An Ideology-critical Intervention
A documentary by Dror Dayan and Susann Witt-Stahl, Germany 2020
With Moshe Zuckermann, Rolf Becker, Jackie Walker, Ali Abunimah, Moshé Machover, Judith Bernstein, Esther Bejarano et al.
On 10 February 2018, German, Israeli, British, and US academics, publicists, artists, and political activists met in Berlin for a conference titled »In the Time of Slanderers« in reference to a poem by the writer Erich Fried. In the presence of about 250 visitors, they analysed the ideological instrumentalisation of Jews, Judaism and the Jewish catastrophe for the purpose of legitimising right-wing power politics, anti-communism, historical revisionism and (anti-Muslim) racism. The conference was hosted by the Projekt Kritische Aufklärung (Project Critical Enlightenment) – an association committed to the critique of ideology that was launched by German and Israeli Marxists in the summer of 2017. »The rightward drift of the Western world manifests itself in bizarre ways. Left-wingers are vilified as ›Nazis‹, Jewish anti-fascists as ›traitors‹«, the appeal of the organisers stated. Already in the early 1980s, Erich Fried had denounced the stigmatisation of Jewish leftists as »red antisemites« by »spokesmen of the West«. What began at the time with angry polemics has today grown into an entire complex of smear campaigns and sanctions – including against Holocaust survivors and their descendants – initiated by the established parties and the Alternative for Germany (AfD), by neoconservative »anti-Germans«, by »anti-nationals« and Christian fundamentalists, and propagated by the established media. The majority of the German left are at best silent on these alarming developments, thus committing a betrayal that amounts to a capitulation to German great power aspirations, NATO’s bellicose regime change policy and murderous aggression against refugees and other migrants. What is more, it aids the promotion of irrational explanatory models of the world that postulate a »clash of civilisations« and antisemitism as well as Islamophobia. »Not least«, argues the Projekt Kritische Aufklärung, »the inflationary use of antisemitism accusations and the hollowing-out and reification of the categorical imperative ›Never again!‹ that accompany this are unmistakable signs of the liquidation of the left’s fundamental opposition and the gains of historical materialism.«
The film presents highlights and central theses of the conference. This is supplemented by interviews, extensive research material, photos and videos, including previously unpublished footage of a reading by Erich Fried from 1988.
102 minutes, German/English with subtitles
© 2020 Dror Dayan and Susann Witt-Stahl
Dror Dayan, born in Jerusalem in 1981, is filmmaker, film scholar and activist. He teaches documentary film and media production at the John Moores University in Liverpool, has directed two documentaries and several short films and is involved in Palestine solidarity campaigns and the anti-capitalist climate movement.
Susann Witt-Stahl works as a journalist, author and cultural editor in Hamburg and Berlin. She has reported from the Middle East and other crisis areas for daily newspapers and magazines. Her main areas of work are: ideological critique of neoliberalism, the rightward drift of western societies, the culture industry and regressive tendencies within the left. She has published various books and essays on these subjects.
Feat. Moshe Zuckermann, Rolf Becker, Esther Bejarano, Moshé Machover, Jackie Walker u.a.
»In the Time of the Slanderers«
An ideology-critical intervention against the instrumentalization of Jews, Judaism and the Jewish catastrophe
The trending of the right in the Western world manifests in bizarre forms. Left activists are vilified as »Nazis«, Jewish anti-fascists as »traitors«. The poet Erich Fried lamented already at the beginning of the 1980s how left Jewish activists were stigmatized as »red anti-Semites« by »spokesmen of the West«. Overshadowed by the faults of neoliberally radicalized capitalism, he described his present as »time of the slanderers«. What began then with angry polemics has grown into a complex concoction of character assassinations and sanctions, which are being initiated by established parties and the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), by neoconservative »anti-Germans«, »anti-nationals« and Christian fundamentalists and propagated by the hegemonic mainstream media.
Critical Jews are subjected to vile attacks: threats, occasionally even acts of violence, for the most part though insults and denigrations, such as »alibi-Jew« and »self-hating Jew«, which have become political normality. Not even holocaust survivors and there descendants are spared. With the grotesque anti-Semitism definition that the federal government of Germany adopted in September, almost all criticism of Israel, even of »non-Jewish Individuals and/or their property«, is branded as a manifestation of anti-Semitism. It aims at criminalizing Jewish Marxists and other critics of capitalism on the left. Recent initiatives by German mayors and their municipal authorities apparently execute a ban on free speech for left Jewish activists in the country of the perpetrators. Thereby, the process of de-democratization and restriction of freedom of opinion that is already underway in the Berlin Republic is accelerated.
How could it come this far? The radical left-wing journalist Ulrike Meinhof identified already in 1967 a change in the right’s strategy, which aimed at claiming the victims of the Jewish genocide by the perpetrators and their political heirs. The German reaction, supported by the Springer-media, would have been interested not the slightest in the »humanness of the Jews«. Instead it became as intoxicated with the unrelenting ruthlessness as with the »Blitzkriege« of the Israeli armed forces and celebrated the entry into Jerusalem as »anticipated parade through the Brandenburg Gate«, Meinhof noticed. »If the Jews would have been taken along to the Ural, instead of gassing them, the Second World War would have ended differently, the mistakes of the past had been recognized as such, the anti-Semitism was being regretted, the purification took place, the new fascism had learned from its previous mistakes, not against – with the Jews would anti-communism be victorious.«
This gloomy vision has long since passed into reality, at the very least became Israel an object of projection, and a model for identification for the right »bourgeois center«, right-wing populists and transatlantic fascists. The extreme right can run election campaigns untroubled with the slogan »AfD protects Jews from anti-Semitic migrants! We always have supported Israel!« With Netanjahu’s ultranational government driving the Jewish State and Palestine into the abyss, Meinhof’s original claim that »if Israel were a socialist country, these sympathies, no doubt, would not exist«, holds more than ever today.
Similarly drastic shifts of the political coordinates are in full swing internationally, as the chivy of unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism against Jeremy Corbyn and his (Jewish) supporters, which has escalated into a downright witch-hunt, organized by Neocons and other right-wingers, shows – executed, evidently, in order to break also the last resistance to social welfare cuts and the increasingly unscrupulous redistribution of wealth from bottom to top, as well as to undermine opposition to ongoing armaments and imperialist aggression.
That the majority of the German left, along with its media, suppresses, ignores and often even gets into position against Jewish socialists and communists proves highly irritating, especially against this background. The boom of such culture of opportunism and prostration in the face of what Merkel has defined as »German reason of state« is all the more disturbing, as it becomes increasingly clear that the »solidarity with Israel« against the Jewish Left decreed from above is an epiphenomenon of an enormous regression of the reappraisal of the German past in the service of »German normalization«.
In the 1950s, the »Reparations« Agreement, declared on the grounds of »the power of the Jews« quite anti-semitically as inevitable by the German chancellor Konrad Adenauer, was recognized by Israeli and German critics not only as urgently needed development aid for the Jewish state, but also as denazification certificate for the post- and decidedly not anti-fascist Germany and charter for the latter’s rearmament and entry into NATO. At the end of the 1990s, the disgraceful instrumentalization of the victims of the Shoah (that could only take place through an imperialist raid against Poland and the Soviet Union) as an »argument« for a new war of aggression was still scandalized by German left activists as the breaking of a taboo. Today, the discrimination of all Jews who refuse to submit to this perfidious practice – a discrimination which becomes possible only by way of an ideological compounding of Judaism, Zionism and Israel on the one hand and anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and criticism of Israeli politics of occupation on the other – is largely being let go unchallenged meanwhile.
As if all of this would not be atrocious enough: betraying the agenda of emancipation and enlightenment of all progressive forces does not just mean the degradation of dissident Jews to sacrificial pawns. Inevitably, such betrayal surrenders to Germany’s aspirations to become a great power, to NATO’s bellicistic politics of regime change and to the murderous war against refugees from Africa and Asia. On an ideological level, it advances irrational models for explaining the world from anti-Semitic models to the clash of cultures, the chauvinism of elites and the Western world, hatred of Islam as well as open anti-Muslim racism. Unmistakable signs for the dissipation of left radical opposition and the achievements of Historical Materialism are not the least the inflation in accusations of anti-Semitism and the emptying and reification of the categorical imperative »Never again!«
Founded in 2017, Project Critical Enlightenment invites to analyze and reappraise this dramatic decline of left opposition as well as discuss strategies for its reversal during a conference comprising talks and contributions in other formats by German and international scholars, artist, journalist and activists.