Jeffrey Herf: Undeclared Wars with Israel East Germany and the West German Far Left 1967-1989 (Book Review)

Jeffrey Herf: Undeclared Wars with Israel
East Germany and the
West German Far Left 1967-1989
Cambridge University Press, New York 2016
ISBN 978-1-107-46162-8

Jeffrey Herf is a history professor at the University of Maryland and has published extensively on Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, and political Islam. Undeclared Wars with Israel 1967-1989 is his latest book. At the core of this book is the ideological, economic and military support for Arab dictatorships and the Palestinian nationalist movement by the government of the German Democratic Republic in the period between the 1967 Six-Day War and the end of the East German state in 1989/1990. Herf uses extensive research of the Stasi (GDR secret service) archives, the official party press, documents from the United Nations, including the extensive reports by Israeli ambassadors regarding the territorial intrusions and massacres perpetrated by the PLO and its associated member groups in those years.

This (partially new) research is embedded in a history of the relationship of the Soviet Bloc with the state of Israel and the development of the struggle of Arab/Palestinian nationalists against Israel, whether through open warfare, shelling of Israeli cities across the border with rockets, guerrilla actions inside Israel – often consisting in massacres of civilians – or hijackings and murder in the international arena, or through diplomatic means on a bilateral level and often at the UN.

Herf is broadening this research to cover the role of the West German far left in the context of these conflicts. The post-1967 radical left is portrayed here as radically anti-Zionist, if not anti-Semitic. Prominent examples after that time are people and organisations like Dieter Kunzelmann and the Tupamaros Westberlin, Ulrike Meinhof and the RAF, the Revolutionary Cells and their partaking in the hijacking of an Israeli plane to Entebbe, as well as examples from the so-called K-Groups. In my opinion, Herf, while accurately displaying dubious points in the history of the radical left in West Germany, fails to describe the often contradictory developments of some of these groups. For this reason I divide this review in two parts. The first is the book review proper, while the second extends the discussion of the relationship of some of the groups on the West German radical left with both anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in a way that goes far beyond the confines of a book review and hopefully offers additional insights. [Read more →]