What is a good pro-Israel film

Constant dispute over Israel: the precarious relationship between Axel Springer and the left

Twenty years after the Holocaust, Axel Springer (1912–1985) subscribed to a pro-Israel stance that became a personal concern of his. How did he get there and what was his attitude towards Israel and the Jews? The Federal Cultural Foundation supports the exhibition BILD Dir Dein Volk - Axel Springer and the Jews, which investigates these questions. The exhibition deals with the German-Israeli relationship as it has been thematized from the perspective of the largest German tabloid newspaper. The BILD newspaper accelerated a process, according to the thesis of the exhibition, which to this day is one of the most remarkable events in German post-war history. Springer's philosemitism was, not least, a thorn in the side of the left of the 68 generation. In the following, the political scientist Wolfgang Kraushaar illuminates the ideological constellations of a precarious opposition between the media mogul and the left-wing political scene.

In the ranking of left hate objects, the publisher Axel Springer, who died a quarter of a century ago, still ranks fairly high. This is not only related, but also - not least - with its relationship to Israel, Judaism and the Jews as a whole. When the RAF carried out a bomb attack on the Springer high-rise in Hamburg in May 1972, one of the reasons given was that the publisher should stop "its propagandistic and material support for Zionism - the imperialist policy of the Israeli ruling class". The author of the message was the ex-journalist and Ulrike Meinhof, who is still regarded by not a few as a left-wing icon.

It comes as no surprise that even then considerable efforts were made to expose Springer as a secret Nazi and anti-Semite. Particularly in that part of the extra-parliamentary left that identified with the GDR as the supposedly anti-fascist state, a considerable effort was made to locate brown spots in Springer's biography. For example, the later cabaret artist Martin Buchholz wrote in a scornful tone in 1970 in the Berline r Extra-Dienst: “The Federal Republican chief redeemer, who was photographed as a tight young Nazi with a swastika armband and NSKK uniform as early as 1933, is in philosemitic enthusiasm decayed since the Israelis showed the Germans in 1967 how to deal with ›our Arabs‹. «On the cover picture, the readership was also shown how the 21-year-old among the employees of the Bergedorfer Zeitung is the only one to be seen in NS uniform. But this impression is wrong.
Because, according to everything that has become known about his biography, Springer was neither a Nazi nor an anti-fascist, most likely he was an apolitical. However, as the cases of the former SS-Sturmbannführer Giselher Wirsing and the völkisch-minded, long-time world editor-in-chief Hans Zehrer show, he does not seem to have had any reservations about having formerly convinced Nazis and anti-Semites write in organs of his publishing house or even discontinue them and entrust them with important tasks. This may give cause for concern, but does not justify using Springer as an object of prejudice and making sweeping judgments about him.
From the former Federal President Gustav Heinemann comes the thoughtful sentence that if you point at someone with an outstretched index finger, you should always remember that in the same hand three other fingers would be pointing back to you at the same time. This thought could perhaps also apply to the tense relationship between Axel Springer, his publishing house and its publications on the one hand and the left on the other.


The word anti-Semitism is undoubtedly a sharp edge. For obvious reasons, this applies more to Germany than to any other country. Anyone who can be exposed as an anti-Semite here is as good as done in public. In order not only to make such an allegation but also to be able to uphold it, however, a clear, irrefutable clarity of the facts is required. But that is exactly what is often lacking. Once a dispute about actual or supposed anti-Semitism has broken out - as was the case most recently in connection with a party that has the forehead to call itself "Die Linke" (the left), then all too often the impression of uneasiness arises.
What is true about the accusation put forward by the Central Council of Jews that an "downright pathological, blind hatred of Israel" is being lived out in this party? A number of indications that clearly point in this direction can certainly not be dismissed out of hand. The Bundestag member of the ›Left‹, Inge Höger, appeared at a Palestine conference with a scarf on which a map of the Middle East was depicted, in which there was no longer Israel. And the Duisburg district association of the party had called for a boycott of Israeli goods on its homepage and also distributed a logo in which the Star of David had entered into a symbiosis with the swastika. But is that enough to be able to claim that in the organization that emerged from a merger of the PDS and the WASG, anti-Israel and anti-Jewish positions are becoming more and more dominant within the party? At least that is the result of a study written by two social scientists from the Universities of Gießen and Leipzig. Could that not only be ammunition for the already usual dispute between parties who want to keep an unpleasant competitor at a distance? The accusation of anti-Semitism used as an effective means of discrediting?
In the recent past there has even been talk of "alarmist anti-anti-Semitism". What is meant by this is that what he pretends to fight is actually constructed in the first place. It is clear that exponents of the left are to be protected. While alarm signals in the direction of the right are entirely appropriate, the barely disguised message is that they are inappropriate on the part of the left. "Anti-anti-Semitism" would often express nothing other than alarmism, if possible to sound the alarm in any case. Basically, it is not just a matter of constructing a ubiquitous enemy image, but ultimately of building a bogus with it.
This attitude is not particularly far removed from the one with which Martin Walser came out in 1998 in his memorable acceptance speech for the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in the Paulskirche. At the time he spoke of the "Auschwitz club" that was supposedly used to beat the Germans. Ignatz Bubis, the chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany at the time, insulted the laureate as an "intellectual arsonist" and thus - although he withdrew this accusation soon afterwards - triggered a debate about the maxims of a culture of remembrance and commemoration in Germany.


But how is left anti-Semitism defined and how can its virulence be recognized? What are the criteria for determining the virulence of a phenomenon classified as left anti-Semitism? On the one hand it is about an objectifiable prejudice structure, on the other hand it is about its obscurity - a phenomenon that mostly does not emerge directly, but often only indirectly and indistinctly. Last but not least, diagnosis becomes a hermeneutical task.
How can one avoid the obvious ideological pitfalls and gain greater analytical clarity? This question is primarily aimed at the relationship between implication and explication. And behind this, in turn, there is the problem of the decoupling of concept and phenomenon, the tendency to delimit the use of the concept and the danger of generalizing conclusions.
Criticism of a nation, as well as of the founding idea of ​​building a nation, may appear legitimate, especially if this process has been and still is at the expense of the local population - in this case the Palestinians. Opposition or enmity towards Israel, the Jews inside and outside Israel, and Judaism as a whole, on the other hand, meet the criteria for classic prejudice formation. A more precise determination of the relationship between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is therefore crucial. In particular, the question should be asked: Is anti-Zionism only hiding politically cloaked anti-Semitism? And if so, how high is the level of anti-Semitism hidden in anti-Zionism? The main focus must therefore be placed on exploring this relationship more precisely.
The defense formula used again and again by various currents of the left is: anti-Zionism as such is capable of legitimacy and not, at least not without precaution - as the poet Erich Fried warned in 1973 - to be equated with anti-Semitism. The left, which sees itself as anti-imperialist, must, it is repeatedly emphasized, not be deprived of its right to fundamental criticism of the State of Israel and its roots in Zionist ideology. And anyone who still claims that anti-Zionism can be equated with anti-Semitism is - as the Springer press repeatedly demonstrated - up to nothing other than to discriminate against the left. Incidentally, this is also the accusation against the party of the same name.
But how far is it about insisting on a factual difference or just a verbose camouflage? The Dutch psychoanalyst Hans Keilson, who died a few months ago at the age of over a hundred, has a very clear stance on this. For him, the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is nothing more than a linguistic ruse, an argumentation trap that primarily serves to politically exploit potential for aggression if the taboo word "Jew" or "Jewish" is excluded.
The fact that it took so long to investigate possible connections between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is probably due to the fact that the left believed that its anti-fascist sentiment made it immune to anti-Semitic tendencies per se. At the time, the writer Gerhard Zwerenz was even convinced, as he was allowed to postulate in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit in 1976, that anti-Semitism and being leftist would be categorically mutually exclusive. The publicist Henryk M. Broder was one of the first to point out this political lie. The social effectiveness of anti-Semitic stereotypes is not limited to specific political camps. They appear in the right as in the left and - as should not be forgotten - also in the middle. The two people's parties are not entirely immune to this either.


A look back can show why there was suspicion of anti-Semitism against leftists in the old Federal Republic in the first place. This is mainly due to a historical turning point, the Six-Day War won by Israel in June 1967, a war that Springer later jokingly related that he had made Israeli newspapers out of the sheets of his publisher for six days, albeit without to have them appear in Hebrew because that would have been too detrimental to the sale. After that, after June 1967, the country that had offered the victims of the Holocaust more than just refuge appeared to many as an aggressor and a conqueror. Victims suddenly seemed to have become perpetrators themselves. Under the impression of this changed image, the attitude of many leftists, but in particular of the Socialist German Student Union (SDS), towards Israel had suddenly changed. The pro-Israel stance of various left-wing student organizations, which until then had been reflected in numerous contacts, in particular visiting delegations and kibbutz stays, and which in part had also been understood for years as a forerunner for a policy of reconciliation in Israel, gave way at precisely this time , in which, triggered by the fatal shots at Benno Ohnesorg, a nationwide student movement emerged, a more than just critical, often fundamentally negative, position that manifested itself more and more in a one-sided partisanship for the cause of the Palestinians.
Just as the university group of the SPD had played a pioneering role with the SDS since the beginning of the 1950s for the reparation of the Nazi crimes against the Jewish people and the recognition of the State of Israel, so it now - after it was expelled from the mother party in 1961 - fulfills the task of an avant-garde for the Palestinians fighting for state independence. There were two ostensibly rationalistic arguments for the change of position: The criticism of the philosemitism, which was particularly pronounced in the early Federal Republic, as a merely reactive response to anti-Semitism and the inclusion of Israel, which was increasingly viewed exclusively as the power-political outpost of the USA in the Middle East classic criticism of imperialism by the left.
Since the summer of 1967 the key words to characterize Israeli politics have been: aggression and expansion. Zionism was equated with capitalism, colonialism and imperialism, abstracting from the historical conditions of its origin. That was a declaration of enemy to the State of Israel and the Jewish citizens living there, which could hardly be surpassed. The main features of the repertoire were already available here, which, pseudo-theoretically charged with a Marxist vocabulary, contributed to making a poorly cloaked left anti-Semitism possible. Under the protective shield of large abstract categories that seemed to vouch for a programmatic criticism of rule, the intention was to be able to immunize themselves against obvious allegations that anti-Zionism was really about nothing more than the resurrection of anti-Semitism. In essence, however, it was about denying Israel the right to exist. This refusal is secretly at the center of all variants of anti-Zionism.


In retrospect, there have been several stations that marked a fundamental change in position over the course of almost a decade, more precisely in the years from 1967 to 1976. The anti-Zionist orientation initially formed the unifying and continuity-creating basic element. In doing so, however, it went through very different states of aggregation. It started out from a blanket criticism of Israel in the SDS, once the most important organization of the radical left, turned out to be an anti-Jewish attack practice within the West Berlin subculture, and manifested itself on November 9, 1969 in the bomb attack on the Jewish community hall in the form of an admittedly unsuccessful, but apparently intended terrorist act, took on a permanent cooperation relationship with the RAF with strictly anti-Israeli terror groups such as those of the Palestinians and in 1976 in Entebbe, with the selection of Jewish hostages carried out by the revolutionary cells in connection with an airplane hijacking, moved close to the von the Nazis practiced eliminatory anti-Semitism. When Axel Springer, who happened to be in Jerusalem at exactly this time, heard of the successful Israeli commando to free the hostages, he went to the lobby of the King David Hotel at half past twelve and laid there - only in a dressing gown - dance of joy with relief.
While, on the one hand, the anti-Jewish factor had crystallized more and more sharply, the field of reference had increasingly shrunk. As widespread as the criticism of Israel and anti-Zionism as a worldview were on the one hand, on the other hand only a few wanted to have anything to do with direct attacks on Jews and attacks on Jewish institutions. The more the anti-Jewish course solidified, the more the protagonists isolated themselves. Precisely because anti-Zionism could not be escalated and functionalized in anti-Semitic forms of a movement that continued to operate in public, the core of this anti-Jewish tendency was split off into the underground of the armed groups in their formation phase and was increasingly able to establish itself there in forms of terrorist practice.


But how can the radical change that took place in the summer of 1967 from resolute supporters of Israel to explicit opponents of Israel and partisans of the Palestinians, and its escalation nine years later in the Entebbe memorial, be explained at all? How can it be imagined that declared anti-fascists could become convinced anti-Zionists, if not anti-Semites, in the twinkling of an eye?
A double process in particular must appear puzzling: First, the emphatic turn to the countries of the Third World and the associated glorification of national-revolutionary guerrilla organizations, then the choice of the Middle East conflict as the central crisis region and the associated identification with the various Palestinian movements idealized as liberation movements Terrorist organizations.With this double choice, two fades were carried out: on the one hand, the question of the German nation, which is regarded as taboo, and on the other hand, the bloc confrontation between East and West, which is responsible for the division of Germany. Both gaps, which should have been central to the self-image of a West German left, have their roots in the Nazi past and the post-war order built on the ruins of National Socialism. They were apparently so massive that they had to be overlaid by internationalism in general and the identification with the Palestinians in particular.
The correlation between anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism is of central importance. When in 1972, for example, the RAF founder Horst Mahler spoke of a "symbiosis between Zionism and imperialism", he basically released Israel to attack. At least in this regard, it is not surprising that the former left-wing terrorist later turned into a staunch fascist. On a supranational level it was about the rule of capital, the exploitation and the disposal of money. With Israel - it was suggested - the figure of the "money Jew" assumed a state form. The Jewish state was now viewed as the governor of the imperialist system in the Middle East.
This, however, reflects the old anti-Semitic cliché - the Jewish representative of international capital then established a state in order to secure and further expand the supremacy of US imperialism. The thought that the existence of the State of Israel, which has been under constant threat since its founding in 1948, must organize its defense no longer has a logical place here. The topos of "Zionist imperialism," which has remained fatally topical in its effectiveness, meets the criteria of a delusional ideology. Under the supposed protection of Marxist-Leninist categories, this implicitly ties in with the anti-Semitic clichés of the Nazi era and re-establishes a long-denied interrelationship between the Nazi and post-war generations. Psychological factors play a major role in all of this. Solidarity with the Palestinians, for example, offered young Germans the opportunity to either neutralize the crimes of their own country or to fade them over completely. The more martial Israel appeared in its military actions, the easier it became and still is to label the country as such as an aggressor and to push the memory of the Holocaust and the Jewish victims into the background. All of this undoubtedly has a relieving function for the generations of those born afterwards. That is why it is so common to put Israel on the same level as the Nazi regime and its military with the German Wehrmacht or even the SS. Such a secret self-justification could be at the center of enthusiasm for Palestine, according to the motto: See what crimes have been committed in our own name cannot have been so bad if the country that represents the victims of the Holocaust as a collective is itself Commits crime.
In psychoanalysis, which has examined in particular defense mechanisms that are available to the subject to cope with internal conflicts, there is therefore also talk of a shift. In their cognitive model, defense is one of the ego functions. With it, unpleasant and fear-inducing processes are to be banished from one's own consciousness. In this way, a dispute with the causes of a conflict is bypassed and a makeshift balance in the affect budget is established. In order to relieve itself of feelings of guilt and shame, the ego has various techniques such as repression, denial, separation, projection and shifting at its disposal.
Since the crimes committed by the parents' generation, because of their almost immeasurable quantitative and qualitative dimensions, endangered the psychological stability of their growing children, they were looking for ways to pass their feelings of guilt on to others at a time when they were developing their own ego ideals. A unique opportunity in this respect was presented to parts of the younger generation when, in their eyes, Israel wronged the Palestinians in 1967. In this way one could burden the representative of the victims with some of the guilt that weighed on the parents' shoulders and so visibly overwhelmed their descendants.
In the figure of the Palestinians, there was also an object of projective identification. To stand by their side was something like the secret guarantor of one's own relief function. It was not for nothing that the New Left at the time had been driven by an internal magnetism - as if there had been no more obvious challenges - on the Middle East conflict, identified with the Palestinians, especially their most aggressive organizations, and diagnosed the root of all problems that had arisen with the Israelis. In this way, unprocessed psychological problems could become the engine of a supposedly political project. From this point of view, the much-invoked peace in the Middle East was probably primarily about the internal peace of German activists.


For the left, Axel Springer was - and in some cases still is - something like their archenemy. He appeared like a negative ideal figure of the establishment, with the complete set of values ​​of the 1950s and an extremely resistant ›ideal world‹ ideology. Springer's person concentrated everything against which the radical left in the Federal Republic was: anti-totalitarianism, pro-Israelism, pro-Americanism, adherence to German unification and the defense of the capitalist economic system. The smashing of the media empire he had created was long seen as the key to preventing the "manipulation" of the wage-dependent masses and instead making them the object of revolutionary agitation. In the left-wing fantasy, it seemed above all this powerful, but rather moderate-minded man to stand between the political apathy of the masses and their class-struggle-oriented mobilization. That was the main reason why he was so hated.
But despite all the differences, there are also a few points that link Springer in a peculiar way with the once radical left. The SDS, for example, was ceased to be philosemitic until 1967 and Axel Springer began to adopt this attitude at exactly the same time. It was almost as if he had taken over a baton and only put it from his left hand to his right hand. And Rudi Dutschke, the undisputed spokesman for the APO at the time, who fled the GDR shortly before the Wall was built, was hard to beat in his opposition to the SED. If Springer had suspected at the time that Dutschke was, like himself, an unshakable advocate of the reunification of Germany, then it might not have been entirely unthinkable that he would have invited him for an interview and that some things might have gone differently. His son, who took his own life on the day of Dutschke's funeral, had even temporarily given his wife and children material support. In spite of all opposition, there seems to be a tragic dimension that connects underground. And maybe that also applies to the relationship with Israel and the Jews.