Ruthless Criticism

Translation of Ch.3, Part 3 of Abweichende Meinungen zu Israel: Die politische Emanzipation der Juden durch eine Militärdemokratie mit imperialistischem Auftrag, H.L. Fertl, Resultate Verlag 1982


The FRG’s public sphere:
National democratic participation in a useful war

That used to be a nice task for West Germany’s newspaper and television guys. In the summer of ‘82, two wars needed to be properly conveyed and interpreted. Wars that were started and won by the nation’s best allies – a dream constellation for practicing the three main journalistic virtues of morality, problem awareness and expertise.


The self-righteousness of the British ally provided the unchallenged moral basis for any assessment of what was happening. “Aggression must not pay!” – no West German commentator could or wanted to disregard this virtuous principle of imperialist “order-keeping” violence being enforced worldwide, in the name of which the British commander-in-chief ordered her Navy to take military action. She was rewarded with a principled partisanship for Britain’s war aims. Whether there “must” be a war because of this; whether there were not cheaper ways of keeping Argentina within its imperialist limits; whether Great Britain was not neglecting its much more important NATO duties with its honorable but, from a German point of view, rather trivial legal claim to the Falklands; whether Britain’s war would not ultimately burden its loyal allies: such were the sharp-eyed concerns that West German journalism was at best willing to take the liberty of expressing within the framework of its responsibilities to European solidarity. After all, it was an expensive war, but not against the main enemy – so the fear had to be voiced that “dying for Port Stanley,” however just, could on balance be decidedly “senseless” from the higher point of view of NATO imperialism in its West German interpretation.

Israel’s war in Lebanon was reported in exactly the same way – which was not without a few contradictions in detail, for example regarding the iron principles of international law, which the Israeli army could hardly be credited with in the same way as the British Navy; but a thoughtful West German observer of the world always has plenty of “flexibility.”

First of all, there was a principled agreement on the objective of the war, which the local media took from the war events and its official interpretation by the Israeli government; they were all the more resolute in their belief in its incontestability, the bloodier its realization turned out to be. It was generally known and not even concealed that the justifications given in Jerusalem for the urgent necessity of war against the Palestinians were nothing but pretexts and self-righteous rhetoric: Without a sovereign Israeli decision to clear out the refugees in its northern neighbor once and for all, a reason for war was provided neither by – as one was supposed to believe for a while – an assassination attempt on an Israeli diplomat in London, which the PLO immediately distanced itself from, nor – as the slogan “Peace for Galilee” would have us believe – a danger to Israel’s northern province: The Palestinians had barely responded to Israeli bombing raids on their camps in Lebanon with occasional artillery fire. But knowing this was no reason for West German commentators to no longer accept the “Israeli need for security” as a good or at least plausible reason for Israel’s military campaign; at best it was an occasion for them to formulate their own partisanship for it methodologically, i.e. as an attitude that could not be denied even against their better judgment:

“The Europeans, and the Germans in particular, would still have done the Israelis good for the 40 km buffer zone in Lebanon out of a guilty conscience”

and not only them, as “Der Spiegel” itself immediately testified with its empathetic understanding that Israel did not abide by this hypothetical concession of Augstein's [influential German journalist, and politician; founder of “Der Spiegel“ – trans.] conscience:

“But the almost 40 km wide security cordon, to which, according to the army’s official announcement, the armed operation was to be limited, was quickly rushed through ... More importantly, the strategically important highway between Beirut and Damascus ... was in the range of Israeli artillery. A war leader does not like to let such opportunities go to waste”

which “Der Spiegel” can’t blame him for any more than the “Süddeutsche,” which found good reasons for scheduling the Israeli campaign at the chosen time in all kinds of favorable circumstances – Reagan in Europe, the Gulf War, tensions between Iraq and Syria, the world public preoccupied by the World Cup! – as if the writers of this world class newspaper didn’t know how to otherwise casually distinguish between opportunity and justification!

Even the most “critical” commentators conceded to Israel what the imperialist morality of the “free world” concedes to no one else – not to the enemy anyway; nor to itself, because (and as long as!) it does not need this means thanks to a well-organized world order; not to its vassals otherwise, insofar as they could disturb the beautiful arrangement: conquest for security interests. And Israel’s even more far-reaching claim to be responsible for “orderly conditions” in its neighboring country, indeed for the sovereignty of the Lebanese state itself, and to “have to” enforce this responsibility by force, was also met with unanimous support apart from all the differences. With the “diagnosis”: “chaos,” “ruin” and “civil war-like conditions in Lebanon,” a clear need to invade the country was derived in line with the Israeli high command; the Israeli invasion was seen as an action to “stabilize Lebanon.” As if “stability,” that noble methodological concept of political rule, separated from any content and the question of the personnel of rule, were a respectable purpose for any political party, let alone for a civil war faction! In truth, “stability” is nothing but the formal honorary title of the contending interest that is supposed to assert itself against the others and remain unchallenged; for Israel, the lamented “instability in Lebanon” consisted of nothing more than the PLO’s relative freedom of movement. This plain language was also read out to the German public on television and in the press – but not to disgrace Israel’s alleged selflessness in the “pacification” of Lebanon, but to name the “nihilists” who had ruined Lebanon, so there was no doubt who was to blame:

“Armed Palestinians in Lebanon should never have been tolerated”; therefore, “at present, the restoration of a stable Lebanon is even more important for peace than the fate of the Palestinians.” (Frankfurter Allgemeine)


After all, the Republic’s journalistic expertise has only by way of exception – namely insofar as it is on Axel Springer’s payroll – straightforwardly taken the standpoint of the self-righteousness of the Israeli cabinet and the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, according to which the “Palestinian problem” in Lebanon should be “eradicated.” It went out of its way to relate Israel’s campaign of elimination to a supposedly exogenous “problem,” which the government had invented its military to “solve.”

Firstly, this “problem” is supposed to be the Palestinians who were made homeless by Israel – and explaining them to be Israel’s problem is precisely the opposite of a clarification of the fact that Israel itself made the Palestinians a “question” in the first place and defines the content of it very sovereignly, completely irrespective of the political reactions of the Palestinians, who have long since abandoned their old hope of one day “pushing the Zionists into the sea.” Israel’s ethnic exclusivity, its function as a Western outpost and the easy successes of the corresponding policy are conversely interpreted as a dilemma in which Israel and its politics and military are entangled; every act of violence provides new proof of the tragedy of the constellation:

“If the PLO denies the Jewish state the right to exist, don’t the Israelis do something similar?” (Spiegel) “The Palestinian question seems insoluble ... It looks as if Israel has secured its right to exist by destroying that of another people.” (Stern)

The fact that the Israeli state has established itself through the expulsion and decimation of the local Arabs and thereby created enemies against whom it “must secure” its “right to exist” by continuing its founding practices on an ever increasing scale thus appears to be a difficulty in letting Arabs and Jews live side by side and together between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. It is not even denied that peoples do not get along simply because they follow an exclusive force over themselves,which makes them line up for its autonomy and continued self-assertion. The “confusion” of state power and population is so familiar and self-evident to German journalists that they simply take Israel’s expansion for the elementary “right to exist” of the human material of this nation and cross out any difference to the plight of the Palestinians and their resistance, which for them coincides with the construction of still another dilemma in the policy that the PLO leaders make with it. Two kinds of people supposedly cannot agree to let each other live in peace – an ideology that gives rise to the most pessimistic views of history and is certainly not deterred by the fact that, after all, Head of State Begin had his people in Lebanon stand up for their “right to exist” with several hundred deaths of their own and several thousand crippled (the situation that the “Peace for Galilee” campaign put an end to would not have cost the Israelis as many victims in decades!). In the main point of their interpretation, namely seeing the affected peoples as being completely defined by the interests and actions of their politicians, these “problem conscious” journalists who make a dilemma of the Israeli wars do not differ at all from their right-wing journalist colleagues who justify their aggressive partisanship for Israel’s campaign of destruction by claiming that the political leaders of the Palestinians are not even representatives of a recognized state, and that their claim to state power must therefore be regarded as terrorism – and consequently their “people” as one big nest of terrorists. Anyone who ascribes to a people the political obedience imposed on them as their right to exist also thinks it is always okay to hold people liable for the actions of those who make use of this obedience – which is not a theoretical matter, but always a very bloody one!

Apart from the terror specialists in the West German press, people in this country tend to imagine Israel’s reasons for war to be a rather hopeless “problematic situation”; and it is not just the Palestinians who are subsumed under this interpretation. After all, Israel’s military campaigns are always directed against the means of power of its sovereign neighbors, thus belligerently denying respect for their state independence; but even this can be discussed by a well-meaning expert in a very “non-partisan” manner. The moral aspects of international law, which just a few weeks earlier had only needed to be cited in order to place Argentina on the sidelines of world politics with its “invasion” of the Malvinas, suddenly took a back seat to the mature political consciousness of the West German press and broadcasting industry – and that means anything but criticizing the foreign policy goal that was being served by mass murder. This time the political intention was not going to be adequately denounced by the fact that it was violently directed against the prevailing distribution of power. What’s more, the brutal means should no longer cast a bad light on the purpose pursued. As if by order or joint decision, the free West German opinion-makers jumped to the self-righteous Israeli language that the war should be appreciated as an act of peace, and with gestures of morality-free expert insight revealed that “the Middle East problem” was Israel’s true and actual reason for war. Even less than the “Palestinian question” does this “problem” take seriously what it actually consists of – after all, the whole thing would not exist if the imperialist powers had not set up Israel as a permanent practical refutation of all the Arabs’ aspirations to a major power. The simple fact that Israel has enemies – which, God knows, is also true of Israel’s Arab neighbors! – seem to the unprejudiced observers of the “Süddeutsche Zeitung,” for example, to be enough of a “problem” to make a war seem advisable to Israel as an “attempt at a solution”:

“But apart from Egypt, no Arab country has offered peace to Israel. Has that not forced it to fight?”

So German journalists “know” that the state of Israel represents a single declaration of war on its Arab environment – and are awkwardly standing behind it: For Israel, peace is the same as constantly winning wars, because “the Middle East” has not yet found its final “peace framework”; which is strikingly evident from the fact that Israel “must” fight... This is how journalistic problem awareness deals with a belligerent ally of its own nation: Where it does not immediately adopt its own official interpretation of its actions, it gives it credit for, come hell or high water, self-constructed “problems” and “entanglements” that its violent actions actually intend to “overcome” and “solve.” In the light of such “problems,” an appraisal of the war then takes place, which, even where it rises to the “gravest reservations,” never abandons its principled benevolence disguised as expertise.


The objections to Israel’s war that occurred to West Germany’s journalistic spokespeople were of a corresponding caliber:

“Menachem Begin’s war is unnecessary. It is inhumane. And in the end it will have exactly the opposite effect of what was actually (!) the intention of the author” – one can hardly remember that the “actual” intentions of a warlord are still being mentioned! And once again, so that no misunderstanding arises: “But the worst (!) is: The war will boomerang.” (Zeit)

The fact that, in the face of such constructive concerns about the success of what the Jewish authors of the war “actually intended,” the rumor could arise that, for the first time after three enthusiastically supported Middle East wars, West German sympathies were no longer on Israel’s side, impressively shows how unconditionally people in this country are used to identifying with Israel’s fortunes in war. Even at the point when such benevolent concerns as “Do the Israelis still know what they are doing?” (Stern), “Israel’s Vietnam?” (Spiegel) and the like refute any doubts about their pro-Israeli firmness of principle. When the invading forces had achieved their military objectives and the withdrawal of the PLO was only a question of “dead or alive?” but the war was still dragging on and Israeli successes were only reflected in corpses in Beirut and no longer in rapid territorial gains, here critical Germans came to accuse the top army command in Jerusalem:

“The strike against the Palestinians in Lebanon has become Israel’s longest war”; Begin has “painted himself into a corner”;

“The superpower Israel was unable (!) to militarily defeat the last 6000 PLO warriors trapped inside!” – an “inability” for which the government has only itself to blame, as Der Spiegel fully shares the patriotic criticism of the state-owned opposition leader Peres:

“’If the government wanted to occupy Beirut, it could have done so after six days without many casualties.’” Israel has not managed the blitzkrieg; this time it has failed at the old German ideal of war: strike quickly and completely, then at least it is painless for the sympathizing world public! But civilized NATO friends have to watch “sufficient death,” allegedly without being allowed to count any meaningful military progress: “... the weeks-long battle (has) not inflicted nearly as many casualties on the PLO fighters, who are grossly outgunned, as military experts had predicted. The victims are the civilians.” (Stern)

The experts did not want the German public to notice the military benefits of a prolonged siege, extensive bombardments and numerous “civilian casualties,” i.e. a massive reign of terror. They cling to the ideal of an absolutely superior machinery of violence that does not have to break resistance because it doesn’t allow it to arise in the first place. Because one would like to believe that such clean violence would provide a clean “solution” to all the “problems” that Begin and his team were supposed to “solve” as their “real intention.” Compared to this ideal of violence, of course, the real thing always looks bad; and so German journalists also allowed themselves to doubt the problem-solving power of the “unclean” violence that the Israeli government actually uses. With such a war – a “Pyrrhic victory” (Stern) – there is no guarantee at all

“that Begin can create the desired peace for his country – which was the declared aim of the campaign.” (Süddeutsche Zeitung)

Where Begin and Sharon had the PLO destroyed as a political and military organization, including weapons and personnel, so that a peaceful settlement with their enemy would no longer have to be considered at all, this Bavarian world class newspaper comes to the profound conclusion that their campaign would not have advanced the peaceful settlement with the victims: that the PLO and Jordan now

“support the peace process is probably more of a pipe dream. The actual goal of Operation ‘Peace for Galilee’ was thus missed”

– so that the “Süddeutsche” has to lament “the hopelessness of the Israeli attempt at a violent solution to the Palestinian problem”!

The critical partisanship for Israel's "actual" concerns occasionally turned into malice:

“The PLO can be bombed, but not Palestinian nationalism” (Spiegel)

– The cartoonist of the “Nürnberger Nachrichten” captured in an appropriate image what would be necessary for this, but Begin & Co. cannot achieve it with their “bungling” acts of violence:

Computer man

The same message in well-chosen words:

“A humiliated PLO will inevitably become radicalized again. It will once again export terror ... Incidentally, Israel’s harsh policy will ensure that new recruits will constantly flow to the guerrillas. The PLO is not that easy (!) to kill, and certainly not the Palestinian idea.” (Zeit)

Not “that easy,” because there are still quite a few Palestinians left; and before Israel kills them all “lock, stock and barrel,” “alternative solutions” should be considered: this is how unprejudiced German journalists “criticized” Israel’s genocide! In the same vein, concerns were raised as to whether Lebanon could be “pacified” in this way, and whether Israel would really only benefit from a Christian-Phalangist vassal state in the north:

“Whether this calculation works out, of course, still depends on the conservative and radical Sunni and Shiite Muslims who make up a good half of the population.” (Süddeutsche Zeitung)

Can the Syrians be brought down in this way? “What will become of the more than fragile Egyptian position?” (Spiegel). Won’t Israel end up damaging Western interests in Arabia? With such concerns, which took a very world-dominant-sovereign view of the entire region –

“Israel’s defense minister seems to overestimate his Beirut experience when he says that he is bringing the Americans superiority over the Soviet Union in the Middle East on a silver platter” (Süddeutsche Zeitung) –

West German pressmen finally openly acknowledged the interest-based standpoint of their benevolent expert opinions on Israel’s butchery – and rightly had to be reproached by their right-wing colleagues because all the objections they raised against Israel’s actions, together with the responsible diplomats of their states, were nothing but moral hypocrisy.

“The Americans, Europeans and Arabs are quietly happy that the Israelis have done the dirty work for them – the radical struggle against the terrorist nests”

the “Bild-Zeitung” knows, but does not want this to be understood as a criticism of the European, the American and Arab interests that make such “dirty work” necessary from time to time, but rather as an appeal to morally support the useful ally. The intellectual newspaper of the West German right, the “Frankfurter Allgemeine,” had its cartoonist portray this message – albeit with the flaw of not including a German politician in the picture, but with the very appropriate idea of drawing the president of “Moscow-affiliated” Syria right behind the US president:

Computer man


Whatever “controversy” over Israel’s campaign in Lebanon arose in West German public opinion took place in these select spheres of hypocritical apprehension and its rejection in the name of the self-righteousness of its own imperialist interests and the success it achieves through Israel. This latter side celebrated the Israeli advance without a second thought: “Bild am Sonntag” crawled into the frontline trenches at Beirut airport with Israeli infantrymen, had themselves shot at and were told by the young heroes that “you can lose everything here, including your life, except your soul!” (afterwards the “Bild” men had to promise not to tell the mothers and wives of the frontline heroes about the danger of the situation – next Sunday “we” were “guests of Israel’s women”); more intellectual papers translated this frontline agitation into erudite considerations about the (of course decisive!) role of the “subjective factor” in today's mechanized war! There was no shortage of compassion; its favorite victims were the non-Palestinian residents of West Beirut. Their “suffering” under the Israeli hail of bombs was used to prove, apparently very plausibly to the West German audience, that the PLO consisted of terrorist cowards who did not even want to face the Israeli fighting machine in open battle, but had entrenched themselves behind “innocent hostages” – as if the Israeli army had not first driven the armed Palestinians into them and rounded them up in camps and neighborhoods where they would otherwise have lived and not been fighting against Israel! The message is that those who lose are criminals because they shed blood senselessly; those who win have the right on their side – above all to hold their opponents morally accountable!

The other factions of public opinion in Germany were somewhat more balanced in their moral outrage. Reports and headlines of the following caliber

“Israel increases its pressure on the PLO”

were also easily generated by Israel's “critics” when the Israeli air force intensified its bombing of West Beirut – as if a carpet bombing aimed at destroying the enemy and its “environment” were a form of diplomacy. That may be a truth about diplomacy, but it is not a truth about war. A bomb is not a “hint,” but a means of destruction and as such a political “message” at best. The “balanced” democratic war reporting, on the other hand, turned every Israeli combat action into a matter with an a priori extra-military meaning and purpose, every death into a lever to end the bloodshed. The self-confident application of the previously forbidden principle: “War is a means of politics!” has become a trivialization of war – and a very one-sided one at that. For it is powerful bombardments and not isolated missiles or snipers that are honored by the elegant diplomatic language that would exert “pressure” on the other side: it is the superior force that can claim to be taken as policy. It was nothing but a very logical consequence of this idea when “Bild” and like-minded people immediately denied the Palestinians’ feeble military resistance any political quality and categorized it as a political crime, just like the Israeli high command. The other, in principle no less benevolent conclusion was drawn by “Stern” and others with their regret about too many, unnecessary, even innocent victims of an excessive Israeli toughness. No matter how drastically this regret was expressed, it was never directed against the purpose of the slaughter, but against the slaughter as an unclean means – and therefore remained helpless against the Israeli reason of state and its spokesmen, who insisted on their recognized purpose with the deepest regret and cynically asked for alternatives. That is why the little bit of West German indignation never relied on its moralism, but rather wanted to make an impression in a very pro-Israeli roundabout way:

“The bombing of West Beirut has damaged Israel’s reputation to such an extent that the military gain can hardly outweigh the political losses. But the PLO, although abandoned by the Arab states and forced to withdraw by Israel, does not have to see itself as a loser ... political opportunities ... Votes in the UN General Assembly ...” (Süddeutsche Zeitung)

The political damage that the press is attributing to the victor cannot and should not be explained in detail – in fact, the World Power No. 1 has never made its military and financial support for Israel dependent on the majority opinion in the UN, rather the other way around; and the expansionist Zionist state will hardly be abandoned by its European friends if their opinion makers are so touchingly worried about its image. Just as there is little to the – yes, by no means welcomed, but rather feared! – “appreciation of the PLO”; to be the alleged moral victor, to be recognized by international diplomacy as a force that has become more or less insignificant and to act in a correspondingly boastful manner, is a cheap bonus to its military destruction! And as far as the “atmospheric” shifts are concerned, the German press, which suspected or invoked such shifts, was able to keep its own sympathies for Arafat & Co., as well as its loss of sympathy for Israel, within limits! Anyone who – like the Israelis themselves! – warns against an appreciation of Arafat, and even urges the Pope to exercise diplomatic restraint, knows firstly that the PLO leadership’s diplomatic frenzy does not signal success, but rather powerlessness – and above all fully agrees with this. And those who want to make the Israelis aware of the potentially damaging consequences of disgust with their policies certainly do not share this disgust.


This is how “critics” and supporters of Israel’s actions come together, “beyond any differences,” in their assessment of the opportunities that the war would offer for Israel and for the cause of the West. And even among the most dubious “Pyrrhic victory” and “boomerang” theorists, there was no one who did not agree with the statement made by former US Secretary of State Kissinger in Der Spiegel:

“Israel’s success opens up broad prospects for a dynamic US policy in the Middle East.”

On the contrary: among the commentators who were considered “critical,” the technique of hypocritically raising the anxious question of whether the previously achieved successes of the “peace process” orchestrated by the USA would not be jeopardized again became commonplace after every new advance in the Israeli “cleansing” of Lebanon and “clearing up” of the strategic situation, which created new conditions for America’s “mediating diplomacy.” In this way, past war successes were naturally recognized as favorable conditions for “diplomatic efforts”; the latest massacre was used to deny the successful interplay of war and diplomacy, of Israeli acts of destruction and Western “protective power,” and to construct the appearance of a contradiction between the interest of imperialism in “order” and the brutality of its protégé. This technique of sham criticism was not even embarrassed by the fact that, over the weeks of war, it repeatedly assured the USA about half a dozen times that the Israelis had now finally tarnished the American “reputation” in the Arab countries – in fact, the Lebanese government requested an American occupation force for Beirut with all-Arab approval. Always with the cleanest conscience in the world, and with the free tip for West German diplomacy to create the appearance of differences with Israel, which is desired for its Arab interests, the “critical” public has accompanied all the practical progress of the Western-Israeli cause. To the extent that the “criticized” military brutalities of Israel had an effect, the PLO pleaded for salvation by asking for permission to withdraw, the Habib Plan was implemented, Lebanon was given a Christian regime in bondage to the West, the bloodbaths committed by Lebanese militias in the Beirut Palestinian camps made people forget the Israeli bloodbaths – now the Israelis were suddenly accused of having failed as a protection force! – the tone became more hopeful at the same time the fears more demanding:

“Will peace now grow from the rubble?” “Does the PLO leadership now understand that the road to Jerusalem cannot be taken through new terror in America or Europe? Nor by through unleashing a destructive revolutionary madness in the Middle East region?” – “now,” after Israel’s constructive reason for war has ensured a new world! “Now that ... an entire country is being put to sea, the time seems ripe, indeed overripe, for such insight.” Then, yes, then “the terrible bleeding, burning and mutilating of Beirut would not have been entirely in vain”

so “Die Zeit” admits to the “overripe” “insight” that the Palestinians in particular, and the Arabs in general, no longer represent a problem for Western politics and in this respect the deaths have paid off for imperialism! In view of such clarity, “Spiegel’s” last attempt to identify a huge own goal in Israel’s perfect success –

“In truth, nothing would be more inconvenient for the Israelis than a clear recognition of their state by the PLO. The costly Lebanon campaign would have led to a result that Israel wanted to avoid: recognition of the Palestinian organization by the USA”

falls into the realm of an idiocy that is no longer even effective: silliness. West Germany’s media people are highly satisfied with Israel’s bloody successes – and with how wonderfully morally they have pulled off their satisfaction!


Even the mendacious appearance of critical distance from the methods of Israel, which would have done more harm than good to its honorable war aim, however, was something West Germany’s media did not want to take for granted without first extensively pondering the crucial question for the nation:

Are Germans allowed to criticize Israel at all?

Actually, they are not allowed to, but must be in favor of whatever Jews do:

“Above all, we know the suffering and death that Hitler brought upon the Jews in the name of Germany. This has placed a shared responsibility for Israel’s existence and security on all Germans, including those who were not yet born under National Socialism but did not want to renounce the history of their people. It is therefore with good reason that in this country, when in doubt, right is always to be found on the side of Israel.” (Frankfurter Allgemeine)

In plain words: because the old German state persecuted and murdered Jews, none of today's German people are allowed to criticize the state that defines itself as the homeland of all Jews, especially when it persecutes and murders itself. Even the younger generation who did not consent to Hitler’s murder of the Jews due to their age must “atone” by uncritically approving the West German-American-Israeli community of interests.

In this command, nationalism does a triple somersault. First, people should examine each of their own critical thoughts about any state in the world to see whether their own nationality gives them a right to even do so. Ok: what could such a right actually consist of? It almost sounds like a critique of national self-righteousness, in whose name and for whose benefit patriots normally condemn and judge other countries and their inhabitants, when the “Frankfurter Allgemeine” admonishes:

“37 years after the end of that dark chapter in German history, being reminded again and again of its enormous guilt makes a nation look for excuses, for relief: Israel’s bloody war in Lebanon seems appropriate to make up for the past.”

There is nothing stupider and nothing more common than measuring everything that has happened by the standard of one’s own nation's self-righteousness in one’s own critical judgment; that, however, is precisely what the “Frankfurter” does not want to have said here. Exactly the other way around: it can only imagine critical thoughts as the intellectual version of an acquired national legal claim against another state and its people; and that the Germans are not entitled to such a claim against Israel: that is what it wants to have pointed out. Why not against Israel? Here – secondly – the racism of a patriotic attitude proves itself in reverse: while usually the nationally conscious assessment of the world and its civic inventory makes the subjects liable for the deeds of their government, here the state authorities are supposed to receive an extra moral bonus from the special moral status of their imagined subjects, namely the Jewish victims of the “Third Reich”; as if the Nazi pogroms against the Jews had established in the field of moral judgment a continuing legal claim against all Germans by the Zionist state, which declares all living and dead Jews, without being asked, its at least ideal citizens. And – thirdly – why, of all things, against today’s West Germans who no longer belong to the old Nazi Reich and whose new authorities have been cultivating an agreement with the Jewish state for three decades which has always righteously upheld Israeli needs for German marks and German weapons? By virtue of the “continuity of history,” one is supposed to confess to being a repentant former fascist, even if one was not; the idiocy of deriving one’s own identity from the ongoing collective subservience that one is subsumed under as a member of the nation and that one must affirm as a patriot: that is only half the answer here. It is no coincidence that the diagnosis of historical guilt, which must be repaid through uncritical support, only applies to the state of Israel, a member of the democratic “family of nations,” as a member of which the FRG has once again become an imperialist subject. Gypsies have neither a state nor the imperialist mandate to create one. Communists do not have to attribute their persecution by Hitler to an innocent racial characteristic, but to an attitude that the new state does not like either. The Soviet Union, whose people were decimated by more than 20 million as a result of Greater Germany’s war, has no claim whatsoever to feelings of guilt on the part of West Germany: here, the forbidden balancing of accounts has long since been decided in favor of its own side because, after all, the Russians have divided the highest good, the German nation – a different “continuity of history” applies to them, which the new German frontline state has transferred from the traditions of its legal predecessor to NATO.

So it is therefore nothing but the pro-Israeli imperialist interest of the FRG that requires the official nationalism, nurtured by the nation’s journalists, to clothe its new and old claims in the form of patriotic shame, especially with regard to the Jewish state, and to perceive this as an obligation. And that is precisely why it is clear that all that is needed is a further development of these interests, an interest in a diplomatically exploitable semblance of opposition between West German and Israeli interests, in order to suggest the following highly moral transition to the nation’s gnawing conscience:

“History does not impose any bonds to Israel on the Germans... It does not demand blind loyalty, but loyalty to principle. Above all, it obligates them. To call injustice injustice, whoever commits it.” (Die Zeit)

A bad conscience is always the best prerequisite for producing a particularly incontestable self-righteousness through the offensive confession of guilt. This doesn’t fall under “indignation in the house of the murderer,” ("Stern") which is not appropriate when it comes to Israel, but makes the slightly changed Middle East political interest the highest moral duty again, precisely because of the old national debts of honor:

“Indirectly, the Palestinians are also Hitler’s victims, and indirectly, the Germans also have an obligation to them.” (Die Zeit)

From the panoramic view of patriotic moralism and its methodological apparatus, the various factions of the German public have thus engaged in their most heated controversies on the occasion of the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Lebanon – with a satisfactory outcome for both sides. For the party of the “critics,” all their accusations against Israel’s conduct of the war could ultimately be summed up in the regrettable statement that the Jewish state has now lost its imperialist innocence and become normal: a judgment that does not seek to expose how much brutality is considered normal in today’s civilized world of states, but is satisfied with the rejection of the particular Israeli or pro-Israeli hypocrisy that one has perhaps most eagerly cultivated oneself:

“The promised land, the country of the kibbutzim, where, according to the vision of its founders, justice, tolerance and peace should flourish, this land that was supposed to be different from all others – this land has lost its innocence” – after all, this “innocence” has survived four wars unscathed! “After 34 years of existence, it has become a state like all the others.” (Stern) “From now on, Israel must be reported on like the next best state.” (ZDF)

The Begin fan club in the West German press had no further objection to this attitude of disappointed idealism about Israel. Anything that might still remain bleak about Israel’s image was resolved by pointing out that no one was more responsible for criticizing Israel than the Jews themselves – and that their “self” criticism more than outweighed anything that might be criticized:

“For the moral judgment of what the Israeli government is doing, the Jews in Israel and all over the world who disagree are numerous and wise enough and in any case more competent than the Germans. They should rather keep in mind that anything a government in Israel may ever (!) do cannot be weighed against what once happened in the heart of Europe.” (Frankfurter Allgemeine)

“Nothing in the world can justify the killing of innocent civilians, said the son of Israeli Interior Minister Josef Burg. As long as there are such voices in Israel, the Jews do not need lecturing by outraged foreigners.” (Bild)

“Bild” knows its stuff: Killing innocent soldiers and guilty civilians is okay; the responsible authority is responsible for the distinction – provided it is an allied and not a communist one. For Israel, a good German must always accept that the political masters of all Jews know best who stands in their way and should therefore be eliminated!


On the West German left, Israel’s campaign in Lebanon triggered a rather fierce “battle of two lines.” On the one hand, all those who have made it their business to stand up against all evil and for all that is unquestionably good have felt their moral credibility challenged, and therefore, on the occasion of the Israeli army’s Lebanon campaign – after a “reasonable” period of time, when there was nothing more to be said about the victory and the official West German media had taken a well-calculated diplomatic distance from Israel – they finally came to the conclusion,

“the democratic public of the Federal Republic of Germany and especially the peace movement” – which has easily put up with this very real war for weeks without protesting: with the final “world conflagration” it really doesn't, it seems! – “cannot remain silent about the events (!) in Lebanon and the catastrophe (!) in Beirut” – why not? – “it does not want to lose credibility”! (from the united left call for a nationwide demonstration in Frankfurt, published in the ‘Tageszeitung’ a full eight weeks after the Israeli attack!)

For this noble purpose of saving its own moral self-image, the old, traditional, false leftist anti-imperialism was once again dredged up in favor of the PLO and its ideals of a national state program, which is present in every major violent action on the globe in which imperialist powers are involved, immediately discovered a violated right among the victims and thus a moral victory, and conversely a violation of rights and a moral defeat of the superior force, and thereby felt equally entitled to indignation and hope.

“Even with the current attempt to crush the PLO, the Zionists will not succeed in crushing the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people for their homeland and self-determination”

states the call for a demonstration, which ironically took place on the very day the Palestinian fighters began being removed from Beirut and dispersed to various Arab countries. Of all things, the resistance that Western democratic world domination with its sovereign national subdivisions repeatedly imposes on the victims it creates, beyond all prospects of success, is interpreted as a glorious people’s action that would also have “the future” on its side with all the moral titles of today’s global hypocrisy. The nationalist ideals of democratic world rule are the inspiration for the moral plus points; “people,” “homeland” and “self-determination” are the idyllic epitomes of the modern lie that the people in general and the victims of imperialist interests in particular would be infallibly well off – at least “in principle”! – as soon as they themselves and their places of residence are subject to an autochthonous authority that constantly refers to them as its basis – as if a state that is in any way their own is no longer a state! The world-historical perspective of victory, which transforms even the bitterest defeats of a militant organization into the beginning of an inexorably dawning success, is based on the idealistic fiction that the production of victims who fight back would be an internal contradiction of imperialism which will cause it to inevitably fail – as if the united Western world powers could never ever cope with the exotic human material on whom their power is not based and who therefore have no other means of struggle than the few weapons that a third power, which is interested in completely different results, puts in its hands. This idealistic anti-imperialism was once again so enthusiastic about its imagined moral certainty of victory on the occasion of the due “solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people” that it described the PLO’s defensive strategies and its arrangement with the sovereign Arab potentates as a “revolution” that was about to encompass the entire region, in a rhetorical reminder of earlier ideals:

“This campaign of destruction is being tacitly tolerated by various Arab regimes, which hope to prevent the spark of the Palestinian revolution from spreading to their countries” (Call for Demonstrations) – there is nothing more to the whole assessment of the situation than the image of the “spark that is spreading”!

At the same time, these anti-imperialist lovers of revolution proved themselves to be such good democratic subjects that they wanted to make their own government the custodian of the “Palestinian revolutionary spark” and stick to their slogan

“Recognition of the PLO by the Federal Government!”

not even noticing the admission, which they were also making, of whose “recognition” is important in today’s well-ordered world of states!

This anti-imperialist idealization of the PLO was contradicted within its own ranks, especially by self-professed Jews who found in the anti-fascist rhetoric of left-wing critics of Israel plenty of reasons to doubt the genuine motives of the critics, in keeping with the pattern of official West German philo-Semitism. Left-wing anti-imperialism, which had been warmed up merely for the sake of credibility, suddenly came under the suspicion that, by insulting Israel, it was not really about Israel’s war-waging exploits, but rather in favor of a clean German conscience, as a national self-excuse, of wanting to deny any difference between the Nazis’ acts of extermination and the Jewish state’s latest campaign. And the left-wingers in question were happy to seize on this suspicion. There was no one there who would have insisted that, after all, it was not him with his criticism, but the Israeli government with its war that had declared the offensive assertion of its power to be a matter that an entire nation sees an obstacle and refuses to spare. And the insinuation was not rejected either, but was found quite interesting, that somehow one’s own criticism might be nothing but an expression of national self-righteousness. The “pro-Jewish” faction didn’t want to attack the patriotic idiocy that criticism in our West German democracy is considered to be a question of the moral right to make it, a matter of national conscience. On the contrary: they were aiming for a relativized national self-righteousness as the standpoint and content of every critical “German” judgement on Israel’s butchery; and in this they certainly met with the interest of the West German left in fitting into the tradition – no, no longer of the German opposition, but of the German nation:

“If the German past” – which one? no question! – “in the (!) German (!) soul (!!) is not dealt with, then every conflict that takes place there will revive the past (!)” (D. Diner in “Workers’ Struggle”).

The confession to judging as a German and as such not being authorized to judge any political brutality, especially not that of the Zionist state, without first having accepted the extermination policy of National Socialist Germany as one’s own history and having ruefully “come to terms” with its abysmal reprehensibility: this was demanded and provided as an indispensable moral seal of approval for any commentary on the Middle Eastern war that was even worth listening to. There was agreement on the recognition of national “identity” as an indispensable prerequisite for any even theoretical intervention in the course of the world – because only then would a historically informed position be taken in and towards it! Thus, of all things, the inner-left debate on Israel once again brought about progress in the reactionary turn of the West German left, which has never criticized national history and its “national question,” but now no longer wants to despise it either, but has discovered and come to love it as a wide field of self-problematization.

As far as the “Palestinian problem” is concerned, the left came together in the ideal of a state that offers a “homeland” to Jews and Arabs alike and creates political unity between them with the help of all the ideals of “international understanding.” One hardly dares to ask to what extent the people between the Mediterranean and the Jordan are supposed to be doing well if Arafat were to become Begin’s Genscher [German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs and Vice Chancellor of Germany from 1974 to 1992 – trans.]. In any case, the “international understanding” that is supposed to be achieved in this way is a very silly ideal. People are first supposed to see themselves as “peoples,” i.e. diligently take their enforced obedience, the hardships imposed on them, etc., seriously as a collective characteristic worthy of appreciation, even in their private lives, to consider themselves a different kind of person from their neighbors and to truly make this idiocy a reality in their everyday lives and on every holiday – and on this basis they are supposed to come across their brethren of foreign nations yet again without reservations? No wonder this imaginary idyll fits the trenches like the Red Cross and the military priest!