With its admission to the UN, East Germany joined in the Soviet-bloc propaganda campaign aimed at Israel and in its equally vigorous support for the Arab states and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Two months after East Germany's admission, Peter Florin (1921–2014), its ambassador to the UN from 1973 to 1982, wrote to Secretary General Kurt Waldheim to comment on the 25th anniversary of the UN's “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” East Germany's domestic and foreign policies, Florin stated, were “aimed at preventing that the crimes of German imperialism and fascism perpetrated against the German people and the peoples of the world before and during the Second World War will ever recur.” East Germany reaffirmed its “solidarity with peoples struggling for freedom and independence, against [the] imperialist policy of aggression and colonialism” in Vietnam, Chile and South Africa. Further “it condemns the Israeli aggression and practices defying human rights in the illegally occupied Arab territories.” Florin recalled World War II and the crimes of the Nazi regime “against the German people and the peoples of the world.” He did not mention the crimes against Europe's Jews. Florin joined the majority in the UN General Assembly that was placing the language of human rights and anti-fascism in the service of a war against Israel.
The rearmament and training of the Egyptian and Syrian armed forces by the Soviet Union and its allies made it possible for Egypt's president, Anwar Sadat, and Syria's president, Hafez al-Assad, to plan a new war that would at least regain the territories won by Israel in 1967. The extent of the Soviet-bloc rearmament effort became apparent in the first hours of the Yom Kippur War. On the afternoon of October 6, close to 100,000 Egyptian soldiers began the successful crossing of the Suez Canal. They overwhelmed Israel's Bar-Lev defense line in the Sinai Peninsula and destroyed 190 of the 300 tanks the Israelis had initially arrayed on that front. That same day, three Syrian infantry divisions supported by 600 Syrian tanks and about 80 artillery batteries attacked Israel's defenses in the Golan Heights. On October 7, two major air operations of the Israel air force failed to destroy Arab anti-aircraft positions in the north, largely because of the effectiveness of Soviet SAM-7 anti-aircraft weapons. Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Dayan feared that Israel might be destroyed.
After the expulsion from Jordan in 1970, the PLO conducted terrorist attacks on the towns and villages of northern Israel from bases in southern Lebanon. In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, Al Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DPFLP), and the Syrian-led Saika organization intensified the campaign. Two of those attacks, one on the town of Kiryat Shmona on April 11, 1974, and another on the town of Ma'alot on May 15, 1974, were particularly noteworthy for their brutality and the revulsion they aroused in Israel, Western Europe and the United States, as well as for the enthusiasm they evoked among the Palestinian terrorist organizations and their supporters in the Middle East.
At the same time that it intensified its campaign of terrorism against Israel, the PLO and its supporters continued a war of words against Israel both in the controlled press and other media of the Soviet bloc as well as in the United Nations General Assembly. While the PLO could not destroy the state of Israel by force of arms, it could consistently win political victories in the UN General Assembly in New York. Using the language of human rights, anti-racism, and desires for a “just and lasting peace” the anti-Israeli majority at the UN served as a political complement to the PLO's terrorist attacks against Israel. In each instance of terrorist attack followed by Israel counterattacks on the bases of the Palestinian armed organizations, UN members were offered contrasting facts and interpretations of events. Without fail, the Soviet-bloc–Arab-state–third-world majority in the General Assembly dismissed Israel's assertions and gave the benefit of the doubt to the PLO and its affiliated groups. East Germany contributed to this large international propaganda assault on Israel.
THE POPULAR FRONT FOR THE LIBERATION OF PALESTINE ATTACK ON KIRYAT SHMONA, APRIL 11, 1974
On April 11, 1974, Israeli ambassador Yosef Tekoah wrote to Secretary General Kurt Waldheim with details of “the barbaric atrocity committed” that day in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona. “Early this morning,” he wrote, “a group of terrorists crossed the Israel-Lebanese frontier, seized an apartment building in the townlet of Kiryat Shmona, situated in the immediate proximity of the border, massacred 18 of its inhabitants including 8 children and 5 women, and wounded 15 other persons.
On November 10, 1975 a large majority of the members of the 30th session of the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution that denounced Zionism as a form of racism. It was the most important victory to date for the PLO and its Soviet-bloc, Arab, and third-world state supporters. The vote was 72 in favor, 35 opposed, and 32 abstentions. East Germany supported the resolution; West Germany voted against it. Resolution 3379 on the “elimination of all forms of racial discrimination” was the most famous of the many defeats that Israel endured at the UN in these decades. It was also a dramatic demonstration of the interaction between force and political warfare, that is, between the PLO's terrorist campaign waged in the Middle East against Israel and the political and diplomatic offensive that it and its supporters waged at the United Nations in New York. For Israel and its supporters, the resolution meant that the United Nations had become a center of both antagonism to Israel and anti-Semitism in world politics. For the PLO, it meant expansion of political support for its campaign to destroy the state of Israel.
The roll call vote was as follows:
In favor: (72) Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Byelorussian SSR, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Chad, China, Congo, Cuba, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Dahomey, Democratic Republic of Yemen, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, German Democratic Republic, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Libyan Arab Republic, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Mongolia, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukrainian SSR, USSR, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Cameroon, United Republic of Tanzania, Yemen, Yugoslavia.
Against: (35) Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Canada, Central African Republic, Costa Rica, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Federal Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Luxembourg, Malawi, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Swaziland, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay.
Abstaining: (32) Argentina, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Burma, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritius, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Upper Volta, Venezuela, Yugoslavia, Zaire, Zambia.
I began work on this book in spring 2011 in Maryland. Yet it had its actual beginnings in the academic year of 1978–1979 when I lived in Frankfurt/Main, West Germany while doing research for my doctoral dissertation. I heard stories about two members of the Frankfurt leftist scene who had wound up in Entebbe pointing machine guns at unarmed Jews – before Israeli paratroopers arrived to free the hostages and kill the terrorists in a firefight. Why were West German radicals doing that? Why were the East German Communists, who had fought the Nazis and celebrated their anti-fascist traditions, giving aid to Israel's enemies and embracing Yasser Arafat on the front pages of their government controlled press? As I delved more deeply into the project, my interest in why these Germans acted as they did continued but gradually gave way to a historian's desire to establish that these, to my mind, unexpected events actually took place. So this became a book about both political passions as well as a multitude of details about weapons of war and terror and political warfare. It became a book about the anti-Israeli passion in Germany as well as about the resistance to it waged by the government of Israel, Jewish leaders in West Germany, by some political and public figures in West Germany and by the United States government. Historians know that facts do not speak for themselves. They must first be found, selected and interpreted. I hope the reader will agree that the following pages shed light on a subject as heated as any of modern history.
On June 27, 1976, Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann, members of the West German Revolutionary Cells (Revolutionäre Zellen or RZ, hence RC), together with comrades from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked an Air France plane with 248 passengers on board and forced the pilots at gunpoint to land the plane at the airport in Entebbe, Uganda. There the terrorists were warmly greeted by Uganda's president, Idi Amin. The hijackers separated the Israelis and Jews from the larger group of hostages. In the next two days, using passports as identifiers, they released 148 non-Israeli and non-Jewish passengers, keeping more than 100 Israelis, some non-Israeli Jews, and the non-Jewish pilot as hostages. For the government of Israel, the question of whether the hijackers were motivated by anti-Semitism or “merely” by anti-Zionism was irrelevant. As its citizens were now hostage only because they were citizens of the Jewish state, it had a responsibility to do all it could to free them. The RC and PFLP demanded the release of 53 terrorists held in prisons in France, Israel, Switzerland, Kenya, and West Germany and threatened to kill the remaining Israeli hostages unless their demands were met. The prisoners whom the PFLP/RC team sought to have released included six members of the Red Army Faction in West German, Swiss, and French prisons as well as the surviving member of the Japanese Red Army squad that had perpetrated the Lod airport massacre in Tel Aviv in 1972. That same day the office of the PFLP in Aden, Yemen, issued a communiqué claiming that it had captured the French aircraft “to declare to the world that the French state is a historical enemy of our Arab nation” and to denounce French assistance to Israel. The PFLP's goals were “the complete liberation of the Palestinian soil, the expulsion of the Zionists and the setting up of a democratic, secular, socialist state in Palestine.” “Nazism,” the statement asserted, “whether in Germany or in Israel will not be forgiven by history for the crimes it committed against Arab strugglers and their comrades.” It advocated that “rifles be raised in the face of the imperialist Zionist enemy, the enemy of mankind, civilization and progress” in order to “free the world of the chains and handcuffs imposed on it by capitalism, imperialism, reaction and Zionism.”
In the same years in which the East Germans were expressing their solidarity with the PLO and the Arab states, the various affiliates of the PLO's Executive Committee waged a terrorist campaign from their bases in southern Lebanon against the towns and villages of northern Israel. Volleys of Katyusha rockets, attacks by terrorist squads armed with Kalashnikov assault weapons and hand grenades, as well as artillery barrages aimed specifically at civilian targets, forced the population into bomb shelters and basements for extended periods. The deaths and injuries of these civilians were not collateral damage. They were the intended purpose of the attacks. The PLO, the PFLP, and the PDFLP hoped to make normal life for Israelis so miserable that Israelis would leave and immigrants would decide not to live there. East Germany joined the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact states in the military and diplomatic support of the PLO in these years.
As had been the case for many years, the Israeli delegation's reports offered detailed accounts of the terrorist campaign. On March 28, 1977, Israel's UN Ambassador Chaim Herzog, speaking in the UN Security Council, observed that a week earlier the Palestine National Council “by a vote of 194 to 13 – the 13 thought that the resolution was not extreme enough” – voted to continue “the armed struggle” against Israel and rejected recognition of Israel as well as Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967 as a basis for peace and negotiation. Herzog pointed out that the PLO Charter still “in effect called for the expulsion of the bulk of the Jewish population … calls in effect for the destruction of the State of Israel … makes the preposterous assertion that ‘the claim of a historical or spiritual tie between Jews and Palestine does not tally with historical realities.’” Its purpose remained the destruction of Israel, whether immediately or in stages. He derided talk of “moderates” in the PLO as a “popular fallacy.” The differences between the moderates and the extremists were only about tactics. “The negation of Israel's right to exist is a principle accepted by all groupings within the PLO.”
The preceding chapters confirm that the East German government combined hostile words with secret military assistance to the Arab states and the Palestinian terrorist organizations at war with Israel. In West Germany, the terrorist activities of the Revolutionary Cells, the Red Army Faction, the June 2nd Movement, their collaboration with Palestinian terrorist organizations, as well as the anti-Israeli propaganda of the other radical leftist organizations, were public knowledge at the time. These assaults on Israel were never merely a criticism of Israel's policies. At its core, the Communist regime in East Berlin and the radical Left in West Germany rejected Israel's moral legitimacy and thus its right to exist as an independent state. In contrast to the German tradition of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, they tried to do a great deal of harm to the Jews and to Israel. Had their Arab and Palestinian allies been successful, Israel would have been destroyed by force of arms. Though it remained undeclared, East Germany and the West German radical leftists were, in effect also at war with Israel. Without moral qualms, they abetted those who made no secret of their desire to kill, injure, harm, and terrorize Israelis. East German diplomats emitted a rhetorical fog about moderation and negotiated solutions based on United Nations resolutions while placing the entire blame for the Israel-Arab-Palestinian conflict on Israel. Simultaneously, and in secrecy, the flow of weapons, military training, and intelligence cooperation from East Germany solidified alliances with Syria, Iraq, Libya, and the various Palestinian terror organizations represented on the PLO's Executive Committee.
A great and bitter irony of the Communist and leftist war against Israel was that its advocates often presented it as a second war against fascism, this time embodied in the Jewish state. During World War II, the Soviet Union fought against Nazi Germany with the slogans of anti-fascism. While “the Jewish question” had always been a marginal theme for the Communists even during that war, the emergence of Communist and leftist anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in the postwar decades replaced marginality with open hostility. Both the East German state and the members of the radical Left in West Germany seemed not to have known that the Nazi regime had been an emphatic enemy of Zionism and that it too hoped that its hatred of Zionism would gain it friends among the Arabs.
One of the most striking visual images of the era of East Germany's undeclared war with Israel was captured in a photo of March 11, 1978 in East Berlin. It shows Yasser Arafat accompanied by Gerhard Grüneberg and others walking solemnly into the memorial to “the victims of fascism and militarism” on the famed Unter den Linden Strasse. Soldiers of East Germany's National People's Army stand at attention in the background as Arafat pays his respects to the victims of Nazi Germany's war on the Eastern Front in World War II. (See Figure 11.1). The photo captures the transformation of the meaning of anti-fascism in the Soviet bloc and in East Germany that made it possible for the East Germans to ask Arafat, then at war with the Jewish state, to pay homage to Nazism's victims. Communist anti-fascism had long become compatible with ideological and military anti-Zionism. This transformation of anti-fascism's meaning in public political culture had its counterpart in continuing Soviet-bloc, including East German, military assistance to the PLO.
By the mid-1970s, the West German press reports mentioned East German military assistance to radical movements in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, including the PLO. The archives of the East German regime, especially the files of its Ministries of Defense, Foreign Affairs, State Security, Politburo, and Council of Ministers, offer abundant evidence of the intensification and expansion of those activities. What was sometimes called a “second Cold War” erupted in Europe as the Soviet Union expanded intermediate-range nuclear missile forces and conducted a vigorous “peace campaign” intended to block NATO's “double-track decision” of 1979. In the Middle East, the Soviet Union and its Arab allies, stung by Egypt's departure from the Arab “rejection front,” also went on the political and military offensive. Yet both in Western Europe and in Israel, Soviet pressure led to a Western reaction. In retrospect, Israel's June 1982 invasion of Lebanon, “Operation Peace for Galilee,” and the implementation in fall 1983 of NATO's double-track decision of 1979 in Western Europe indicated that the United States and its allies, including Israel, were shifting the “correlation of forces” in world politics against the Soviet bloc and, in the Middle East, against the rejectionist Arab states and the PLO.
After the PLO's defeat in Lebanon in 1982, East Germany remained a loyal friend to it and to the Arab states of the rejection front. On May 11, 1983, in Damascus, General Werner Fleißner, the GDR's deputy minister of defense, and General Samil Al-Akel, the director of logistics of the Syrian army, signed an agreement for “cooperation in the military field.” Five years later, on April 12, 1988, the two governments renewed the agreement and extended the training of Syrian military forces in East Germany until December 31, 1995. On April 10, 1984, Dr. Klaus Bartsch of the East German Defense Ministry signed a two-year agreement with Abdul Menem Al Amouri, the PLO's military attaché, in its embassy in East Berlin to offer medical care in East Germany to members of “the armed forces of the Palestinian Revolution.” The agreement called for treatment of five wounded officers of the PLO in East Germany each year in the military hospitals of the East German armed forces. Beginning in 1984 as well, the East Germans agreed to undertake “research in flight medicine” (flugmedizinische Untersuchung) with up to 25 “pilots (Flugzeugführen) of the armed forces of the Palestinian Revolution.” As the PLO did not have its own air force, the medical treatment of PLO “pilots” raised the question of whose planes they were planning to fly.
On September 25, 1984, the East German Ministry of Foreign Trade signed an agreement with Syria to deliver $50 million of “special equipment” to Syria's Ministry of Defense. Among the items to be delivered were “chemical warfare” equipment including a “vehicle of special treatment … chemical-radiological reconnaissance apparatus,” and “equipment for chemical practice field.” The agreement also called for delivery of ammunition for small arms, submachine gun parts, and spare parts for small arms; tools and spare parts for tanks and BMP-1, a Soviet amphibious-tracked infantry-fighting vehicle; spare parts for armored personnel carriers; “tanks of Soviet origin” and patrol boats. For the Syrian air force, the East Germans agreed to develop radar repair workshops, send a remote control system for signals and navigation equipment, repair aircraft engines, send aircraft spare parts, and deliver technical equipment to maintain and repair runways and aircraft maintenance hangars. Medical services included field hospitals, ambulances, field laboratories, mobile X-ray facilities, and medical instruments and equipment.
With the “Operation Peace for Galilee,” Israel forces crossed into Lebanon on June 6, 1982, to destroy the PLO's military infrastructure and put an end to the terrorist campaign it was waging against northern Israel. East Germany and the West German radical Left claimed that Israel's attack on the PLO was comparable to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and that Israel was adopting a policy of genocide and mass murder against Palestinians and Lebanese civilians. The East German regime made these accusations on the front pages of Neues Deutschland and at the United Nations. West German leftists repeated the charges in leaflets and at demonstrations. The accusations became standard fare in the entire Soviet bloc and the global Left. They struck a nerve, but they were not true. The television images of a modern army attacking a guerrilla force embedded near or in civilian areas also sent grim images of unintended civilian casualties. Yet the attribution of genocidal policy to the Jewish state conformed to an anti-Zionist ideology that by then had conquered the United Nations and found support in part of the media in the West as well. The murder of innocents was a theme that resonated with older accusations made against the Jews. Yet those accusations were also fueled by rage that was accompanying the collapse of hopes of the PLO and its Soviet-bloc patrons of achieving victory in the Middle East by the PLO's terrorist war.
In the pages of Neues Deutschland, then edited by the veteran journalist Gunter Schabowski, the East German regime immediately threw its support to the PLO. On June 9, ND placed Arafat's “urgent call for help” against “Israeli aggression” on page 1. On the same day, in a statement sent to Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, the SED Central Committee said Israel's “renewed aggression” was “all the more detestable” as it took place when the Soviet Union, East Germany, and “other socialist states” were “insisting on having the Middle East problem solved by negotiation.” In view of Honecker's support for the right of return just three months earlier, it was a dubious claim.
Playing the anti-Israeli card proved beneficial to the East German regime. In 1954, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer adopted a policy named for Walter Hallstein, his state secretary in the Foreign Ministry. According to what was called “the Hallstein doctrine,” East Germany had no moral or political legitimacy because it was a dictatorship kept in power by the presence of the Red Army. In the hopes of winning a political battle that would culminate with the collapse of the East German regime, Adenauer and Hallstein insisted that the Federal Republic would refuse to have diplomatic relations with any government that established diplomatic relations with East Germany. Thus a primary goal of East German foreign policy was to shatter the Hallstein doctrine by finding states beyond the Warsaw Pact that would be willing to open diplomatic relations with East Germany and thus risk the anger of the much larger, more economically powerful Federal Republic. East Germany's partisanship for the Arab states and against Israel played a central role in its successful effort to shatter the Hallstein doctrine, break out of global isolation, and establish diplomatic relations with states in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Otto Winzer, East Germany's foreign minister, led the successful diplomatic breakthrough of spring and summer 1969. His political activity began in 1919 when he joined the new German Communist Party (KPD). In the 1920s, he worked in Communist-affiliated publishing firms in Berlin and Vienna. He fled from Nazi Germany in 1934 to Paris, where he edited a Communist youth magazine. In 1935 he traveled to Moscow, where he again worked in publishing. From 1941 to 1945, he was editorial director of the Soviet German-language radio broadcast “The Home Front Calls the Front” (Die Heimat ruft die Front) and was a member of the National Committee for a Free Germany, the Communists’ effort to appeal to German soldiers and POWs. He returned to Berlin in 1945 with the group around Walter Ulbricht and became a member of the KPD Central Committee in 1947. From 1949 to 1956 he was the chief of staff in the office of East German President Wilhelm Pieck. There he joined in the attack on the veteran Communist Leo Zuckermann, who, with Paul Merker, supported restitution payments to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and warm relations with Israel.
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