Monday, March 23, 2009

March 23, 2009

The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation Expands its Activities in Israel

Most of those on the left here in Israel welcomed the foundation and the growing success of the party of the German left, “Die Linke.” The party was created two years ago with the unification between the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism), which rose in East Germany after the collapse of the Communist regime, and a radical wing of the Social Democrats which left their parent party. The unified party appears to be doing quite well and it is expected to earn some 10% (or more) of the vote in the next elections to the Bundestag.
Each of the two components is a story in itself, but, at this point, a few comments on the PDS may be helpful. The PDS established its own identity after the “fall” managing to break with Communist East German orthodoxy but insisting on the need to find its own path to the left of the cold-war Social Democrats. For a combination of strange historical factors, the PDS became a major party in the regions of the former German Democratic Republic. One of the important elements in its success was the task of exposing the hypocrisy of the German Federal Republic establishment which neglected and spurned the needs of the region, while waxing sentimental about the reunification miracle. The PDS continued over the years to do well in the eastern regions but had little or no presence in the other regions of the Federal Republic of Germany. This changed radically for the better after the unification with the breakaway Social-Democratic formation.
According to German law, each faction in the Bundestag (which must meet the 5% minimum for representation), receives in proportion to its strength, an allocation for cultural and educational activity conducted both within Germany and abroad. Here in Israel, we are familiar with the long active Adenauer, Ebert and Heinrich Boel foundations linked to the Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats and the Greens, respectively.
The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, which has been active in Israel for a number of years has recently upgraded its level of representation and activities, including the establishment of two new offices in Tel Aviv and Ramallah. It sponsored on March 11, 2009 in Tel Aviv a very impressive full day seminar devoted to Rosa Luxemburg and relations between the Israeli and the German left. It is almost superfluous to note here that the Polish, German, Jewish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, was one of the giants of revolutionary socialism, an important theoretician, and an indefatigable proletarian leader. Luxembourg was murdered in 1918, a few days after she was released from prison where she was held because of her consistent opposition to the war.

A Complex and Sensitive Mission
Representing the German Left in Israel is a complex and sensitive mission. The relations between the German people and the Jewish people are suffused with painful memory and fraught with tensions on the background of the Holocaust, after the horrendous murder of a third of the Jewish people. Matters become more complex when one remembers that the “return of Germany to the family of nations” after the WWII was facilitated by a budding Israeli-German romance. Back then Germany was being transformed into the faithful ally of the United States and a major force in NATO. On this background, Israel, led by David Ben Gurion, initiated the historic reconciliation which included the (in)famous reparations agreement, thus granting major assistance to restoring the moral stature of the “new” Germany.
There are those on the German Left who believe that the traumas of the past dictate a common German position in favor of Israel, which includes special consideration for all and any of Israel’s actions. Gregor Gysi, a central political figure in the German “Die Linke” is a typical representative of this current of thought. In an important speech, marking the 60th anniversary of Israel (“The Position of the German Left Towards Israel ”-April 14, 2008) Gysi calls on the German left to maintain its embrace of the “pro-Israeli” approach of the German establishment. The practical effect of this approach is to render Israel immune to any serious criticism. With all due respect, this approach to the matter is unacceptable in terms of its content and its political implications. According to Gizi’s approach, Israel is the direct and legitimate heir of all the victims of Nazism. It is Israel which represents them and is authorized to act in their name. Therefore, all the governments of Israel must receive special consideration in every area, and this includes, of course, the Israeli-Arab conflict.
In the Israeli left, we are quite familiar with this thesis, according to which Israel is the authentic expression of all Jewish aspirations, past and present and that Israel’s establishment is in some way compensation for the crimes by Nazism against the Jewish people. It is obvious why the Israeli establishment adopted and energetically advanced this thesis which became over time an important ideological weapon in rationalizing its behavior in the Middle East conflict. But there is no basis in fact for this thesis in historical reality.
Gysi does try to be honest and objective, but one senses that feelings of guilt have taken precedence over political logic. This is clear from the extreme credibility that he extends to claims by the Zionist establishment and Israeli governments according to which Israel is “surprisingly democratic” and “forced to act” as it does.
The editors of the Israeli publication of Gysi’s speech did well to cite the fact that the speech is not an official party position, but a contribution to a discussion which evoked stormy and excited discussion.
With all the appreciation for the goals of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, one must express some apprehension that its efforts may be over responsive to current official German positions, especially in the light of the mutual admiration interaction governing relations between Israel and Germany. Any tendency to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism must encourage apologetics for actions by Israel. It is well known that Israel makes every effort to brand justified criticism of its actions as anti-Semitism. In such circumstances, why should Germany (and Europe) make life easier for Israel by indulgence and leniency towards actions by Israel which would be defined as clearly criminal if perpetrated by anyone else. Does Israel deserve this kind of forgiveness as it operates as a regional power in close alliance to US interests in the region?
It is to be hoped that the Foundation and its staff, who are democrats and socialists, will be discerning regarding the attempts by the Israeli establishment to exploit any tendency to leniency regarding the realities of the occupation and war crimes against the Palestinians. The Israeli establishment is quite adroit at exploiting the crimes of the past against the Jewish people as a blanket justification for its policies. It is suggested that the German Left, instead of any rapprochement with the Israeli establishment, might well cultivate and deepen relations of mutual understanding and solidarity with those in Israel who are fighting for peace and democracy, and with the Palestinian population in Israel. It is the view of the Israeli Left that the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation will fulfill its goals successfully if it refrains consistently from any whitewash of the sins and crimes of Israel and its policies. This is particularly true according to the legacy of Rosa Luxembourg who castigated all forms of militarism and unjust war. Her legacy continues to be a guideline for every democrat and every partisan of peace who recognizes the horrors of militarism in general and in its local and contemporary version, in particular.
The Real Rosa
It is quite normal that the authentic meaning of past legacies is subject to differences of opinion. Everyone is permitted to quote those passages that seem most important and characteristic in the legacy of this or that historical figure. But there is cause for concern that there are those who might forget, even though unintentionally, the most all important element in Luxemburg’s legacy: revolutionary theory and practice. The essence of her political life was devoted to elaborating revolutionary thought and practice. Here we have a problem – the interpretation of Luxemburg for those who operate in non-revolutionary periods and circumstances. This problematic is known in Marxism as “revolutionary practice in non-revolutionary circumstances”. It is therefore not totally surprising that those operating in a non-revolutionary period will try to “round off” some of Luxemburg’s “rough edges” and to emphasize those elements that tend to gloss over the tremendous contradiction between her position and reformism. It was precisely Luxemburg who delved deeper than anyone else into the roots of the conflict between revolution and reform.
One could argue that the lack of real revolutionary perspectives explained the surrender of reformism to the capitalist regime. But nothing can justify the faithful and blind support by social democracy for the imperialist project of their own ruling classes. In England, Germany, Holland and Belgium, among others, reformism enthusiastically supported the project of colonialist exploitation, whose dimensions approached that of a holocaust. It is worth recalling that the roots of the Holocaust of the Jewish people appeared and developed in the dark depths of racism which served so well the arguments for colonial expansion. Thus, Rosa Luxemburg should properly be seen as an opponent of all forms of imperial domination. In this sense, Luxemburg’s legacy would symbolize, more than anything else, solidarity with the victims of the Israeli occupation and with the workers and the down trodden here in Israel.

A Source For Concern
Hermann Dierekes, an activist in the German Left was a representative of the Die Linke in the Duisberg City Council and also a candidate of his party for mayor. Dierekes participated recently in the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil and wanted to relay the decisions of the Forum to the German public. After Dierekes granted an interview to a conservative paper in Essen he was viciously attacked in a number of right-wing papers in Germany. But this was not enough, according to information at our disposal, Dierkes was severely attacked by central figures in the Linke and forced out of the party. This version of events is from Palestinian sources, but we were unable, despite our attempts, to find a different or an official version from Die Linke. We cannot be responsible for any Dierekes’ formulations, but it seems quite clear that he was a victim of those in the Die Linke who do not accept the very idea that it is possible and necessary to criticize Israel. How did Rosa put it? “Freedom is only the freedom for those who think differently.”

1) This article is based on, but not identical to an article by the writer published last week in Hebrew on the “Ha’gada Ha’smolit” website.
2) My arguments with certain tendencies in the German left which want to render exceptional consideration to Israel are part of a “family” dispute. I do appreciate the bitter hatred of anything remotely fascist or anti-Semitic in the German left. I am convinced that the motive on the left for avoiding sharp controversy over Israel is usually a noble one. However, bending over backwards to avoid confrontation with Israel’s actions may result in a dangerous lack of clarity on this and related issues and make it that much harder to distinguish between Israel’s state apparatus, on one had, and Jews and the Jewish people, on the other, such a distinction being basic to understanding events.
3) This actually happened one day during the eighties of the previous century. We were shopping at the local super in Jerusalem when a young woman came up and informed us (in complete innocence): “You are lucky, we have a special sale today on soap from Germany.”