeli musicians have come together.[5] Since 1992, he has led the Berlin State Opera.

· Sumaya Farhat-Naser, a Christian Palestinian professor and peace activist, is particularly committed to dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli women.

· Rupert Neudeck, founder of the refugee NGO Cap Anamur in 1979 and now chair of the 2003-founded NGO Green Helmets. In early 2008, he visited the Gaza Strip.[6] His organization is installing a 5 kilowatt solar plant between Beit Jala and Hebron, planned to become operational by mid-March.

Until Thursday, 8 January, the Gaza topic could be seen in TV program announcements, but disappeared the day after without any explanation. Apparently, the invitees learned only by Thursday early afternoon about the decision to cancel the show. Instead, the topic of suicide figured as replacement.

Disinvited Invitees

On 11 January, Neudeck, who was helping the installation of a solar plant in Ruanda for the Nelson Mandela Education Center and who had his flight from Johannesburg to Berlin already booked by the ARD, asserted in an article published on the “Green Helmets” website titled “Cowardice of Politics, Cowardice of the Media: A Humanitarian Interjection”: “We in Germany, from top (Berlin) to bottom and from Left to Right, are simply holding the standpoint of the Israeli Government for the only possible one.”[7]

Farhat-Naser, who is lecturing at Birzeit University north of Ramallah and therefore needed two days to reach Amman airport in order to fly out, had already arrived in her Berlin hotel when she learned about the program’s cancelation. In an e-mail sent to her friends, she shared her deep disappointment and said she did not know how to explain back home that the TV program had been canceled as the topic had not been considered important enough.

As a consolation, Farhat-Naser was given the opportunity to speak a few minutes during the pause of Barenboim’s orchestra concert which was broadcast in a live extra program by the German-Austrian-Swiss public TV network 3sat on 12 January. In an interview with the same channel a week earlier, Barenboim voiced criticism saying that while Israel had the right to defend herself, this could not be done by force.[8]

Protesting Initiative

This abrupt change of the 11 January program on Gaza led to speculations about political pressures being exerted as well as to worries about the country’s debating culture.

An open protest letter,[9] dated 12 January, authored by Mohssen Massarrat, a retired Iranian-born politics and economics professor, to the ARD chief editor, Thomas Baumann, the chief editor of the responsible regional broadcaster and producer NDR, Andreas Cichowicz, and the show’s anchor Anne Will herself, declares “outrage” at the cancelation of the Gaza show. The letter notes: “We do not know about the circumstances that led to the cancelation of the planned program. As a result, this decision by the editorial staff is a hard blow to the freedom of press and democracy in Germany – this is even more unacceptable if the ARD acted upon political pressure.”

After only 20 hours of the letter being dispatched, it attracted at least 250 signatures by persons and organizations from a wide range of professional backgrounds in Germany, but also from individuals in France, Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Yemen, Iran and Nicaragua. Prominent figures endorsed the letter, such as the British–Pakistani historian and author Tariq Ali[10], the renowned expert on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict Norman Finkelstein[11], Yale scholar Immanuel Wallerstein[12], Columbia professor Hamid Dabashi[13] and SOAS professor Gilbert Achcar[14]. Ten days later, the open letter counts more than 700 signatories.

The letter also reads: “Mr. Barenboim, Ms. Farhat-Naser and Mr. Neudeck belong to those outstanding personalities who admirably commit themselves to the Palestinian–Israeli dialogue and who make sure that the still existent thin thread of human relations between the two peoples does not rupture.”

The open letter further says: “We deeply regret the cancelation of the program. Precisely because of Germany’s special responsibility toward Israel and Palestine, the German public is entitled to obtain comprehensive and sophisticated information about the war in Gaza, the more so as the German mass media predominantly does not meet their obligation to cover the current conflict objectively, and informs the people here only one-sidedly. The firstly planned and then canceled program of the ARD program ‘Anne Will’ would have been a first and urgent effort to resolve a little this grievance of a one-sided coverage as to a most pressing and current war.” It ends by urging the responsible persons to revive the idea of an “Anne Will” program on Gaza.

Contradictory Responses and Open Questions

ARD chief editor Baumann in a long phone conversation with Massarrat did not rule out that “soon a program would be broadcast on the issue” while emphasizing that in this case ARD was not under pressure nor would it act under pressure. Likewise those in charge of the program broadcast repeatedly claimed that there was no outside interference in the decision-making and the decision was not based upon political, but “purely upon journalistic considerations” (Cichowicz). Further, Anne Will’s spokesperson said that the topic of suicide had a “greater relevance for the people in our country”. As a reaction to such statements, the junge Welt tauntingly raised the question: “What are 1000 lost lives by Israel’s war against [the one of] a rich German?”[15]

Cichowicz in a response to lead complainant Massarrat said that different topics would be prepared for each week with a final decision being made on Thursdays.[16] Contrastingly, NDR spokesman Martin Gartzke said that the final decision on the weekly topic of the “Anne Will” show would be made Fridays at noon as it had happened in the given case.[17] Still presenting a different time table, Ms. Will’s spokeswoman Nina Tesenfitz was quoted as saying that the program’s editorial team had decided upon the suicide topic by midweek.[18] However, as noted earlier, at least two of the invitees had learned about the cancelation on Thursday.

Whatever the exact procedure may be, it is highly astonishing that such high-profile guests had been invited, but disinvited on a short notice, Massarrat replied to an e-mail sent by Ms. Will on 12 January.[19] Not to mention the journalistic duty not to ignore such a brutal military assault on defenseless people, but to provide a fair and free forum on this important incident whose perpetrator Israel is accused of violating a host of international laws, including committing war crimes.[20]

Israeli Pressures or Self-Censorship: Raison d’Etat à l’Allemande

Considering the overall one-sided German (and more broadly Western) media coverage of the situation in Gaza,[21] the political statements voiced by German officials, and the recent cancelation of the “Anne Will” Gaza program, it can be suggested that the German “Israel Lobby” or the Israeli government pressured the broadcaster to cancel the show. The Israeli Embassy declared that this was “complete non-sense”.[22]

In an e-mail on 10 January, Massarrat had written: “One seems to be forced to suggest that it was Israel’s government that pushed for the cancelation of the program. Thus, in the most important German TV network, the new Israel war cannot be discussed freely and critically. […] The German raison d’Etat vis-à-vis Israel is obviously including press censorship […].”[23] It has been widely reported in the media that as a “lesson” to the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, this time Tel Aviv had in advance prepared a sophisticated propaganda and public-relations campaign[24] – which might well have affected German media outlets’ decision-making.

The alternative explanation implies that the editors themselves acted in self-censorship because of the quasi-taboo in Germany when it comes to any kind of critique vis-à-vis Israel.[25]

“Prescribed Discriminatory Terminology”

In the meanwhile, there has been a sequel of the correspondence between the program authorities and Professor Massarrat, which was also forwarded to the German Press Council that oversees the freedom of press (see also the German Press Code). Replying to Mr. Cichowicz and Ms. Will’s rejection (the latter in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung)[26] of the claims put forward by the open letter that political pressure was exercised and that the German media coverage was one-sided, Massarrat reiterated in an e-mail on 22 January the above-mentioned open questions while providing examples of the pro-Israeli Gaza coverage by public broadcasters.[27]

He especially condemned the incessant journalistic usage of the attribute “radical Islamic” when it came to Hamas, whose “subtle demonization” would provide the audience with the “necessary pre-condemnation” exterminating any empathy when Israeli bombs fell upon Palestinians – “according to the motto, whoever is supporting an extremist organization, is responsible for the consequences”. Against the background of German history – Jewish demonization and Germans’ immunization toward Jewish suffering in the Nazi period – as well as the manipulation of public opinion in the current crisis, he urges that the “prescribed discriminatory terminology” be revoked.[28] And indeed, there is hardly any journalist in German mainstream media who does not attribute “radical Islamic” or “terrorist” to Hamas, while “Zionist” or even “state-terrorist” is never being attributed when describing Israel.

Massarrat further criticizes ARD correspondents covering the Gaza assault from Tel Aviv, who – as he proves – would present Israeli positions in response to questions on what Germany might do to contribute to a ceasefire, reflecting Israeli demands for a ceasefire which would enable her to continue the “illegal blockade policy of the Gaza Strip”. He concludes by warning that “foe images and demonization of the other psychologically pave the way for violence and war”. Instead, he urges the “spirit of cooperation and respect for other cultures” to be promoted by the media.[29]

The Left’s Paralysis

When it comes to the Left, the political strand most inclined to oppose colonial and imperial ambitions, it has found itself in quite a paralysis – except for the anti-imperialist daily junge Welt. Also the stances of the German Left Party were far from unanimous in condemning Israel’s illegal endeavor. While the party’s spokesperson in foreign policy matters, law professor Norman Paech, found that “[n]o political goal, no right to defense or self-defense may justify such a war. A mockery of the UN Charter, a barbarity under the eyes of states that hide their weakness and cowardice behind a mild criticism, which signals rather approval than rejection”,[30] the chairman of DIE LINKE’s parliamentary group Gregor Gysi, who in spring 2008 had called upon his party to bury anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism for the sake of German raison d’état,[31] wrote: “Israel’s war was conducted as a reaction to the ongoing firing of rockets from Iran-supported Hamas on Israeli cities and villages, which also led to dead and injured among the civilian population, and [as a reaction] to the unilateral revocation of the truce by Hamas.”[32]

The broader German Left has lacked displaying solidarity with the brutally bombarded Gazans, as Pedram Shahyar, a member of ATTAC Germany’s Coordinating Council, points out. The Left’s “blockade” was due to the “real problem that in the course of conflicts in which Israel is involved, anti-Semitism is lurking. The leftists in this country have a historically-conditioned sensibility. […] The danger exists that because of the crimes of the Jewish State a climate arises, in which reactionary forces grow and emancipatory forces lose relevance”. But, he argues, the Left should acknowledge the simple historical truth that “[i]t is the West which since decades has covered the Middle East with war and occupation. It is the West which has all around installed military bases and puppet governments. In this Western bloc and its imperial policies the acts of the Israeli state are embedded. So long as this foreign rule and dominance do not end, there will be no peace.” As a result, if the Left failed to oppose the “imperial project” of “colonial racism”, it would lose its “moral center” to stand by the oppressed, Shahyar rightly concludes.[33]

Jewish Voices Against Israel

One of the rare publicly heard voices opposing the invasion of Gaza was Professor Rolf Verleger, former chairman of the Jewish Community in Schleswig-Holstein (the northernmost of sixteen German states) who also serves on the board of directors of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. In an interview with the German public radio Deutschlandfunk (DLF), he criticized the Central Council’s backing of the Israeli assault as being “shortsighted and amiss” since what was happening “in the name of Judaism” was and would be a problem for Judaism itself: “Judaism once was called ‘the religion of acting charity’, wasn’t it? When I say that today, no one is going to believe me. Today Judaism is a religion which justifies land seizure and oppression of Arabs. This cannot be true! The Central Council of Jews in Germany must see this as a problem which must be confronted.”[34] The Central Council is known for its unconditional support for wars conducted by Israel.

The psychologist further noted that he sometimes had the feeling that German politicians were quite appreciating that “the Jews” and Israel become delinquent, which would be contributing to the “discharge” of Germany. “This is not responsible”, concluded Verleger. To be responsible meant to signal Israel that it had to act according to international rules.[35]

European Jews for a Just Peace (EJPJ) Germany took out an ad in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the country’s highest-circulation newspaper of liberal couleur, headlined “German Jews say NO to the murdering by the Israeli army”, which read: “We are appalled by this inhumanity. […] Do German politicians really believe that it is a compensation of the murdering of our Jewish kinsfolk that Israel can now […] do whatever crosses her mind?” It further notes: “Hamas is using terrorist methods, but this is also what the elected representation of Israel does, in fact hundredfold more effective.”[36]

In the same vein, Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, a Jewish–German activist and a daughter of the former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Heinz Galinski, writes: “Not the elected Hamas government, but the brutal occupation force, namely the government of a radical-Jewish state has to be taken to the The Hague war tribunal.”[37] She had previously called the Central Council acting as “mouthpiece of the Israeli government in Germany”.

The online edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung interviewed German-born Israeli peace activist and founder of “Gush Shalom” Uri Avnery, in which the 85-year old laid out that Israel had not been showing any interest to cut a peace deal with the Palestinians over the past years.[38] These were indeed by and large the only voices dissenting from publicized mainstream opinion, severely attacked by neoconservative and pro-Zionist circles such as the blog Die Achse des Guten (“Axis of the Good”)[39].

Merkel’s Media? Hardly Fair

Despite ongoing attacks on Gaza and the rising number of casualties, last Sunday, 18 January, the Gaza topic was again circumvented by the “Anne Will” show. While the competitor political talk show “Maybrit Illner” (named after the anchor and broadcast by ZDF – the “Second German Television”) also hushed up the Gaza tragedy, the third major political talk show “hart aber fair” (“hard but fair” – also broadcast by ARD) covered in its 19 January program the topic of “Bloody ruins in Gaza – How far does our solidarity with Gaza go?” In a poll posted on its website in the run-up to the program, the question was raised whether one should refrain from criticizing Israel. Almost 70 percent negated the question.[40]

As the leading scholar on the Israel–Palestine conflict Norman Finkelstein pointed out when laying down the sliding support for Israeli policies among Americans, “the propaganda edifice is beginning to fall apart. It’s falling apart for many reasons. But I think the main reason is: More and more people know more and more of the truth about what’s happening. It’s due in part obviously to the alternative media”. He added that “the challenge for all of us is to tell the truth”, while advising “Tell no lies, stick scrupulously to the facts, claim no easy victories” and by doing so “we can win over public opinion to this cause”.[41]

It can be suggested that the massive Israeli propaganda efforts are a reaction to those seemingly important shifts in Western public opinion. In an online poll conducted by Germany’s leading conservative newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on whether Hamas or Israel were right, the results had been largely manipulated after the Israeli representation at the United Nations in Geneva had sent out an e-mail entitled “We need your votes”, which led to the result of over 70 percent declaring solidarity with Israel.[42]

The discussants appearing on the above mentioned “hart aber fair” show were Michel Friedman, a former vice-president (2000-03) of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and former chairman (2001-03) of the European Jewish Congress, Rudolf Dressler, a former German ambassador to Israel (2000-05), Ulrich Kienzle, a veteran journalist specialized on the Middle East, Norbert Blüm, a former German Minister, and last but not least Udo Steinbach, former long-year director of German Institute for Middle East Studies (1976–2006), known as the German Orient Institute, being one of the country’s most respected Islam and Mideast expert.

Steinbach, known for his candid analyses, had at the outset of the war on Gaza appeared on the country’s prime daily TV news magazine ARD “Tagesthemen” as well as ZDF “Morgenmagazin” (a prominent morning news magazine), in which he denounced Israel’s “brutal undertaking” in the first 36 hours of the attack with a death toll of 350, which was “simply immoral”.[43] His successor at the German Orient Institute, Gunter Mulack, harshly criticized Steinbach for his indeed accurate comments and instead blamed Hamas for the crisis, though suggesting Israel’s actions were “disproportionate”.[44]

Instead of discussing the current conflict, the “hart aber fair” program focused on the issue of latent anti-Semitism. Correctly, Steinbach lamented the debate slipped off to “side scenes” instead of paying due attention to politics. However, noteworthy political remarks had been voiced. While Friedman emphasized Israel’s right to defend herself against “Hamas terrorists”, Kienzle replied that the problem in Germany was that while Palestinians killing civilians were considered terrorists, Israelis doing the same were conversely called self-defenders. Blüm, a Christian believer who when criticizing Israel was repeatedly defamed as an anti-Semite, pointed to the continuous hardship under which Palestinians have been suffering. Steinbach emphasized the decades-long illegal occupation of land by Israel and the shortcomings of Western and Israeli policies to contribute to a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

After all, the “hart aber fair” program was hardly fair as it turned to ignore the Gaza conflict, but instead focused on the “if” and “how” criticism towards Israel should be voiced. This is a tactic frequently utilized in Germany to circumvent any facts-based debate on Israel–Palestine or even issues pertaining to Islamic countries, such as the Iran conflict. After all, Blüm made a statement which seems the most accurate one when it comes to Germany’s judeocidal past and present Israeli crimes: “Our responsibility out of the terrible crimes of the Nazi era done to the Jews – incomparable crimes – … my conclusion that I draw from that, my kind of Vergangenheitsbewältigung [a notion referring to a struggle to come to terms with the Nazi past—AFN], precisely because we have made ourselves guilty in such a way, to work for a world in which no longer people are being tortured, killed, oppressed, no matter where they are coming from. This is true for Israelis and Palestinians alike. […] Human rights apply to everyone.”

In sum, it can be concluded that most of the German media are indeed complying with Chancellor Merkel’s will – it was not only Ms. Will.

Ali Fathollah-Nejad is a German–Iranian political scientist focusing on the international relations of the Middle East. For the open letter, he gained the signatures of prominent figures outside of Germany.

[1] Agence France-Presse (AFP), “Germany’s Merkel Blames Hamas for Gaza Violence”, 29 December 2008.

[2] La Stampa (Turin), 30 December 2008.

[3] Cited in: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avi_Primor#Zitate (accessed 19 January 2009).

[4] Joschka Fischer interviewed by Jörg Lau & Patrik Schwarz, “Krieg in Nahost: ‘Das ist Obamas erster Krieg’”, Die Zeit, No. 3/2009 (8 January 2009). Further, the weekly’s online edition featured an interview with Harvard law Professor Alan Dershowitz in which the well-known advocate of Israeli policies claimed – in utter contradistinction to respected international legal authorities – that Israel’s military assault was “commensurate [angemessen]”; Dershowitz interviewed by Jan Free, “Gaza-Krieg: ‘Israels Vorgehen ist angemessen’” [“Gaza war: ‘Israel’s action is commensurate’”], Zeit Online, 15 January 2009.

[5] See also Edward W. Said & Daniel Barenboim, Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society, Pantheon Books, 2002.

[6] Rupert Neudeck, “Gaza schreit vor wütendem Hunger und Not. Zu einem erschütternden Bericht eines Gaza-Journalisten“ [“Gaza cries out of furious hunger and misery. On a staggering report from a Gaza journalist”], 7 December 2008, Green Helmets website.

[7] Rupert Neudeck, “Feigheit der Politik, Feigheit der Medien. Ein humanitärer Zwischenruf”, gruenhelme.de, 11 January 2009.

[8] “Interview mit Daniel Barenboim” [“Interview with Daniel Barenboim”], ‘Kulturzeit’, 3sat, 5 January 2009.

[9] The letter is posted on http://www.steinbergrecherche.com/09rundfunk.htm#Will (accessed 22 January 2009).

[10] See also Tariq Ali, “From the ashes of Gaza. In the face of Israel’s latest onslaught, the only option for Palestinian nationalism is to embrace a one-state solution”, guardian.co.uk, 30 December 2008. [11] See also “Former Amb. Martin Indyk vs. Author Norman Finkelstein: A Debate on Israel’s Assault on Gaza and the US Role in the Conflict”, Democracy Now!, 8 January 2009; for an edited extract of his remarks at the latter appearance, see Norman Finkelstein, “Seeing Through the Lies: The Facts About Hamas and the War on Gaza”, CounterPunch, 13 January 2009; Norman Finkelstein, “Foiling Another Palestinian ‘Peace Offensive’: Behind the bloodbath in Gaza”, www.normanfinkelstein.com, 19 January 2009. [12] See also Immanuel Wallerstein, “Chronicle of a Euthanasia Foretold: The Case of Israel”, Agence Global, 15 January 2009.

[13] See also Hamid Dabashi, “The Moral and Military Meltdown of Israel”, The Palestine Chronicle, 12 January 2009.

[14] See also Gilbert Achcar interviewed by Daniel Finn, “The Crisis in Gaza”, Irish Left Review, 15 January 2009; as well as “Growing outrage at the killings in Gaza”, The Guardian, 16 January 2009, a call by hundreds of British academics which Achcar co-signed.

[15] “Gaza? Weniger Relevanz. Kritik an ‘Anne Will’” [“Gaza? Lesser relevance. Critique at ‘Anne Will’”], junge Welt, 16 January 2009, p. 14.

[16] Cited in “Debatte um Themenwechsel bei ‘Anne Will’: Freitod für die Quote oder Angst vor dem Krieg?” [“Debate on the change of topic on ‘Anne Will’: Suicide for ratings or anxiety over the war?”], Netzeitung, 15 January 2009. [17] Cited in Harald Neuber, “Statt Gaza-Streifen lieber Freitod” [“Instead of Gaza Strip rather suicide”], Telepolis, 15 January 2009. [18] Cited in Daland Segler, “Die Toten und die Quoten. Anne Will redete lieber über Merckle statt Gaza” [“the dead and the ratings. Anne Will preferably talked about Merckle than Gaza”], Frankfurter Rundschau, 13 January 2009.

[19] “Zur Absetzung von Talkshow zum Gazakrieg” [“On the cancelation of a Gaza War talk show”], junge Welt, 15 January 2009, p. 8.

[20] Cf. Manfred Rotter [professor emeritus on international law, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria], “Von ‘Notwehr’ kann keine Rede sein. Mit der Militäroperation gegen Hamas verstößt Israel massiv gegen die Bestimmungen des Völkerrechts” [“‘Self-defense’ is out of question. With the military operation against Hamas, Israel massively violates provisions of international law”], Der Standard (Austria), 31 December 2008 – 1 January 2009; “Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is not self-defence – it’s a war crime“, The Sunday Times, 11 January 2009; Mark LeVine [professor of Middle East history at the University of California, Irvine], “Who will save Israel from itself?”, Al-Jazeera English, 13 January 2009; Jens Berger, “Israel kontra Völkerrecht” [“Israel versus international law”], Der Spiegelfechter, 14 January 2009.

[21] Cf. Sabine Kefir, “Blockadebrecher ‘Al Djasira’: Weißer Phosphor, keine Bilder”, Freitag, No. 3 (16 January 2009), p. 6; see also the Gaza debate broadcast by Germany’s parliamentary TV channel PHOENIX, “Der ewige Kinflikt? – Krieg im Gazastreifen”, ‘PHOENIX Runde’, 12 January, 22:15h.

[22] Cited in Martina Doering & Ralf Mielke, “Zwischen den Fronten” [“Between the fronts”], Berliner Zeitung, 13 January 2009, p. 3

[23] Cited in Peter Kleinert, “Israels Erfolge im Propagandakrieg” [“Israel’s successes in the propaganda war”], NRhZ-Online – Neue Rheinische Zeitung, No. 179 (12 January 2009).

[24] Cf. Jens Berger, “Israel im Propagandakrieg” [“Israel in propaganda warfare”], Der Spiegelfechter, 8 January 2009; John Bunzl [historian at the Austrian Institute for International Affairs, OIIP], “Willkommen im Wahrheitsministerium Jerusalem. Wie Israels ‚Spindoktoren‘ unter Ausblendung historischer Zusammenhänge Realität konstruieren” [“Welcome to the Jerusalem Truth Ministry. How Israel’s ‘spin doctors’ construct reality by fading-out the historical context”], Der Standard (Austria), 10–11 January 2009; Peter Kleinert, op. cit.; Noam Chomsky, “On Gaza”, lecture, Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge (MA), 13 January 2009; James Zogby [president of the Arab American Institute], “Zionist propaganda machine”, Al-Ahram Weekly, No. 930 (15–21 January 2009).

[25] Cf. Peter Kleinert, op. cit.

[26] Anne Will interviewed by Michael Hanfeld, “Es gab keine Einflussnahme von außen” [“There was no influence from outside”], Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 16 January 2009.

[27] “‘Anne Will’ und Medienberichterstattung über den Gaza-Krieg” [“‘Anne Will’ and media coverage on the Gaza War”], CASMII, 22 January 2009.

[28] Op. cit.

[29] Op. cit.

[30] Norman Paech [German MP and former Hamburg University law professor], “Freiheit für Gaza” [“Freedom for Gaza”], Neues Deutschland, 10 January 2009, p. 1.

[31] Cf. Ali Fathollah-Nejad, “Neo-Con Conference Pushes for War on Iran”, Global Research, Montreal: Centre for Research on Globalization, 1 June 2008, last para.

[32] Gregor Gysi [German MP], “Waffenstillstand jetzt” [“Ceasefire now”], Frankfurter Rundschau, 7 January 2009.

[33] Pedram Shahyar, “Kolonialer Rassismus” [“Colonial racism”], junge Welt, 22 January 2009, p. 3.

[34] Rolf Verleger interviewed by Tobias Armbrüster “Rolf Verleger: Internationale Politik sollte Israel Grenzen zeigen” [“Rolf Verleger: International politics should show Israel limits”], Deutschlandfunk, 29 December 2008.

[35] Op. cit.

[36] “Deutsche Juden und Jüdinnen sagen NEIN zum Morden der israelischen Armee”, advert in Süddeutsche Zeitung, 17 January 2009, p. 10.

[37] Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, “Aktion ‘gegossenes Blei’ – Aktion ‘vergossenes Blut’” [“Operation ‘cast lead’ – Operation ‘blood shed’”], Das Palästina Portal, 30 December 2008.

[38] “Israel: Friedenskämpfer Avnery über Gaza. ‘Hamas wird gewinnen’” [“Israel: Freedom fighter Avnery on Gaza. ‘Hamas will win’”], sueddeutsche.de, 7 January 2009. See also Uri Avnery, “How Many Divisions? The Blood-Stained Monster Enters Gaza”, CounterPunch, 12 January 2009.

[39] Cf. Ali Fathollah-Nejad, op. cit.

[40] Cf. also Raymond Deane, “Are German getting fed up with Israel?”, The Electronic Intifada, 18 January 2009.

[41] “Crisis in Gaza: The U.S., Israel, and Palestine”, with Ali Abunimah, Norman G. Finkelstein and John J. Mearsheimer speaking, University of Chicago, 8 January 2009, 1h25min45sec.

[42] Cf. Peter Kleinert, op. cit.

[43] “Experte sieht Problem bei den Israelis” [“Expert sees problem with Israelis”], ‘Morgenmagazin’, ZDF, 30 December 2008; “Nahost-Experte Udo Steinbach zu der Situation im Gazastreifen” [“Mideast expert Udo Steinbach on the situation in the Gaza Strip”], ‘Tagesthemen’, ARD, 30 December 2008. Startlingly, the respective final questions posed to Steinbach in both programs were where “moderate Palestinians” were.

[44] Cf. Corinna Emundts, “tagesschau-chat mit Gunter Mulack: ‘Israels Vorgehen ist unverhältnismäßig’” [“tagesschau-chat with Gunter Mulack: ‘Israel’s action is disproportionate’], tagesschau.de, 6 January 2009.

SOURCE

Fathollah-Nejad, Ali (2009) “German Media Censorship on Gaza? Merkel’s Will“, Global Research, Montreal: Centre for Research on Globalization, 22 January;

▪ republished [with functioning endnotes] on NormanFinkelstein.com, 29 January;

▪ abridged version published on The Palestine Chronicle, 16 February.

 

CITED IN

Finkelstein, Norman G. (2010) ‘This Time We Went Too Far’: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion, New York: OR Books, p. 114 (Footnote 57) and p. 116 (Footnote 66).