Germany, and Berlin in particular, leads Europe and possibly the world in the fight against contemporary fascist organizing. I have previously written about the powerful anti-Nazi organizing in Germany, the pro-refugee mobilizing and the defense of others and against racism. So Berlin is a unique place from which to discuss guilt, especially as it relates to histories of racism and oppression, and most specifically anti-Semitism.
Millions of people have been mobilizing every day around the globe for Gaza and against the war and terror of Israel. Untold millions are writing, tweeting, texting and communicating their total opposition to the policies of Israel. Millions marched yesterday: 150,000 in South Africa, 100,000 in London, 10,000 in Dublin, and many thousands in Jordan, Yemen, Chile, Mexico, Canada and Sweden to name only a few places, but in Berlin, a city with more demonstrations a month than most countries in Europe have in a year (Spain and Greece excepted) there were less than a thousand, spirited and diverse, yes, but few. This would be quite odd if you did not factor in guilt.
Guilt is a toxic emotion, particularly as it relates to political understanding and mobilization, and is a slippery slope to total immobility. Guilt not only prevents activity but, as will be argued, is an obstacle to seeing what is possible – blinding the guilt-ridden to the victories and successes that are taking place, and thus slowing or preventing the advancement of a movement.
Germany is the only country I know of, with the exception of Israel, where to be anti-Zionist is considered by almost everyone to be anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic. To be anti-Semitic in Germany not only carries a particularly heavy historical weight but is also illegal. It is not a jump in logic then to see why people fear coming out against the policies of Israel.
Once Israel enters the conversation the issue of racism and discrimination becomes quite different from other political issues, particularly for those in government, the media and on the left, all of whom have a great deal of influence. There are groups on the left considered anti-German. They are not only anti-Nazi and anti-fascist, but some take the position that Germany should have been bombed more aggressively during World War II and all maintain unequivocal support for Israel. This total support of Israel has even led some of the anti-German groups on the left to support the US war on Iraq and Afghanistan. Not only does this political current support Israel one hundred percent, whatever it does, they always call anyone who opposes Israel anti-Semitic, not a small accusation here in Germany. This has created a bizarre and toxic atmosphere on the left, where most all such conversations are laden with defensiveness and/or attack.
In my article for TeleSur and Znet last week I show how Jews around the globe are increasingly breaking with Israel and forming direct action groups to pressure others. Since writing ‘Not in Our Name – Taking Back Judaism from Israel’, the article arguing that Zionism is not Judaism, and in particular about all of the explicitly Jewish groups and new networks organizing against the violence of Israel in Gaza, the number of these groups has multiplied many times over. Groups like Jewish Voices for Peace has been flooded with tens of thousands of requests for participation in actions, and If Not Now When is in dozens more locations across the country, just to name two and only in the US. So many of the Jews I have spoken with who are newly active against the war on Gaza refer to having to jump over a feeling of guilt. Once they learned more of what Israel was actually doing they felt horrible for not having been active before. Then they had to make the jump – to speak out and become active. More and more people are doing it – leaving guilt behind and standing up. The left pro-Israel Germans need to take this to heart and listen to Jews around the world, not the leaders of a nation-state. Israel is not Judaism, and as a Jew I find it beyond offensive to identify the two as one.
Then there is the mainstream German media. Due in part to pressure from politicians and others with institutional power, and in part due simply to this prevalent anti-German sentiment, the media is consistently non-critical and in active support of Israel. It goes further than this. If a journalist is critical of Israel they risk losing his or her position, as has occurred numerous times over the past decades. This creates a climate of either total support or silence by the media. By way of example, the demonstration in support of Gaza yesterday was called by numerous groups, including a few Jewish and one comprised of Israelis living in Berlin. This was not mentioned either in the news the day before the demonstration or in the report on what took place. Not only that, but the media only reported that there were Palestinian groups and some leftists there, never mentioning the dozens of Jews, identified as such with a banner and posters, including myself, also in attendance. This is not a mere oversight but part of an active campaign to argue that all Jews support Israel and those who do not, Jews and gentiles alike, are anti-Semitic.
Hoping that I was wrong to link anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, I asked a number of long-time organizers here in Berlin why the turnout was so low for the Gaza mobilizations, but they all argued that this is in fact one of the main reasons. People are too intimidated to come out in the streets, fearing they will be called anti-Semitic. This must stop. Guilt for past wrongs immobilizes and confuses the issues. The best way to move forward from the past of genocide, fascism and anti-Semitism in Germany is to oppose the warring and terror of Israel and mobilize against them. And yes, to continue all the anti-racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Nazi work of course, but not link anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism.
Guilt is toxic. Germany – join the millions of voices of the world, Jews and non-Jews, and step up. Mobilizations have an effect. On the human level, Palestinians and Gazans thus know they are not alone, that the people of the world are with them. This should not be underestimated. Yet, it is not enough. We should stop all business as usual, with strikes and direct actions, boycotts and sanctions, so that every government in the world is unable to support Israel. In some places people are in the beginning stages of this. For example there have already been actions such as the shutting down of the El Al ticket counter in Athens, the two day occupation of the Elbit munitions factory on the outskirts of Birmingham in the UK, and the de-shelving of Israeli products all over the world, from Belfast and other parts of Europe to the blockading of Israeli consulates and missions around the globe. This is only the beginning, and only the actions I know about.
The best way for Germany to move on from its guilt is to remember that when people are oppressed anywhere, we are all oppressed. We must remember and we must make it stop.