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Germany, Iran, and Israel

This is part one of Matthias Küntzel’s article “Confronting Anti-Semitism — But How?” which appears in Telos 136 (Fall 2006). Parts two and three will appear on Friday and Saturday. Click here to purchase the full issue. The German version is available on Matthias Küntzel’s website,

During my preparations for this lecture, I realized that the German Coordinating Group had already sponsored a lecture with the title “On the struggle against Anti-Semitism today” in 1962. [1] At that time they invited a more prominent speaker—a person whom I esteem and admire, Theodor W. Adorno. Adorno’s suggestions for combating anti-Semitism remain relevant today, a point to which I will return later. Anti-Semitism itself, however, which at that time Adorno attributed to an “excessive nationalism,” has changed its form of appearance. First of all, hostility against Jews today is directed less against the Jewish minority in Europe and more toward the Jews in Israel and the United States. Second, we find the most radical propagandists for eliminatory anti-Semitism today not in Europe but in the Islamic World.

Ahmadinejad’s Final Solution

Recently, the newly elected president of Iran, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, declared that his country wanted to “eliminate” Israel through force of arms. Since the wording of his speech was hardly noticed by the German media, I would like to quote a few of its key sentences.

The speaker marks the obliteration of Israel as a stage in a war that began long before the founding of Israel. Ahmadinejad said, “We are in the process of an historical war that has been going on for hundreds of years.” He continues, “The current war in Palestine is the forward front of the Islamic world against the world of arrogance.”Apparently the Jews are only the first targets, since the characterization of the enemy as the “world of arrogance” undoubtedly means the whole of the West. Furthermore he states that he has “no doubt that the new wave that has begun in our dear Palestine and which today we are witnessing in the Islamic world is a wave of morality that has spread all over the Islamic world. Very soon, Israel, this stain of disgrace, will be purged from the center of the Islamic world—and this is attainable.” The Iranian president places under the term “wave of morality” the repression of sensuality and sexuality, as is prevalent in his country, whereas Israel is regarded as a “blemish” because there, for example, homosexuality is not only not punishable by death, but is allowed.

Ahmadinejad threatens leaders of other Islamic states as well: “If someone is under the pressure of hegemonic power [i.e., the West] and understands that something is wrong, or he is naïve, or he is an egotist and his hedonism leads him to recognize the Zionist regime—he should know that he will burn in the fire of the Islamic Ummah [nation].” These words were put into practice with the massacre in the hotels of Amman at the beginning of this month. Fifty-seven civilians burned in the explosions because Jordan had recognized Israel and because it protected “the Jews,” according to explanations from the President. And finally: “We have to recognize the contemptibility of our enemy, so that our holy hatred will expand continuously and spread like a wave.” [2]

This “holy hate” is unconditional—a hate that will not be attenuated, regardless of any change in the behavior of the Jews. Ahmadinejad does not want improved quality of life for the Palestinians and does not encourage any other political behavior from Israel. It is the death of the Jews in this state that he wants. But his speech also confronts the non-Jews among us with its unusual content: that there are people who take us to be their enemies and who want to defeat or kill us with their “holy hate.”

At the same time, Ahmadinejad announced a program that unites Islamist groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and al-Qaeda with the Iranian government. These organizations are marked by anti-Semitism and propagate and distribute books that were published seventy years ago by the Nazis, books that I could have easily bought three weeks ago from an Iranian exhibitor at the Frankfurt Book Fair. One example is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, published by the Islamic Propagation Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran. [3] The very first pages of the English tract make clear that this new edition sets its sights on Israel. We see a snake composed of many overlapping triangles, which surround an area called “Greater Israel”: large parts of Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, parts of Turkey, as well as the north of Saudi Arabia. Every single triangle, so it says in the commentary, symbolizes the “Freemason’s Eye,” evidently as a “symbol of Jewry.”

Or the second most important classic of modern anti-Semitism: Henry Ford’s inflammatory text, The International Jew, in a 200-page abridged edition, published by the Iranian “Department of Translation and Publication, Islamic Culture and Relations Organization.” A third anti-Semitic book came to my attention at the book fair due to its glaring cover: a red Star of David over a grey skull and a yellow world map. It was entitled Tale of the “Chosen People” and the Legend of “Historical Right” and was written by Mohammad Taqi Taqipour. Again, the publisher is the “Islamic Republic of Iran.”

According to Norman Cohn, the Protocols were the “authorization for genocide” for the Nazis. Today they are presented as evidence in Hamas’s program; the Jews are presented as the manipulators of the Russian and French revolutions and as the instigators of the First and Second World Wars. In short, they are explicitly presented as the incarnation of evil.

The path from word to murder is short: whoever believes the Protocols celebrates the suicide attacks in an overcrowded bus in Jerusalem as an act of liberation. Whoever follows this text must want to eliminate Israel as the “center of world evil” in order to save the world. In 2002, the former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani bragged that even “a single atomic bomb inside of Israel [would] destroy everything,” while the destruction of the potential nuclear counterstrike would be limited for the Islamic world. “It is not irrational to consider such a possibility.” [4]

“Israel” in the Context of a Secondary Anti-Semitism

In Europe today there is no evidence for large-scale eliminatory anti-Semitism. We are, however, dealing with a strongly anchored anti-Semitic anti-Zionism and anti-Israeli sentiment, which a large segment of the European Left supports. Naturally, critique of Israeli politics, which one hears daily in Israel itself, should not be abandoned—its articulation, quite the contrary, is the foundation of Israeli democracy. Anti-Semitic critique of Israel can be distinguished from legitimate critique in that it either demonizes Israel or de-legitimizes it, or else applies a double standard. The “3-D test,” conceived by Natan Sharansky, is outlined by the following concepts:

Demonization: Israel is compared, for example, with Nazi-Germany.

Delegitimation: Israel’s existence is called into question, for example, through the disavowal of its right to self-defense.

Double Standards: The politics of the Israeli government are judged according to entirely different standards than the politics of all other governments of the world. [5]

Just how extensively anti-Israeli criticism is marked by anti-Semitism was shown by the results of a survey that was published this year by the Bielefeld opinion poll group around Wilhelm Heitmeyer. According to this survey, thirty-two percent of German citizens agreed with the statement “Due to Israeli politics, the Jews are becoming more dislikable to me.” Forty-four percent of the respondents could “well understand that one could have something against the Jews due to Israeli policies.”

This attitude is closely bound to an aversion against the Jews precisely because of Auschwitz, a so-called “secondary anti-Semitism.” In this context the Bielefeld researchers came to alarming results. The statement “I resent the fact that the Germans even today are still charged with crimes against the Jews” received sixty-eight percent agreement. Sixty-two percent declared, “I am tired of always hearing about German crimes against the Jews.” This secondary anti-Semitism is superimposed with anti-Israel sentiment whenever Germans, of all people, compare Israeli policies with Nazi policies. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed agreed that “Israel is engaged in a war of extermination against the Palestinians.” Fifty-one percent, more than half of the German citizenry, believed that “what the state of Israel is doing to the Palestinians is in principle no different from what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Third Reich.” [6]

The Bielefeld researchers characterize the psychological process as “detour-communication” (Umwegkommunication). Since open anti-Semitism is discredited due to Hitler, one observes a kind of detour, in order to be able nonetheless to get back at the Jews. This detour carries over to Israel and is intimately connected with the demand for “exoneration from Auschwitz.” The consent to anti-Israeli sentiments changes the environment of personal communication. In this way, the conflict in the Near East has not exactly enhanced the private willingness to take a stand against anti-Semitic utterances and to “show face.” Whoever wants to confront anti-Semitism and the animosity against Israel will have to “make his face like a stone, in order to be able to withstand resistance.” For that reason, the option of silence is preferred more often than the option of voice. With silence, however, the “spiral of silence” takes its course; whoever feels in the minority grows even more silent, while the adherents of what is taken to be the majority proclaim their viewpoint more vehemently. This dynamic plays indirectly into the genocidal plans of Ahmadinejad. It impedes solidarity and secures indifference, or even approval, for Iranian policy.

Anti-Semitism, therefore, encompasses much more than just a prejudice against Jews. “Anti-Semitism is a mass medium,” Adorno emphasized in his speech in 1962, “in the sense that it ties in with unconscious impulses, conflicts, affects, and tendencies, which it strengthens, instead of elevating them to consciousness and explaining them.” [7] Whoever feels inclined to be proud of one’s grandparents or proud of Germany will unconsciously provide cover for these tendencies by making the Jews and the commemoration of the Holocaust responsible for the threat to these feelings. And he will gladly be prepared to manipulate the conflict between wish and reality by declaring Israel to be an imitator of the Third Reich, thereby exonerating himself though the equalization of victim and perpetrator. Concerning this, the American Jewish Committee wrote in its study Task Force: Education on Anti-Semitism, published in 2005, that “in all differences, anti-Semitism in Germany can be interpreted to a certain extent only against the background of National Socialist history and the transmission of historical understanding in families and society at large.” It is precisely due to this that fighting anti-Semitism here is so difficult.

Part two will appear on Friday.

Translated by Kate McQueen.


1. This lecture was presented at a conference entitled “Showing Face,” held on November 12, 2005, in Berlin and organized by the Society for Christian-Jewish Cooperation of the German Coordinating Group. I would like to thank Ulrike Becker and Cordula Behrens-Nadaf for their encouragement and support.

2. Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Special Dispatch from October 28, 2005.

3. The “Protocols” is an anti-Semitic product of fantasy, which was published for the first time one hundred years ago by Russian right-extremists, who claimed the text to be a translation of the proceedings of a “world-band of Freemasons and the Elders of Zion.”

4. MEMRI Special Dispatch Series, no. 324, January 3, 2002.

5. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “The Twenty-first-century Total War Against Israel and the Jews: Part One,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, no. 38 (November 1, 2005), p. 7. Available online at

6. Cf. Wilhelm Heitmeyer, ed., Deutsche Zustände, vol. 3 (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 2004).

7. T. W. Adorno, “Zur Bekämpfung des Antisemitismus heute,” in Erziehung vorurteilsfreier Menschen: Erste Europäische Pädagogenkonferenz vom 30. Oktober bis 3. November 1962 in Wiesbaden (Frankfurt a. M.: Deutschen Koordinierungsrat der Gesellschaften für Christlich-Jüdische Zusammenarbeit, 1963), pp. 15ff.; reprinted in Das Argument 29, vol. 6 (1964): 88ff. All subsequent quotations from Adorno come from this text.

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