Development Site - Changes here will not affect the live (production) site.

How East Germany and the West German Left Waged War on Israel

July 11, 2017 | Allan Arkush
About the author: Allan Arkush is the senior contributing editor of the Jewish Review of Books and professor of Judaic studies and history at Binghamton University.

The historian Jeffrey Herf, in Undeclared Wars with Israel, tells of East Germany’s vicious anti-Zionism, which went well beyond condemning Israel and expressing solidarity with those seeking its destruction: indeed, the German Democratic Republic provided funds and weapons to both Arab regimes and the PLO. For its part, Herf relates, the West German far left equated opposition to the government in Bonn with opposition to Israel, often crossing the line into anti-Semitism and, for the most committed, active participation in terrorist attacks against Jews. Allan Arkush writes in his review:

Unlike other Soviet-bloc nations, East Germany didn’t break relations with Israel after the Six-Day War—because it never had them in the first place. This was mostly due to its refusal to pay reparations for the crimes of the Nazis. But it did denounce Israel as the aggressor and likened it to the Nazi regime. . . . In the ensuing years, East Germany’s sales of armaments to the Arab world . . . ran in to the hundreds of millions of dollars. . . .

The West German far left, [meanwhile], emerged in a society that believed its own legitimacy to be bound up with a Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with the past) that entailed not only repudiation of the Nazis but reparations to their Jewish victims. While East Germany was denying any responsibility for the Nazi regime and excoriating Israel, West Germany was transferring massive amount of money to it and offering the country its broad support. . . .

As the New Left turned against Israel after 1967, West German leftists followed suit and, in Herf’s words, “redefined the meaning of Vergangenheitsbewältigung” to justify the equation of the Jewish state’s alleged crimes with those of the Nazis. Leftists in the Federal Republic began speaking of the malign effects of Germany’s “Jewish complex” and condemning philo-Semitism. Arkush concludes:

Herf has produced not only a prodigiously researched indictment but also a timely reminder. . . . Undeclared Wars with Israel is . . . a post-mortem with a polemical edge, a book that very carefully digs up half-forgotten enemies of Israel from the recent past, in part to remind us that they have heirs who still repeat the same arguments, slogans, and calumnies. It is, unfortunately, doubtful that Herf’s tale of two hatreds would shame them, even if they were to read it.

Read more on Jewish Review of Books:

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register Already a subscriber? Sign in now