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Volker Weiss, "Eyes Closed and Covered:" The "Internationalist" Blockade in Germany

"Eyes Closed and Covered:" The "Internationalist" Blockade in GermanyVolker Weiss

[The long-standing conflicts inside the Left in Germany on the issue of nationalism emerged again a few weeks ago in Hamburg when some activists violently blockaded the showing of the film "Why Israel?" by former Jewish anti-fascist partisan Claude Lanzmann. This text analyzes the incident, and attempts to contextualize it within a broader political and historical framework.]

After the violent blockade of a film showing of Claude Lanzmann’s “Why Israel” in Hamburg, Germany, the coalition around the Internationalist Center B5 has sought to make an explanation.

This Autumn in Germany the showing of 2 films were forcefully prevented: In Hoyerswerda, a bomb threat caused the cancellation of Quentin Tarantinos “Inglorious Basterds,” and in Hamburg the showing of the documentary “Pourquoi Israel” (1972) of the French filmmaker and former antifascist partisan Claude Lanzmann was also not allowed to take place.

In contrast to in Hoyerswerda, where the film showing was prevented by Neo-nazis, in Hamburg it required internationalist window dressing. At the end of October, a coalition around the “Internationalist Center B5″ blockaded a theater in their direct vicinity, the Independent Cinema B Movie. With physical blows and wild remarks, [ed. multiple sources reported that the B5 activists shouted "Jewish pigs" and "fairies" ("Shuchteln") at those seeking to enter the theater, and had physically assaulted some of them] the activists made clear that, the causing of injuries to a few people was worth it to them to prevent an engagement with the theme “Why Israel?”

The title of the B5’s flyer, which was distributed during the blockade, had the fitting title on the Middle East conflict: “Why not Israel.” In view of the fact that Palestine-solidarity groups have since years distributed flyers and posters on which a map of the region does not include Israel, this is all no surprise. By measure of any kind of critical position on the Middle East conflict, this action can not apply. For critical positions, the theater had offered space. The organizers of the film evening [ed. the radical left group Maximizing Critique] had especially allowed for the possibility of a discussion after the showing of the film, which by no means is the usual case. Instead, because of the blockade, there was no such debate. The blockade was much more aimed at preventing the argument for Israel’s existence to find a public.

Ever since in 1930 when a right-wing coalition under leadership of Joseph Goebbels [ed. Propaganda Minister of the Nazi party and later of the Nazi regime] had caused damage to theaters and trounced visitors on the occasion of the filming of “All Quiet on the Western Front”, is the debate over films a part of the strategies which seek to secure the “pre-political” space of the culture as key to ruling the political. In Palestine solidarity, these actions also have a history: in 1977 it came to a series of fire attacks on cinemas, where the film “Victory at Entebbe” was to be shown. The “Revolutionary Cells” claimed responsibility for the attacks. In the action film the freeing of hostages by the Israeli military in 1976 in Uganda was the background story. In their statement on their action, the Revolutionary Cells kept quiet about the fact that in the preceding hijacking of the aircraft of Air France by a German-Palestinian commando, only Jewish passengers were singled out and taken as hostages. Only with the conviction of Gerd Albartus for the attacks in 1991, who was murdered by his fellow fighters in the Middle East, did the first self-critical evaluation of the hostage-taking in Entebbe result.

Also for religious zealots are films a thorn in the side: in 1988 Christian fundamentalists began a campaign against Martin Scorsese’s Film “The Last Temptation of Christ.” In many countries in 2004 there were threats from Islamists because of the Dutch shortfilm “Submission.” In it Aryaan Hirsi Ali and Theo van Gogh broached the topic of Muslim women who experienced violence and abuse in the family. For conservative Muslims it was a Taboo breaker, which people were not ready for, and for Theo van Gogh, he was made to finally pay for it with his life. As the Right-wing populist Geert Wilders linked onto the scandal with his collage “Fitna,” there were also immediate threats, which by the murder of van Gogh accumulated into an explosive power.

Now those are drastic examples. Of course, not every attempt to block a public event is automatically part of this tradition. There is a difference not just in the question of violence, but principally regarding the aim of the action. Regarding the example of a protest against a Leni Riefenstahl retrospective, a blockade would be a legitimate tool. In 1993 in Hamburg there was an attempt to prevent the showing of the war epic “Stalingrad,” by the sentimental German filmmaker Joseph Vilsmaier. And in 1985 in Frankfurt, members of the Central Council of Jews [in Germany] had used an occupation of the stage, in order to push open a public discussion over Rainer Fassbinder’s play, “The Trash, the City and Death.” [ed. the play was about property speculation in Frankfurt and centered around a wealthy Jewish speculator.].

The antizionist actors of the B5 cannot however refer to any positive role models. Vilsmaiers “Stalingrad” declared every German doughboy a victim, whose crimes made the necessity of a Jewish state plausible to the world. Also the stage occupation under the participation from Ignatz Bubis can hardly be used by the anti-imperialists as a reference point. Because of his vision of Jewish life in Germany after the Shoah, Bubis was in constant conflict with the advocates of the Zionist doctrine. Nevertheless he served as the portrait of the enemy for the militant Left. The first discussion about antisemitism inside the Hamburg left-wing in recent times (1999) was due to an obituary for Bubis, which was nothing other than an antisemitic-charged tirade.

In left antisemitism in this part of the world, Jews are represented as “capitalists,” cosmopolitans or even as “zionist agents,” that is, as enemy of the people. While with the establishment of Israel, the efforts to construct a Jewish nation could actually be realized, the State would however be reduced solely to an “imperialist bridgehead” and its population reduced to mere occupiers. Out of this ascription, in which Jews are treated as lacking a belonging in a home country on the one hand, and illegitimately establishing a State on the other hand, the resulting placelessness belongs to the fundamental semantics of antisemitism, and is always advanced from the same circles as essential components of their politics. In view of their growing isolation, the Hamburg antizionists rely on the increasing use of physical violence as the last field in which they can assert themselves.

After the attacks and under strong public pressure, the B5 coalition sought to justify itself with a written statement. In an especially sleek display of Imperialism theory, they speak of the “racist division of the world since the Conquista”, a “system of white dominance, that also out of the Holocaust again emerged dominant.” Therefore the antizionists have clarified that the Shoah is for them just a detail of history amongst others. Because an awareness about antisemitism and the extermination of the Jews would shatter their schema of a white complicity, every further reflection upon it is refused. From this perspective, the only thing that remains from Israel is an image of a colonial project, which is necessary to be wiped out.

Israel however, to be judged in the tradition of the Conquista, suppresses the fact that it was precisely the Jews who through their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492 belong to the first victims of the epoch. The account of “Black against White” in regards to Israel, doesn’t make sense. In contrast to the stereotypical perception of the state as a Western enclave, Israel has a distinctly multiethnic population. The antisemitism that is virulent in the Islamic world, has since the state’s establishment, led to a massive emigration out of Arab states, from Iran and North Africa to Ethiopia. In addition to other minorities, still high numbers of immigrants came in the recent years from the former Soviet Union and from South America. Above all, the “oriental” Israelis are a large part of the Israeli proletariat, and due to their own experiences with persecution, they tend rarely to have trust in the efforts towards peace with the Arab neighbors. Whereas, the peace movement is supported from an elite of a rather traditionally European origin. From a simple “white” or even “European” form of Israel can even less be said than from a “black-white” development of the conflict lines.

The worldview offered by B5’s explanation, of an “encirclement of the cities through the villages,” applied maybe still in the 1950s, as the rest of the colonial system in Africa and Indochina collaborated. A process, which — in the bitter irony of history — the French Claude Lanzmann in Algeria still enthusiastically welcomed. Today is the unleashing of barbarity in the course of capitalist value creation no longer a privilege of the West.

Political actions, as one knows, should in the best case be self-explanatory. At least the B5 coalition succeeded in doing that. With the choice of their means, the actors have shown, that they are completely unwilling to distinguish between antisemitic or National Socialist glorifying concoctions on the one hand, and the documentation of a Jewish antifascist on the other. The communiques of the antizionists are altogether a part of historical and societal processes, in a fully ignorant attempt of rationalising their antisemitic projections.

A fundamental refusal to deal with the historical genesis of the State of Israel, and with all of the parties involved in the painful Middle East conflict, is that which the Palestine-solidarity milieu brings with it, with the mindless and unrestrained attacks upon a basic confrontation with the theme “Why Israel.” And so in their antizionism they make the kernel of antisemitism visible. At least since Horst Mahler’s long march from the Palestinian Guerrilla camps to the center of the German Nazi scene does the cross-border potential of this nationalist liberation remain open today.

The showing of “Why Israel” will take place on December 13 at 4pm in B-Movie.