Author Max Blumenthal had one goal in mind when he went to the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, in Berlin on Monday.
He wanted to show a photograph of the al-Kilani family – German citizens killed by an Israeli bomb that struck the Gaza City home they were sheltering in last summer – to leading left-wing politician Gregor Gysi.
On 21 July, Ibrahim al-Kilani and his wife Taghrid were killed along with their five children: Reem, 12, Sawsan, 11, Yasin, 9, Yasser, 8, and four-year-old Elias. Mahmoud Derbas, aged 16, was killed in the same strike.
Blumenthal hoped to ask the lawmaker and influential figure in the center-left Die Linke (The Left) party why he and other German leaders had said and done nothing to bring justice for the al-Kilanis – and why Germany is instead providing Israel with new gunboats which will likely be used to attack Palestinian fishermen.
Instead, as the video above shows, there was a bizarre spectacle as Gysi fled from Blumenthal and fellow journalist David Sheen and locked himself in a toilet.
In the hours before the incident, Gysi was behind an unsuccessful effort to cancel Blumenthal’s and Sheen’s appearance at the Bundestag earlier that day.
That event was initiated by Die Linke legislators Inge Höger and Annette Groth, two long-time supporters of Palestinian rights who have been smeared as “anti-Semites” by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Although The Jerusalem Post reported that Gysi had ordered the event canceled, evidently members of his party ignored him and the meeting went ahead.
Blumenthal was able to speak about what he witnessed in Gaza and Sheen told the German audience about Israel’s racial violence and incitement against African refugees and others.
This is a video of Sheen’s testimony:
It was after the event, attended by dozens, that Blumenthal and Sheen requested to meet Gysi to confront him about Israel’s crimes in Gaza and the smears that Gysi and his acolytes had disseminated against them.
Rather than explain himself, Gysi ran away.
Barred from the Volksbühne
The failed effort to cancel the Bundestag meeting followed a more successful effort at censorship on Sunday, when Blumenthal and Sheen were disinvited from speaking at the Volksbühne, a public theater in Berlin.
This came after a smear campaign promoted by Volker Beck, an anti-Palestinian legislator with Germany’s Green Party, Petra Pau of Die Linke and Reinhold Robbe, the president of the German-Israel Friendship Society and a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party.
Blumenthal’s and Sheen’s appearance would serve “to promote anti-Semitic prejudice by comparing the terror of the Nazis with Israeli policies,” the ostensibly leftist politicians wrote in an open letter.
Barred from the Volksbühne as a result these smears, Sheen and Blumenthal spoke Sunday morning in the street outside the theater:
Speaking to The Electronic Intifada from Berlin, Blumenthal pointed out that the smear campaign against him and Sheen – and more importantly the effort to prevent discussion about Israel’s crimes in Gaza – was the product of the anti-Palestinian network funded by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
In his most recent racist and quasi-genocidal outburst, Adelson – a key funder of the US Republican Party – declared that the Palestinians are “a made-up nation” and that the “the purpose of the existence of Palestinians is to destroy Israel.”
Blumenthal notes that it was Benjamin Weinthal, a Berlin-based anti-Palestinian activist, who initiated the smear campaign with an article in the right-wing Berliner Morgenpost, and later in The Jerusalem Post, falsely claiming that the Bundestag meeting would not take place.
Weinthal is a fellow of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), which Blumenthal calls “one of the most right-wing neocon think tanks there is.” FDD describes Weinthal as its “eyes and ears on the ground in Central Europe.” Weinthal was also behind an unsuccessful 2010 smear campaign against The Electronic Intifada.
Weinthal’s article is filled with torrid quotations – including from Beck – smearing Blumenthal and Sheen, who are both Jewish, of being “anti-Semites” because of their criticisms of Israel.
FDD received $1.5 million from Adelson from 2008-11, making the casino magnate the group’s third most generous donor. Adelson has also given tens of thousands of dollars to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Blumenthal points out that the material smearing him in the German media comes from “my Simon Wiesenthal Stasi file” – an ironic reference to the former East Germany’s notorious secret police.
“Beck falsely accused me of using the term ‘Judeo-Nazis’ – he made that claim on Twitter,” Blumenthal said, offering an example of how the smear campaign works. “But I had merely quoted Yeshayahu Leibowitz, one of the most famous Israeli intellectuals in history, using the term.”
Last year, the Wiesenthal Center featured Blumenthal on its list of “Top Ten Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel Slurs.” He tied for ninth place with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Alice Walker. Typical of such smears, the Wiesenthal Center offered up gross distortions of Blumenthal’s book Goliath to falsely present him as an anti-Semite.
But such tactics are nevertheless effective in Germany, where politicians are generally terrified of criticizing Israel and confuse offering unquestioning support for Israeli crimes with atonement for their country’s genocide of Europe’s Jewish population.
Weinthal got a prominent legislator in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party to join the attack, claiming that the Blumenthal-Sheen event sponsored by members of Die Linke would do “damage to Germany’s reputation” by making an argument for recognition of a Palestinian state.
Using the left to undermine Palestinian rights
In its 2010 roadmap for sabotaging the Palestine solidarity movement, the Israeli think tank the Reut Institute pointed out that the value of support for Israel is far greater if it comes from the left. This is because the left is seen as generally more receptive to Palestinian rights.
Weinthal’s attack on Blumenthal and Sheen appears to come precisely from that playbook. Weinthal got members of the Greens, Social Democrats and Die Linke to push his far-right, anti-Palestinian agenda.
And now the affair is being used to go after those perceived as being hostile to Israel, with calls for Groth and Höger – the lawmakers who sponsored the Bundestag meeting – to be purged from Die Linke.
Blumenthal told The Electronic Intifada that several members of Die Linke urged Gysi to meet the two writers after their Bundestag meeting. But, according to Blumenthal, Gysi sent text messages to his colleagues saying he would not.
“The first message said ‘I will not meet with Max Blumenthal, he always compares Israel to Nazis,’” Blumenthal recalled. “The second one said that the meeting would be used to make him ‘look bad.’”
Blumenthal and Sheen confronted Gysi anyway, demanding to know why he had endorsed the smear campaign against them. In the end, they came out fighting and it is the German politician’s reputation that ended up in the toilet.