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Review: Undeclared Wars with Israel

Guest post by Karl Pfeifer

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

There is a thing of which [someone] will say, “See this, it is new.” It has already been for ages, which were before us.

[Nevertheless] there is no remembrance of former [generations], neither will the later ones that will be have any remembrance among those that will be afterwards.
–Kohelet 1/9-11

Nothing new under the sun, King Solomon said about three thousand years ago. Those who fight for BDS, who make the apartheid analogy with Zionism, who accuse the Zionists of having collaborated with the Nazis and who spread the legend that Zionists define Jews as a “chosen people” and are therefore racist have not invented something new. They just continue the Soviet and communist propaganda that stopped with the crumbling of the system in the late 1980s. Probably nowhere outside the Soviet Union was this propaganda taken more seriously than in East Germany (the so-called German Democratic Republic).

Cambridge University Press has recently published Undeclared Wars with Israel: East Germany and the West German Far Left, 1967–1989 by the American historian Jeffrey Herf.

Nothing new under the sun. Herf shows the origins of the present strategy to delegitimize Israel and amalgamate anti-Zionism with antisemitism. Shortly after Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, East German leader Walter Ulbricht said on June 15, 1967 that the Israeli government had made itself into a “tool of a new despicable imperialist aggression” and had “brought shame and disgrace on itself by playing the role of an imperialistic aggressor against the Arab states”. Ulbricht turned a source of pride in West Germany – the tradition of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, its policies of restitution and support for Israel – into liabilities of shame and windows of opportunity for East German diplomacy in the Arab states. Israel, he insisted had not faced any threat at all. Rather than have regard for human rights, “the government and militarists of the state of Israel [then still led by the Labor Party] are apparently struck with blindness, due to chauvinism, racial madness and class rule.”

East Germany wanted to publish statements by Jewish citizens of the GDR which expressed indignation about “Israeli aggression” and the “Israel-Washington-Bonn conspiracy.” However, it was difficult to obtain supportive statements. Several prominent Jewish writers and leaders in East Germany, including the author Arnold Zweig, refused to sign such a statement. The singer Lin Jaldati referred to the PLO’s Ahmed Shukeiri’s call to annihilate the Jews. Helmut Aris, president of the Association of Jewish Communities in East Germany, refused because “in the past our brothers and sisters in Germany were murdered and today their lives are at risk in the Near East”.

Ulbricht proposed to Brezhnev in 1969 to send East German “volunteers” to fight Israel. According to Herf, the issue of whether East German soldiers ever engaged in combat with the IDF remains unresolved. Nevertheless we find in the book long lists of East German arms and munitions sent to the Arab states and terrorist organizations fighting Israel. East Germany became a safe haven for anti-Israel West German terrorists.

East Germany while declaring itself to be anti-fascist, dealt with some of the shadiest characters in the Middle East, including the Syrian defense minister Mustafa Tlass, author of the antisemitic rag “The Matzo of Zion”. Tlass accompanied Erich Honecker on a visit to a Syrian air force base in Demeir and the official East German newspaper Neues Deutschland reported that they were enthusiastically greeted. Honecker observed Syrian pilots flying Soviet MiG jets: “He wished them success in their important and responsible service.”

Herf describes in detail the hijacking to Entebbe airport in Uganda of an Air France plane and the selection of Jewish and Israeli passengers by the West German extreme leftwing terrorists Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann– killed by IDF soldiers who liberated those selected. Neues Deutschland reported in a one-paragraph article that 110 hostages had been freed but did not mention that the Israeli and non-Israeli hostages had been separated. A few day later ND ran a headline: “Israeli Attack on Uganda is Sharply Denounced: UN General Secretary Waldheim: Violation of Sovereignty”.

Jeffrey Herf has published a crisply written, comprehensive and balanced first-class work about 22 crucial years with abundant material not only about East Germany but also on the growing hostility of the extreme Left in Germany towards Israel, sometimes resulting in acts of terror. Some members of the extreme Left party Die Linke continue to harbor enmity to the Jewish state to this day.