Reprinted from AlterNet
I arrived in Germany formally invited by members of a political party to speak about my reporting during the Gaza war. I left the country branded an anti-Semite and an insane scofflaw. With machine-like efficiency, German media cast me and my Jewish Israeli journalist colleague, David Sheen, as violent Jew haters, never veering from the script written for them by a strange American neoconservative working for an organization subsidized by far-right-wing casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, nor bothering to ask either of us for comment. Slandered as anti-Semites, we sought to meet with the left-wing politician who felt compelled to engineer the campaign to suppress our speech: Die Linke party chairman Gregor Gysi.
When Gysi refused to speak to us, we followed him as he ran from his office. The videotaped incident ended at a door outside what turned out to be a bathroom, sparking a scandal known as "Toilettengate." We had violated the unwritten rules of a dour political culture where conflict normally takes the form of carefully composed pronouncements delivered through proper bureaucratic channels. Thus we aroused the outrage of Deutschland, from left to right nimbly manipulated through a neoconservative ploy.
According to the right-wing Die Bild tabloid, Sheen and I were "lunatic Israel haters" who had "hunted Gysi." Various pundits on German public broadcasting declared that I was "known for [my] anti-Semitic way of thinking." And the president of the Bundestag introduced a motion to ban us for life from the premises. As the freak-out escalated, the three Die Linke MPs who guided us to Gysi's office -- Inge Hoger, Annette Groth and Heike Hansel -- delivered Gysi an abject public apology.
Our hosts' whimpering only served to incite their enemies. More than 1,000 Die Linke members from the party's "reformist" faction have signed a letter calling for the three MPs to be sacked. Titled "You Don't Speak For Us," the manifesto opened with an excerpt from a 2008 speech to the Bundestag by former Israeli president Shimon Peres in which he compared Iran to Nazi Germany and ended with an affirmation of Germany's special relationship with Israel, as the cleansing of the Holocaust.
A Der Spiegel columnist named Sibylle Berg joined the pile-on with a crude piece of sexist psychobabble accusing Groth and Hoger of sublimating sexual lust for Palestinian militants into anti-Zionist activity. In Taggespiel, Die Linke MP Michael Leutert referred to us as an "anti-Semitic mob." And in Die Zeit, another mainstream outlet, Elizabeth Niejar cast Groth and Hoger as "Holocaust down players." She had no evidence, but in German political culture, none was necessary. Either you are all-in with Israel's policies, or you are an all-out anti-Semite.
The storm of controversy triggered by our presence in Berlin was the culmination of the Die Linke party's long-running internecine conflict on Israel-Palestine. Since emerging as Germany's main left-wing opposition party, Die Linke leaders have presided over a full-scale assault on the few party members who rejected Germany's uncritical special relationship with Israel. Behind the attack is a group of putatively left-wing intellectuals allied with heavily funded neoconservative operatives. The most effective weapon of this left-right alliance in a society consumed with Holocaust guilt is what some Germans have begun to refer to as the Antisemitismus-keule, or the anti-Semitism club.
Smears and Suppression
The story of my and David Sheen's adventure as "anti-Semites" began even before our arrival to Berlin. I had covered the Gaza war and spoke about my reporting across Europe, often as the invited guest of members of parliaments -- in London at the House of Commons, in Brussels before the European Parliament, in Oslo at the invitation of the Socialist Left Party, and in Copenhagen, where I was introduced by a member of the Danish parliament. Sheen has earned acclaim for his reporting on state-sponsored discrimination within Israel against Palestinians and African migrants and the right-wing attacks on them. Together, we produced an original documentary on racism against non-Jewish African refugees in Israel that has received over a million views on YouTube.
As we prepared for our flights, we were greeted with a November 6 article in the Berliner Morgenpost by a neoconservative writer named Benjamin Weinthal, announcing the cancellation of our planned discussion in the Bundestag. Die Linke party chairman Gregor Gysi claimed responsibility for terminating the talk, while Volker Beck of the Green Party and chair of the Germany-Israel Committee contributed his opinion to the writer that my work was "consistently anti-Semitic." Weinthal, for his part, accused me of the "public abuse of Jews."
The next day, Beck published a letter signed by Bundestag vice president Petra Pau (a key Israel lobby supporter in the Die Linke party) and German-Israeli Friendship Society president Reinhold Robbe demanding the cancellation of our event at the Berlin theater known as the Volksbuehne. The letter claimed our event would serve "to promote anti-Semitic prejudice by comparing the terror of the Nazis with Israeli policies." Within hours, Volksbuehne officials pulled the plug. Weinthal took to his regular roost at the Jerusalem Post to announce the cancellation of an event that would "spread anti-Semitism."
On November 9, the morning our Volkesbuehne discussion was scheduled to take place, we wound up speaking through a loudspeaker to 100 supporters gathered outside the shuttered doors of the theater. It was the 76th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom and the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To our adversaries, it was a date that somehow rendered any criticism of the state of Israel and its policies verboten -- along with Hitler's birthday and every other date remotely associated with the Holocaust. For us, it was the perfect time to explain how the legacy of the European genocide had inspired our work, to emphasize that "never again" meant never again to anyone.
In my address, I lamented that the most basic universal lessons of the Holocaust had been rejected by the German government in favor of a cheap absolution that took the form of discounted weapons sales to an army of occupation. Indeed, the German government recently sold Israel a fleet of Corvette attack boats at a 30 percent reduction to reinforce the siege of Gaza and enable further attacks on the coastal enclave's beleaguered fishing industry. Next year, 250 German soldiers will drill at Israel's Urban Warfare Training Center in counter-insurgency tactics, an unprecedented step in military collaboration. As a mere visitor to Germany, I was spared the long-term personal consequences of questioning how military aid to Israel honored the millions turned to ashes. When the famed German author Gunther Grass challenged the weapons sales in a polemical and arguably clumsy poem, he faced a tidal wave of character assassination attempts and the immediate loss of prestige. (Then-Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai declared Grass persona non grata, issuing a standing order to deny him entry to Israeli-controlled territory.)
After the protest, we marched to a cramped anti-war cafe a few blocks away to carry out our discussion on Gaza and state-sponsored Israeli racism as originally conceived. As we spoke to an overflow crowd in a catacomb-like basement, 500 neo-Nazi football hooligans marched nearby against the supposed threat of "Salafism." Police dispatched by the city protected the marchers, dispersing a small counter-demonstration.
Meanwhile, Gysi stood by for instructions in the event that we were able to find a venue for our talk inside the Bundestag the following day. Though he was hardly a cheerleader for Netanyahu, he had proven himself an essential ally of his country's Israel lobby, presiding over Die Linke's transition from anti-Zionism into a full embrace of the country's post-reunification consensus on Israel.
"Jewish Anti-Zionism As a Total Illusion"