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“Antideutsche”: The Aberration of Germany’s Pro-Zionist Left

As Germany persists in its unwavering support of Israel and the total denial of its genocide, the German Left is conflicted over the issue. While leftists all over the world are showing solidarity with Palestine, a segment of the German Left is historically pro-Zionist. How did this movement, the so-called Antideutsche (Anti-Germans) come to be?

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Hendrik Schmidt / DPA

To understand this, SolidaritéS, a French-language Swiss journal, interviewed Nathaniel Flakin, activist and author of the anti-capitalist walking guide Revolutionary Berlin. A shorter version of this interview appeared in print in SolidaritéS #431. Interview by Seb Zürcher.

To start, could you elaborate on the context here in Germany regarding Palestine and the ongoing genocide in Gaza?

The German state and its ruling class offer unlimited diplomatic and military support to Israel. Germany — even more so than the U.S. government — strongly opposes any kind of demands for a ceasefire in Gaza. Compared to countries that have a very active Palestine solidarity movement, many German people are uncertain about the situation. This is due to extensive repression, largely focused on immigrants, racialized people, and Jews.

Can you take us through the roots of the Antideutsche?

The Antideutsch movement originated before 1990. The collapse of Stalinism was brutal for the Left worldwide, but even more so in Germany. This led to a huge surge in German nationalism and a significant strengthening of German imperialism, which had already launched two world wars. This blow to the Left caused a lot of despair and confusion, especially among West Germany’s Maoist movement. Unlike the French context, where Trotskyism dominated the Left, it was mainly Maoists who channeled the energy of 1968 in West Germany, though the current had largely declined in the 1980s. In 1989–90, the remaining Maoists developed pessimistic analyses of an inherently fascist and antisemitic essence of the German nation. So, rather than having an internationalist position and fighting for global communism, the main priority of these new Antideutsche was to oppose German imperialism.

When do they start to differentiate themselves from the rest of the Left?

In the 1990s, many debates took place in Germany about not only its responsibility for World War II but also the suffering of civilians. One of the provocative Antideutsch slogans celebrated the destruction of Dresden in 1945: “Bomber Harris, Do It Again!” This is a clear break with the Left — Soviet historians, for example, had always been critical of the Western Allies’ strategy of bombing civilian centers. In 1999 the Antideutsche opposed the NATO bombing of Serbia, and they went as far as supporting Slobodan Milošević. According to some Antideutsche, NATO was attacking him because he was keeping the red flag flying in Europe. Their ideas have always been bizarre.

The Antideutsche are principally known for their support of Israel. When did that become one of their priorities?

During the second intifada in 2000, they supported Israel and Zionism. The Antideutsche had a social base in the antifa movement — autonomist groups who defined themselves in opposition to fascism. Lacking any ideological base of their own, they almost seemed to ask, “What are the fascists doing right now? Let’s do the opposite.” There were indeed some German Nazis in 2000 who aligned themselves with the Palestinian uprising. But they were not the majority; many Nazis saw Israel as white people fighting an inferior race. Given that nonwhite immigration to Germany had become a central issue for Nazis, this is unsurprising. Antifas could therefore say, the Nazis support Palestine, so we must support Israel. In the same vein, they claimed that Germans hate Jews, which is why they support Palestine, so the antifa must support Israel. It was at this point that many leftists began, for example, violently attacking people wearing a keffiyeh.

The irony of all this is that the label “Anti-German” was already inaccurate. The German government was very strongly pro-Israel. The conservative CDU has always been particularly supportive of Israel, as has Germany’s largest tabloid, the right-wing populist Bild newspaper. In this context, it’s a pretty obvious contradiction to label yourself Anti-German and to have, just by coincidence, the exact same priority as one of the biggest right-wing newspapers.

The movement operated mostly in a leftist bubble — do you think that it is still the case?

During the 2000s, the Antideutsche got integrated into the “parastate apparatuses” — Germany’s enormous superstructure of NGOs and foundations who offer endless money and jobs for people to do politics. The Antideutsch movement mostly became bureaucrats and abandoned activist circles. As they started their careers, their positions were completely compatible with mainstream German politics. People from the Antideutsch newspaper Jungle World now work for the right-wing Axel Springer company. The Antideutsche have become the most aggressive wing of German government policy.

Unsurprisingly, a number of the early Antideutsch thinkers have popped up recently as supporters of the far-right AfD party. Supporting Israel and opposing Muslims has increasingly aligned with the position of the Far Right in Germany. Somewhere or other there must be a Nazi who supports Palestine, but if you look at the mainstream of the Far Right here, the AfD is actually trying to outflank the government in terms of solidarity with Israel. The establishment is using support for Israel as a liberal-sounding justification for racism — anyone can now call for more deportations because immigrants are “importing antisemitism.” This plays into the hands of the AfD.

Some people say the AfD can’t be antisemitic party because they wave Israeli flags. But we know that the biggest supporters of Israel are often antisemites. There is some empirical evidence that people who support Israel are more likely to hold negative views on Jews, and people who have positive views on Jews are less likely to support Israel.

For example, the organization Christians United for Israel?

Their founder supports Israel because he literally wants all Jews concentrated in the Holy Land so they can be killed, in fulfillment of his prophecy.

What is the relationship of the Antideutsch movement with the Left at present?

They mostly specialize in attacking leftists. For example, in the reformist party Die Linke, a number of Antideutsche constantly attacked the left wing, accusing everyone of antisemitism.

Could you explain the tenets of the Antideutsch theory in more depth?

I want to try to explain it as I understand it. Moishe Postone, a Canadian academic, developed a reading of Marxism based on the idea that Marx’s critique of capitalism is centered on a critique of the concept of value. The nexus of capitalism is the idea that everything has a value for exchange. For Postone, any less abstracted criticism of capitalism meant projecting all the system’s problems onto individuals. For example, if we say that capitalists are exploiting workers, we project the central problem of value onto capitalists. According to Postone, this tendency to make people responsible for the abstract functioning of capitalism is — consciously or subconsciously — always directed against Jews. In the popular imagination, Jews represent this kind of personification of the law of value. Hence, the Left is antisemitic.

Antideutsche popularized this idea in Germany. In the early 2000s, I recall how they split from the Revolutionary May Day demonstration and held their own demonstration under the motto “Don’t Fight the Players, Fight the Game.” They wanted to fight the law of value, not the coincidental personification of the law of value. Because fighting capitalists is antisemitic. The problem, obviously, is how do you fight the game without fighting the players? How do you fight capitalism without fighting the people who personify capital?

If every criticism of capitalists is antisemitic, then Antideutsche had to defend capitalists. This was during the anti-globalization movement, and Antideutsche ended up postulating that people who criticize sweatshop labor and huge multinational corporations are all antisemites.

With regard to Israel, their commitment to communism became just a mantra. They would say “Israel until communism.” Our communist position was that we oppose every bourgeois state’s right to exist, including Israel. Their response was that Israel needs to exist until there is communism everywhere else, because a Jewish state is the only way to protect Jews from antisemitism.

But if your main priority is to support Israel, then you can’t oppose the German arms industry or the German state. If you carry out class struggle in Germany, then you’re going to be weakening this important support for the Israeli state. This is how the Antideutsche learned to stop worrying and love Germany.

You said a lot of them ended up in different places. Do you feel that the Antideutsch ideology pervaded politics in Germany?

It might seem like the Antideutsche took over German politics — but really they just dissolved themselves into mainstream German politics. If they had never existed, the German bourgeoisie would be just as pro-Israel. The only place where the Antideutsche were successful is weakening the radical Left and stopping left solidarity with Palestine — but the radical Left in Germany wasn’t even that big to begin with.

Today, some Antideutsche are in the AfD, some are Social Democrats, and it’s really hard to tell them apart from mainstream politicians. Germany, for example, has this absurd system of “antisemitism commissars.” Some of those commissars are conservative politicians, others are former leftists and Antideutsche, but they are politically indistinguishable in their defamations against migrants and leftists. Without digging into a commissar’s biography, there’s no way to know which one is a self-described communist and which is a lifetime CDU member.

My impression is that people mostly learn about Antideutsch ideology through Berlin nightlife in places like the left-wing dance club ://about blank. Do you feel like they still represent independent factions of this original movement

I’ve boycotted ://about blank for many years, so I don’t really know what’s going on there. But it seems like these “leftist” clubs just implement state policy — they ban keffiyehs, but public schools ban keffiyehs too.

On a more personal note, you’ve been in Berlin for more than 20 years now. Were you surprised, as I was, when you first encountered the Antideutsche?

Everyone is. Every non-German leftist who comes here is surprised. I don’t think anything comparable exists in any other country in the world: people who identify with communism and simultaneously support the state of Israel. Recently, I’ve started writing more in English because we have such a large and growing English-speaking community in Berlin.

Things are changing, and in my opinion, it is not so much a generational thing. Young people in the German Left are still — I don’t want to say traumatized — too confused to have clear positions. But Berlin is becoming more international every year. We now have this enormous Israeli community in Berlin. Israeli immigrants were always very upset by the Antideutsche: German “leftists” supporting the government that that Israeli leftists had spent their whole life fighting.

I remember a friend from Israel going to one of these Antideutsch demonstrations with a keffiyeh, and he got assaulted by antifas. That resulted in a huge crisis at the time, since Germans had attacked a Jewish leftist. But really quickly, Antideutsche got used to attacking Jews. They developed this entire theory that antisemitism is a special form of racism that requires years of study to even understand with this very particular form of Postonian Marxism. So Israelis, Jews, and descendants of Holocaust survivors basically can’t understand antisemitism and might as well be antisemites themselves.

It’s become very normal for both mainstream German politicians as well as Antideutsche to attack Jewish people — all in the name of fighting antisemitism. A couple years ago, at Christopher Street Day, the Berlin Pride parade, there was a group of Israelis and Palestinians protesting the Israeli ambassador. And on video, multiple members of the Berlin Parliament could be seen assaulting Jews. I think one of them was just a run-of-the-mill Social Democrat, with no leftist background at all, and another was from Die Linke and was historically Antideutsch, but they all agree. They love Israel and they’re ready to attack anyone who doesn’t love Israel. If that person is a Jew, then it must be a “self-hating Jew” or an “alibi Jew.”

What effect does this have on leftist life in Berlin today?

I don’t really interact with Antideutsche these days because it’s rare to run into them as part of the radical Left. But when I spoke to people many years ago, what always bothered me — and still bothers me — is this aggressive disinterest in Jewish culture. If you think protecting Jews is the most important thing, well… there is so much Jewish life here in Berlin now! There are cafés and parties where you can meet tons of Jewish people from all over the world. Obviously, they’re not all leftists, but Israelis in Berlin do tend to be left of center. You don’t find a ton of Netanyahu fans here. And all these Antideutsche cut themselves off from this Jewish life entirely. Politically, they align with the Israeli Right — but of course the Israeli Right doesn’t want to go to these leftist youth clubs.

Ultimately, the idea that Jewish people are synonymous with the state of Israel is a deeply antisemitic prejudice. Antisemites have always believed that Jewish people represent a kind of cohesive, homogeneous group. Now just about every leftist tendency in Israel is represented in Berlin. Every communist organization, every anarchist collective, every Trotskyist group has a kind of Berlin branch. When the press reports about demonstrations of “Hamas sympathizers” and “Jew haters,” there are actually hundreds of Jewish and Israeli activists at these protests. In the name of fighting antisemitism, the German state is arresting, attacking, firing, and censoring Jewish people. The diversity of the Jewish community is being ignored by the media, but it is very visible on the streets.

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Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French, and in Spanish. He has also written an anticapitalist guide book called Revolutionary Berlin. He is on the autism spectrum.

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