TCS Daily


Germany's Terror Apologist

By John Rosenthal - February 23, 2006 12:00 AM

The European militant group Campo Antiimperialista first came to the broad attention of the American public in June of last year when US News and World Report reported that it was collecting money for the terrorist "insurgency" in Iraq. This was not in fact news. The group's Europe-wide "10 Euro for the Iraqi Resistance" campaign had already been under way for over a year and half and had been the subject of scattered reports in the European media in winter 2003. Following the US News story, it was further revealed that Campo Antiimperialista and its website antiimperialista.org had -- unsurprisingly in light of their public fund-raising campaign -- been under investigation by the US Department of Homeland Security.

The German version of the multi-lingual Antiimperialista site - seemingly launched in January 2001, when the first entry in the site archive, under the bland heading "No to Globalization!" was published -- is the most elaborate of the seven different versions. (Antiimperialista.org lists an Austrian cell phone number as its contact number.) It includes an electronic periodical called Intifada. A typical contribution, from Intifada no. 11 in January 2003, begins as follows:

The attacks on New York City and Washington on September 11, 2001 have fundamentally changed the agenda in international relations. Since then, the combating of "international terrorism" in all its varieties is the top priority in international politics. In light of the crime, however, should not the causes of terrorism be eliminated? Aspects of social justice, freedom from oppression and exploitation, as well as the right to self-determination, have not only fallen into disrepute, but are labeled as terrorism, as one can see in the Middle East and Chechnya. The fight against terrorism threatens to end up in a series of military actions unilaterally dictated by Washington. The so-called anti-terror alliance is thereby transformed into a mere fig-leaf: it becomes an instrument of the American striving for hegemony.

And so on and so forth. In itself, there is nothing particularly remarkable about the passage. In the meanwhile, both the apologia for terrorism it contains and the associated "analysis" of American motives have become numbingly familiar. The only notable details are the date -- this represents a relatively early specimen of the genre -- and the fact that the author, one Ludwig Watzal, is an important official of Germany's Federal Bureau for Political Education (BpB).

An agency of the German Ministry of the Interior, the BpB was founded in then West Germany after World War II. Its stated purpose is to "strengthen the democratic consciousness" of the citizenry through a wide variety of pedagogical activities. Among these, it publishes a thematic newsletter, Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte [Politics and Contemporary History], that appears as a supplement to the weekly publication of the German Bundestag, Das Parlament. Ludwig Watzal is one of the four co-editors of Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte.

Watzal's article goes on to assert that Israel since 9/11 is "behaving like a colonial power gone wild" and darkly to envision a new "expulsion" of Palestinian Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza in the event of an American-led intervention in Iraq. "A regional superpower is conducting a war against a third-world people that is fighting for self-determination and freedom," Watzal writes. "Israel has succeeded in making the international community believe that this is 'terrorism' and that the Palestinian resistance belongs among the enemies of the West."

The placement of the term terrorism within scare-quotes is a regular feature of Watzal's prose. "There is a right to resistance [against occupation]," Watzal writes further on, "and that is what 'Palestinian terrorism' is about" -- before adding "though not against innocent persons". It is not only the ungrammatical "tacked-on" quality of the latter phrase that reveals its function as an alibi. Since Watzal qualifies the violence of the Intifada as such as legitimate "resistance" and since the violence of the Intifada has been principally directed against Israeli civilians, one is left wondering just whom exactly Watzal considers innocent. Moreover, when he does not seem outright to negate Palestinian terrorism, he relativizes it by accusing Israel of likewise targeting "innocent Palestinians". Thus, for example, he writes in comparing Israel -- unfavorably! -- with South Africa under Apartheid: "The white racist regime would have never dared to use F-16s, Apache helicopters, tanks and other heavy weaponry 'Made in USA' and 'Payed by the US' [sic -- in English in the original] against supposed terrorists and civilians."

Watzal is represented by no less than seven contributions on antiimperialista.org. Taken together, they provide a veritable phantasmagoria of the idées fixes of the contemporary anti-American, anti-Zionist -- supposedly "anti-Globalization" -- "Left". They include, for instance, a glowing review of a volume on the Bush administration by the French 9-11 conspiracy theorist Eric Laurent, who not only asserts that the US government had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, but persistently insinuates a Mossad-connection to boot. "What's striking about the Bush administration," Watzal writes in one of his more delirious passages,

is that it is intellectually borne by a coalition of Christian Fundamentalists and Jewish interest groups, even though the majority of the Christian fundamentalists express anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish resentments. "These Christians support the Jews, in order to eliminate them."

The presence of Watzal's articles on antiimperialista.org has recently been the subject of controversy in German-language media, with critics questioning the appropriateness of a BpB official collaborating with an organization that openly supports terrorism. Watzal has responded by brandishing the threat of legal action against his critics and underscoring that his contributions on antiimperialista.org had also been published in other venues. Nonetheless, prior to the controversy, he had listed antiimperialista.org on his own homepage as the place of publication for five of them.

Moreover, however Watzal's articles found their way onto antiimperialista.org, the fact is that his writings -- both on anti-imperialista.org and elsewhere -- are entirely of a piece with the orientation and purposes of the "Antiimperialistas". Thus, comparing the American presence in Iraq to the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza in an August 2003 article for the German weekly Freitag, Watzal writes:

In both places, the struggle against international terrorism, claimed as a moral right, ends up in a colonial policy. For the 21st Century, this is such an anachronism that it is hardly surprising that in Iraq, as in the Palestinian territories, a resistance movement is actively fighting against the continuing destruction of the basis for the existence of its peoples [sic]. In this connection, it is evident that in Iraq it is a matter neither of the democratization or the country, much less of the region, but rather of geo-strategic interests: apart from the control of oil resources, the domestication of Iran and Syria.

What reason would the author of such a passage have to object to the use of his articles in a journal called Intifada and by an organization that raises money for the Iraqi "resistance"?

The scrutiny lately devoted to Watzal's writings has also led to renewed charges of anti-Semitism against him. Such charges first arose in 2004, following a radio appearance in which Watzal, bizarrely invoking Norman Finkelstein's book The Holocaust Industry, seemed to accuse the Israeli-American entrepreneur Haim Saban of exploiting the memory of the Holocaust in order to gain control of the German television network ProSiebenSat.1. The title of a recent article on the Austrian website "die Jüdische" described Watzal as an "Anti-Zionist Anti-Semite". Following threats of legal sanctions against both author and publisher, the article was removed from the site.

Then, however, the Hamburg-based political scientist Matthias Küntzel threw down the gauntlet, publishing an article titled "Hi Watzal! May I Call You an Anti-Semite?" [link in German]. In it, Küntzel alluded to what he called "numerous anti-Semitic stereotypes" in Watzal's writings and pointed, in particular, to the similarity between Watzal's thesis of an "Israelification of US [Foreign] Policy" and the classical anti-Semitic motif, dating back to the Nazi period, of America's "Jewification". "Why this coinage?" Küntzel asked:

The noun "Israelification", like the verb "israelify" that Watzal also uses, does not stand for a particular activity or a precisely delimited content. Rather it mobilizes a diffuse, but clearly anti-Jewish, resentment.

Watzal again responded with legal threats. He demanded, among other things, that Küntzel and the websites that had carried his article cease to include the above passage -- unless it was supplemented by a roughly 350-word citation of Watzal's choosing and that Watzal and his attorney evidently took to exonerate him of the charge of anti-Semitism. When Küntzel refused, Watzal's attorney replied that the matter was "not worth legal proceedings."

Indeed. On further inspection of Watzal's "Israelification" thesis, it turns out that the anti-Jewish resentment is not even always so diffuse. Consider this passage from a 2004 Watzal article on the subject in the Schweizer Monatshefte [pdf-file]:

Ideologically, the American government has taken over Israel's claustrophobic worldview, which is full of hatred and in which terrorists are everywhere.... Both states cultivate the image of victimhood and of absolute vulnerability: Israel by way of the Holocaust, the USA by way of September 11. There is only good and evil. Both peoples consider themselves to be "chosen by God".

Leaving aside the reference to Israel cultivating an image of victimhood "by way of the Holocaust" - a formula that, minimally, coquets with Holocaust negationism - who exactly are the "chosen people" to whom Watzal makes allusion? Would that not be... the Jews?

In the meanwhile, Watzal seems to have adopted a radically different tactic to deflect the charge of anti-Semitism: namely, to demonstrate his innocence by denouncing others on the same charge. Thus, just last week, he published a column in Freitag "outing" the writer on Middle East politics who goes by the name of "Israel Shamir" as an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist. The problem is that Watzal got there a bit late. Despite his, apparently assumed, name, hardly anyone who has sampled Shamir's feverish prose -- complete with its dark ruminations on "ZOG": the "Zionist Occupation Government" that is supposed to control American politics -- could have doubted that he is an anti-Semite. See, for example, Karl Pfeifer's discussion from last May of Shamir's recent volume Flowers of Galilee. But in June, Watzal also published a review of Flowers of Galilee and, at the time, he wrote glowingly of Shamir's "moral-ethical" [sic] motives and his "candid" and "biting" depiction of Israeli politics. "At first glance" -- as Watzal sheepishly puts it in his latest contribution -- Shamir's anti-Semitism seems somehow to have escaped his notice.

John Rosenthal's writings on international politics have appeared in Policy Review, the Opinion Journal, Les Temps Modernes and Merkur. He is the editor of the Transatlantic Intelligencer (www.trans-int.com). 

Editor's note: Ludwig Watzal responds to this article:

I was very surprised to read John Rosenthal's article as it is generally identical to the inflammatory writings in German by people like Laster, Küntzel, Heinrich, Broder, Stawski, Rensmann, Schröder, Balke and their ilk. For the last 18 months those people have been trying to destroy my reputation and professional existence. I congratulate Mr. Rosenthal for his deep knowledge of their efforts.

Surprisingly he uses exactly the same allegations and quotations which the German pamphleteers use. Which strange contingencies? He gives a totally distorted picture of my person and my writings. Can I believe that this is really his intention? Astonishingly, Mr. Rosenthal is both: fluent in German and also deeply involved in the inner circle of this slanderous network. He even quotes a grotesque article written by Matthias Küntzel which he wrote about a court case (District court of Hamburg) against Mr. Samuel Laster. He operates a website called "juedische.at". Laster posted a slanderous excerpt from the book Demokratie und Judenbild by Mr. Lars Rensmann concerning me. Two false allegations of this article had to be censored not only in Germany but also in Austria and Switzerland. Mr. Laster was convicted and had to pay all the costs of the court proceedings. However, Küntzel presented Laster as the victim and me as the perpetrator. He must have gotten something wrong, although the judgment was clear. So much for the seriousness and perception of Mr. Küntzel. 

I was very surprised that Mr. Rosenthal published an article by Küntzel on his own website "Transatlantic Intelligencer" (sic!) together with an article by Thomas von der Osten-Sacken und Thomas Uwer. Both associate with this strange network. How did an owner of this proper website come to copy that rubbish? Had Rosenthal a German "spin doctor" when he formulated his false allegations? All the slanderous imputations against myself were dismissed in German. Can I believe that Mr. Rosenthal was interested in correct information? Perhaps the unbiased American reader would like to make up his and her own opinion about my writings (www.watzal.com). 

Dr. Ludwig Watzal


Editor's note: Lars Rensmann writes in: "Ludwig Watzal claims that parts of my study "Demokratie und Judenbild" are "censored" (!) in "Germany... Austria and Switzerland". This is not the case. My book is not censored, neither are parts of it. My book can be purchased around the world."

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