Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism in West Germany in the 1970s: Lessons for Today

  • 0


Der Spiegel Magazine, February 1965.

In this provocative analysis of discourse about Israel in West Germany in the 1970s, Martin Jander claims that far-Left and far-Right groups were encouraged, and in some cases even organised by the radical Arab nationalists in their midst, to spread an ideology of radical anti-Zionism that included elements of antisemitism. The Federal Republic of Germany failed to respond robustly, meeting a wave of incitement and political violence with intellectual incuriosityan appeasing spirit, and rationalist naivete. Jander argues that what made this anti-Zionist discourse possible, along with the participation of German left-wing and right-wing terrorists in the war against Israel, was the superficiality of postwar Germany’s confrontation with its National Socialist past. In contrast to the way this is often explained in current German historical writing, Jander argues that the encounter with the Nazi past had not struck roots as deep or as broad as had been hoped.

In the 1970s, a new breed of West German terrorists fabricated a parallel world out of ideology. The US was portrayed as the greatest enemy of the world with assistance from two main helpers, Germany and Israel. All three were depicted as fighting against the revolutionaries and those nations struggling for freedom. German fascism and Zionism appeared as the same thing. The terrorists that hijacked the Lufthansa airplane ‘Landshut’ on 13 October 1977, dominated by that ideology, informed the world that:

This operation aims at liberating our comrades from the jails of the imperialist-reactionary-Zionist alliance … revolutionary and freedom fighters all over the world are confronted with the monster of global imperialism – this barbaric war under the hegemony of the US against the nations of the world. In this war imperialist sub-centres like Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany fulfill the executive function of the suppression and liquidation of each and any revolutionary movement in and on their specific territories. In our occupied land the Imperialist-Zionist-reactionary enemy demonstrates the highest level of its bloody hostility and aggressiveness against our people and our revolution, against all the Arab masses and their patriotic and progressive forces. The expansionist and racist nature of Israel is – with Menachem Begin at the head of this product of imperialist interests – clearer than ever before. West Germany was set up on the same imperialistic foundation in 1945 as a US base.[1]

The statement mixed nationalism with anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. And while the terrorists rejected the idea that they were anti-Semites they aimed to destroy Israel.[2]


For Israelis, the Communist German state, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was a known quantity. It had pursued a hostile policy against Israel since the anti-Jewish purges in Eastern Europe of the early 1950s and had been fighting an undeclared war against Israel since the Six Day War of 1967. [3]When the GDR opened an office for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in East Berlin in 1973 it was not unexpected. But a series of developments in West Germany – Chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt, both members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), started to follow a policy in the Middle East they described as ‘neutral’ and began to have good relations with Yasser Arafat while sections of West German society, including terrorists on both the left and right, joined the PLO’s battle to destroy Israel – were very unexpected.

In the 1950s, the West German SPD had pushed for good relations between the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and Israel. Without the SPD, the German Parliament would not have passed the 1953 ‘Luxembourg Treaty,’ the first agreement between Israel and Germany after the Shoah. Yet during the 1973 Yom Kippur war the FRG under Willy Brandt did not allow American armed forces to use their military bases in the country to supply Israel with weapons. Israeli ships were forbidden to come to the harbor of Bremerhaven to collect weapons from American Naval ships. While the FRG government saw its refusal as a policy of ‘neutrality,’ most Israelis viewed this as support for adversaries committed to its destruction.

There was a failure in West Germany to understand and combat the real threat that German and Palestinian terrorists posed to Israel and the West in the 1970s. More: it did not grasp the role played by the Arab states in fostering this war. In the 1950s and 1960s, those Arab countries seeking a second war against Israel opposed the Federal Republic’s support for Israel, and began using threats to initiate diplomatic relations with the GDR, and the mobilisation of pressure within West Germany, to force the federal government to distance itself from Israel.

For example, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser invited Walter Ulbricht to Egypt in 1964 and subsequently gave the weekly news magazine Spiegel an interview that was published in February 1965 under the telling headline ‘You can’t let yourselves be blackmailed forever’.[4] Nasser said that he had read ‘that the former federal chancellor, Adenauer,’ had ‘agreed to the weapons given to Israel under pressure from a foreign power’. He, Nasser, ‘could not understand this dependence’. In any event, he would ‘welcome it if a nation as great as the German [nation]’ were to play ‘its own, independent role in the world’ and not be a ‘tool in the hands of foreign powers, e.g. the Americans and the Israelis’.

Nasser had also granted an interview to Gerhard Frey, editor of the right-wing radical newspaper Deutsche National und Soldaten-Zeitung, in which he declared that the number of six million murdered Jews was a ‘lie’.[5] During the interview Frey abetted Nasser’s revisionist questioning by remarking that, while nobody disputed the ‘fact that Jews were murdered … most Germans’ had ‘long since recognised’ that somebody was ‘playing fast and loose with numbers here’.

By speaking in different registers to different audiences, Nasser was appealing to more than one current of political hostility toward good German-Israeli relations in the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany. His remarks echoed the ‘leftist’ critique of alleged restrictions placed on German sovereignty by the US and Israel, while simultaneously leaving room for the ‘right-wing’ notion that Germans were being morally blackmailed, mobilising anti-Semitic sentiments in his Holocaust trivialisation.

These words from Nasser (and other Arab leaders) were intended to nurture and fortify attitudes that already existed in Germany. For example, when West Germany debated the ‘Luxembourg Accord,’ radical right-wing and radical leftist politicians voiced their objections to it. The one member of the parliament representing the right-wing radical Sozialistische Reichspartei voted against the ‘Luxemburg Accord’ saying that the number of Jews murdered in Europe was merely one million people. He went on to argue there should be no negotiations with Israel, which had expelled the Arabs from their land.[6] The Communist caucus in the Bundestag, which was controlled from the GDR, refused to vote for the accord in 1953. Its Communist Parliament members argued that the treaty had nothing to do with reparations and the only beneficiaries were Israeli industrialists and American high finance.[7]

In short, most Germans failed to understand that Palestinian terrorists, supported by Arab regimes and the Soviet Union, were taking their war for the destruction of Israel global. President Nasser, Yasser Arafat, Abu Iyad and Wadi Haddad – leaders of the PLO, Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – tried to mobilise any support they could find that would oppose friendly German-Israeli relations. They also provided training bases, weapons, false identities, safe houses, and much more. All in all, the Palestinian leaders raised an army of irregular fighters. And nor did the PLO conceal its aims. The memoir of the former right-wing activist Willi Voss (today a writer of detective fiction) recounts a 1972 encounter with Abu Iyad, head of security services for the PLO and one of the major organisers of Palestinian terror in Western Europe. Abu Iyad set out what he hoped to gain by cooperating with supporters from the Federal Republic, explaining that the staying power of Israelis was based on their ‘morale,’ which he believed was kept high by the guarantees provided by Western countries, especially the US and the Federal Republic of Germany. According to Abu Iyad, if one could succeed in changing public opinion in the Western world, then the overthrow of Zionism would just be a matter of time.[8]


It was not difficult for the PLO and its networks to find partners on the hard Right – that part of the German political spectrum that came out of the former Nazi movement. In spite of the ban on the NSDAP (the Nazi party) by the Allies and the prohibition of the Sozialistische Reichspartei at the beginning of the 1950s, National Socialist networks and aid organisations for the party’s former cadres had not disappeared entirely from the Federal Republic. Terrorist activities and networks had long hibernated inside the milieu of these dormant National Socialist structures, though we still lack a really detailed description of their development.[9] At the beginning of the 1970s right-wing terrorist structures also emerged from the milieu of the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD). One of the better-known such organisations was the martial arts and paramilitary group Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann.[10]

The alliance between Palestinian terrorists and West German leftists developed rapidly after the Six Day War of 1967.[11] Many of the Socialist German Students Union (SDS) members started to use the same arguments against Israel as the East German Communists. Israel and its policy were now equated with German National Socialism and its crimes. Many of the organisers of armed struggle against Israel and cooperation with PLO came out of the SDS. Structures like the Red Army Faction (RAF), the Revolutionary Cells, and the June 2 Movement emerged that cooperated with armed Palestinian formations.[12]

In addition to these two large political camps of left and right in the Federal Republic, there was a third force. Fatah had placed its own members in both parts of Germany since the end of the 1960s and these representatives played an important role in the organisation of political terror.[13] This was publicly noticed for the first time in the summer of 1969 when Israel’s ambassador, Asher Ben Natan, began a tour in the Federal Republic holding lectures in Frankfurt, Hamburg, West Berlin, Nuremberg, Cologne, and Munich but was often met by students chanting slogans like ‘Zionism is fascism’. At some of these events members of SDS and Arab groups tried to assert themselves with physical violence. An important role was already being assumed here by the PLO representative in the Federal Republic, Abdallah Frangi. In his memoirs he describes military training he received although he denies any participation in terrorist activities in the Federal Republic of Germany.[14] With the expulsion of different Fatah representatives in the wake of the 1972 attack on the Israeli Olympic team in Munich, these structures were restricted in their ability to act. But since the GDR took in those who were expelled, and Franghi was able to be active in the Federal Republic again after 1974, these Palestinian structures were still more influential than previous research has indicated.

To summarise the situation: 1) West German foreign policy distanced itself from Israel; 2) East German policy attacked Israel and supported its enemies; 3) Leftists from West Germany opposed friendly German-Israeli relations and some joined terrorist groups that participated in the war against Israel; 4) Major sections of the liberal press harshly criticised Israel while showing great empathy with the Palestinians or even legitimised their armed struggle as ‘resistance’; 5) Neo-Nazis from West Germany followed the anti-Semitic and racist ideas of old; 6) Arab students living in both German states who were members of Fatah or other militant groups joined the war against Israel; 7) GDR was fighting an undeclared war with Israel since 1967; 8) All four parts of the anti-Israel network in Germany demonised Israel and Israelis by equating Israeli policy with that of Nazi Germany, the comparison delegitimising Israel as a prelude to its destruction.[15]

This multi-pronged threat was rarely seen plain within West Germany at the time. A Foreign Office document written by an assistant secretary on 14 September 1976 stated that: [16]

The Federal Republic … is especially affected by terrorism both in terms of foreign and domestic policy. In quantitative terms, Germans are over-proportionally represented as perpetrators in international terrorism, and they distinguish themselves by special dangerousness. This fact arouses historical associations. It touches on barely healed wounds and thereby disturbs our policy of reconciliation.

This Foreign Office staffer continued: the participation of German terrorists brings the Federal Republic ‘with respect to the consequences (e.g. extradition attempts) into acute conflicts of interest with third parties, e.g. with friendly governments and peoples’ and these conflicts were ‘often additionally aggravated by the way they are reciprocally played up in the mass media, indeed, driven to the point where even government measures are escalated’. In other words, this status report saw the problem of German left- and right-wing terrorism, and its cooperation with the Palestinian war against Israel, as a matter of damage inflicted on the good reputation of the Federal Republic. The real victims of this terror, as well as Israeli and Arab civilians interested in a negotiated peace, American soldiers and government officials – do not show up in this analysis.


In place of intellectual and moral clarity, an anti-Zionist discourse began to take hold in the Federal Republic that turned reality on its head, discrediting Israel as fascistic and glorifying the terrorists as upright resistance fighters against colonial oppression and imperial domination. What made this anti-Zionist discourse and the participation of German left- and right-wing terrorists in the war against Israel possible was the superficiality of postwar Germany’s confrontation with its National Socialist past. In contrast to the way this is explained in current German history writing, that encounter with the Nazi past had not struck root as deeply or as broadly as had been hoped.

Anti-Semitism and racism, even if in a somewhat transmuted form, had real influence in Germany during the 1970s. Today, while left-wing terrorism may no longer exist, an anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist discourse is still supported in parts of society. And what has emerged even stronger than in the 1970s is a broadly supported right-wing populism and right-wing terrorist offshoots. There have been more than 1800 assaults on refugees and their accommodations in 2016 alone, while the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) gained up to 24 per cent in some federal states.

And today, how widespread and dangerous are the terrorist structures linked to political Islam? The question is controversial, as is the question of their influence among immigrants and refugees from Arab countries who have either recently arrived in the Federal Republic or are already long-standing German residents. These are matters of controversy not least because some of the warnings issued against the dangers of Islamism and terrorist networks drawing on political Islam have themselves become part of racist propaganda against Muslims in Europe. Nonetheless, the attacks in Paris, Brussels, Würzburg, Nice, Berlin, Manchester, and London, as well as the attacks in Israel, demonstrate the serious threat to the entire democratic world that is posed by Islamist terror. As in the 1970s, today ISIS, the state of Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas leave no doubt that their goal is the destruction of Israel and the democracies of the West. The federal government should learn from, and not repeat the mistakes of the 1970s: intellectual incuriosity, an appeasing spirit, and a rationalist naiveté that combined to ensure a failure to grasp the nature of the threat.


This article was translated from German into English by Jeremiah Michael Riemer and edited by the staff of Fathom. It is a condensed version of a lecture with the title ‘Open Secrets’ that was presented to the Conference ‘From Entebbe to Mogadishu: Terrorism in the 1970s and its History, Memory and Legacy.’ (January 16-17, 2017, Jerusalem, Hebrew University). I wish to thank four people, without whom I had not been able to understand what I know about this subject today. The first is Martin Kloke, author of the superb book Israel und die deutsche Linke (1990). In this work Kloke analysed the West German radical left’s turn toward anti-Zionism. The second author I wish to thank is my colleague Wolfgang Kraushaar, who invited me to participate in his research project on Die RAF und der internationale Terrorismus. The project will result in a publication of day-to-day stories chronicling the history of German left wing terrorism after 1945. My third acknowledgement is to Inge Deutschkron, longtime reporter for the Israeli daily Maariv. Her pathbreaking book Israel und die Deutschen, first published in 1970, was revised two times, in 1983 and 1991. It is one of the best analyses I know dealing with German-Israeli relations. Last but not least, I learned most of what I know on this subject from several books by Professor Jeffrey Herf, to whom I owe an enormous debt of gratitude. Without these people I would not have been able to understand this article’s subject, the history of collaboration between German and Palestinian terrorists.

[1] Quoted in ‘Kommuniqué Kofr Kaddum,’ Frankfurter Rundschau, 15 October 1977. The original document is in lowercase.

[2] On the different motifs employed by the internationally networked terrorists of the 1970s and after, see what is still the pathbreaking work of Walter Laqueur, Krieg dem Westen (Berlin: Ullstein Verlag, 2004).

[3] See Inge Deutschkron, Israel und die Deutschen, 3rd revised ed. (Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, 1991).

[4] Quoted in ‘ Sie können sich doch nicht ewig erpressen lassen,’ Der Spiegel, 24 February 1965, p. 36.

[5] Quoted in Gerhard Frey, ‘ Krieg mit Israel unvermeidbar,’ Deutsche National-Zeitung und Soldaten-Zeitung, 1 May 1964, 3, reproduced in Gilbert Achcar, Die Araber und der Holocaust (Hamburg: Nautilus, 2012), p. 207.

[6] See Deutschkron, Israel und die Deutschen, p. 64.

[7] See Deutschkron, Israel und die Deutschen, p. 64.

[8] Quoted in E. W. Pless (pseudonym for Willi Pohl or Willi Voss) Geblendet: Aus den authentischen Papieren eines Terroristen (Zurich: Schweizer Verlagshaus, 1979), pp. 48-50. In the summer of 1972 Voss was noticed by the German police because he had contacted the Palestinian terrorist Abu Daud, who later acted as the mastermind of the attack on Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympic summer games in 1972. Six weeks after the assassinations in Munich, Voss and an accomplice were arrested in the house of a former Waffen-SS man. In their luggage were military weapons and explosives from PLO supplies, as well as sketches for terrorist attacks and kidnappings in Cologne and Vienna. In 1974 Voss was sentenced to 26 months in jail for violating the law on controlling weapons of war; in December he received a suspended sentence and left for Beirut. A few months later Abu Iyad, head of the PLO intelligence service, and Abu Daud asked their German accomplice to join his then girlfriend in transporting an automobile to Belgrade. What Voss did not know: weapons and explosives with fully assembled mercury igniters had been shrink-wrapped in a cargo hole. When Rumanian border patrols found the smuggled goods during a control, Voss realized that the Palestinians were ready to sacrifice him should the need arise. Outraged at this betrayal, he offered his services to the US embassy in Belgrade. His new employer, the CIA, saw to it that the legal proceedings against him in Germany were stopped. At the end of the 1970s Voss returned to the Federal Republic and has been working since then as a writer of mystery novels and teleplays, including for the TV series ‘Tatort’ and ‘Großstadtrevier.’ (See ‘ Ein Mann, drei Leben,’ Der Spiegel, 31 Dec. 2012, vol. 67, no.1:34 ff.)

[9] On this, see Daniel Koehler, Right-Wing Terrorism in the 21st Century: The ‘National Socialist Underground’ and the History of Terror from the Far-Right in Germany (Routledge 2017) and Bernhard Rabert, Links- und Rechts-Terrorismus in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland von 1970 bis heute (Bonn: Bernard & Graefe Verlag, 1995).

[10] Different activists from these groups have since made their terrorist activities a matter of public record See the biography of Odfried Hepp: Jury Winterberg and Jan Peter, Odfried Hepp: Neonazi, Terrorist, Aussteiger (Munich, Lübbe Verlag, 2004).

[11] One obstacle was the extensive history of good relations between members of the SPD and Jews. Many Jews had been members of the party before Hitler came to power. That affinity was an important reason explaining why, after the Shoah, the SPD could be counted as one of the most important groups in German society helping to set up good relations with Israel. For many years, this Israel-friendly attitude had also been the policy of the party’s student organization, the SDS (Socialist Union of the German Students). Israel was seen as a socialist dreamland. In the eyes of many young socialists, the kibbutz movement was a model for a socialist state On this, see Martin Kloke, Israel und die deutsche Linke (Frankfurt: HAAG und HERCHEN Verlag, 1990, 2nd ed. 1994).

[12] See Anton Maegerle and Heribert Schiedel, ‘ Krude Allianz: Das arabisch-islamistische Bündnis mit deutschen und österreichischen Rechtsextremisten’ (Vienna: manuscript, 2001, – accessed on 2 December 2016). See also Samuel Salzborn, ‘ Die Stasi und der westdeutsche Rechtsterrorismus. Drei Fallstudien (Teil I),’ Deutschland Archiv, 15 April 2016 (Link:; id., ‘ Die Stasi und der westdeutsche Rechtsterrorismus. Drei Fallstudien (Teil II),’ Deutschland Archiv, 19 April 2016 (Link:

[13] See Wolfgang Kraushaar, ‘ Wann endlich beginnt bei Euch der Kampf gegen die heilige Kuh Israel?’ (Reinbek: Rowohlt Verlag, 2013).

[14] See Abdallah Franghi, Der Gesandte: Mein Leben für Palästina (Munich: Heyne Verlag, 2011), 104 ff.

[15] Interesting in this regard is one of the organizers of terror in Europe, Abu Iyad. In his memoirs – Abu Ijad, Heimat oder Tod (Düsseldorf and Vienna: Econ Verlag, 1979) – he explicitly says that the Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin El-Husseini, had been a model for the Fatah. The Mufti could be credited with ‘ uniting Christians and Muslims in the joint struggle against the common enemy, imperialism’ (Ijad, 55). Abu Iyad leaves unmentioned that the Mufti of Jerusalem cooperated with Hitler in this struggle and that he was not only leading a war against ‘ imperialism’ but also wished to drive the Jews out of Palestine. On the connection between National Socialism and anti-Zionism, and on the role of Amin El-Husseini, see Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (London: Yale University Press, 2009).

[16] See ‘Aufzeichnung Ministerialdirigent Pfeffer, 14. September 1976, 201-530.36-2893/76 VS-vertraulich’ [‘Confidential note from Undersecretary Pfeffer, 14 September 1976’ ], in Institut für Zeitgeschichte (ed.), Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1976, vol. II:1 July-31 December 1976, doc. 285 (Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 2007), 1316-1319.

Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism in West Germany in the 1970s: Lessons for Today

  • 0
Skip to toolbar