Letter to Malmoe (SW) Food Not Bombs
The discussion with the Swedish FNB group started as a result of a show with the hardcore band "children of fall". This band was planned to play on a benefit show for Roma refugees resisting their deportation to Yugoslavia in October 2002. We were supposed to support this festival with food as the support work for the Roma refugees was our emphasis at that time. When we heard about the band's position on Israel and the fact that one member own and wears a shirt that says "Burn, Israel, burn", we contacted the organizers.
COF never played but one month later we received a bewildered letter by Malmö fnb asking us to explain our position.
Dear FNB Malmoe, this is the FNB group from Cologne with a reply to your letter about Children of Fall and the incidents around the show in Cologne.
Here are a couple of our thoughts as a product of group discussions:
1.) Our "version"
On the 27th of November a benefit festival for the Romany refugees from former Yugoslavia who have been resisting their deportation since May 2002 is planned. Since FNB cologne has been active in anti-racist issues for the last few months we are asked whether we would like to sell food to make some extra benefit money. We decide to do so. Later we find out that besides the German band "Turbostaat" the Swedish band COF is booked to play. Some of us already know this band - or things about this band, because our group has some connections to the Scene Police label that books COF. It is known to us that there have been serious arguments within this label - and between members of that label and COF - around the subjects of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism.
We discuss the different positions within our group and find serious differences between COF and our position (see below). Being part of the same show we feel the necessity to challenge the rule that only the stage can take up political space by sending messages and decide to add our own perspective from our "stage" - the food table.
We discuss and internally decide to write a paper and hang up a banner against anti-Semitism behind our table.
- planned to sabotage the show
- called COF "Nazis"
- wanted to hang the Israeli flag
- denied to serve food to COF
2.) politics and the context:
no matter where you are and what you say to make a political comment means to communicate with your surrounding. To do that successfully you have to not only think about what you want to say but also which effect it will have on the receiving end.
In Germany there is a latent anti-Semitism that has lead not only to an increased rate of attacks on synagogues and Jewish institutions but also to the success of the political campaigns that catered to anti-Semitic patterns of thought.
The most common way for anti-Semitism to be articulated right now is anti-Zionism or anti-israelism. the Israeli state is the living memory of the Holocaust - by identifying Israel as a terrorist and barbaric state the crimes of Germany not only become relative (because all the others are bad as well) but also excusable -- or rather: anti-Semitism is and always has been the Jews' fault.
Even with the best intentions in mind -- criticizing the state of Israel in Germany in public will add to an already existing anti-Semitic basic consensus of the majority of the population -- the quote: "I cannot understand why of all people the Jews are so oppressing now, THEY really should know better" really means "The big German mission to teach the Jews empathy has failed because the Jews were incapable to learn from their own suffering" A T-Shirt that says "Burn Israel Burn" has an anti-Semitic effect here and probably elsewhere as well because
a) people identify Israel with "the Jews"
b) the only protagonists that do "burn" Israel at the moment are anti-Semitic assholes whose actions are aimed at Jewish civilians - in Israel, in France, in Germany.
This is true completely independent from how we actually and personally judge the conflict in middle east. Nevertheless, we feel that we have different approaches to this conflict as well.
3.) "Intifada till victory" or "drive the Jews back into the sea" -- a few words on the Middle East conflict --
The state of Israel was founded predominantly by survivors of the European Shoa and anti-Semitic pogroms all over the world. The state of Israel is - not entirely, but mostly a secular state - as any Orthodox Jew can tell you, there can be no Jewish state until the Messiahs comes back to earth to install it. Israel is a capitalist nation state and therefore not our Utopia.
We see no reason whatsoever to find the state of Israel any less legitimate, 'natural' or original than any other state. Quite the opposite: nation states have been formed in part to secure a national infrastructure and market for the evolving capitalist societies in the 19th century.
Israel as a state has at least one more function: it serves as a safe space for victims of anti-Semitism. As we probably all agree victims of oppressive structures need places of shelter - safe spaces - where they are free from further oppression, e.g. victims of patriarchy and heterosexism need safe spaces where they can live without fear of attack and oppression. We do not want to state that anti-Semitism and patriarchy are comparable are based on the same structures. Whereas patriarchy, racism and most other dominations construct "the other" as inferior, weak and, therefore, deserving subordination and oppression, anti-Semitism is a mania, a paranoid pattern of thought that constructs the Jewish conspiracy as almighty and threatening, the Jews as devious controllers of the world. Anti-Semitism in its consequence has to be eliminatory to secure the end of control by Jews. People who were constructed as Jewish needed a safe space after being excluded, discriminated and hunted in almost any country on this world, culminating in the German effort to exterminate the Jews of Europe.
This space was attacked by Nationalist Arab leaders. Not because Israel was an imperialist state or a tool of the west (indeed, the first Jewish settlers had to fight more against the British colonizers who didn't want to let go out the Palestine mandate than they fought against Arabs), but because of an anti-Semitic ideology (or mania) that was part of almost any society and also led to the historical alliances between the great Mufti of Jerusalem with the German Nazis to deport Jews from Greece and southern Europe to the extermination camps in the east.
The surrounding states declared war on Israel. After centuries of extermination the young state of Israel declared "never again victims" and they defended themselves. Israel won the war and the myth of the refugees' problem was created.
"The Arabs have gone to great lengths to describe the plight of these war victims and to keep the refugee camps as working models to demonstrate to the world Jewish cruelty. Indeed, those who visit these wretched souls are certain to be touched by their plight. (...) The refugees came as a direct result of a war of aggression waged by the Arabs to destroy the people of Israel. After the November 1947 partition vote the Yishuv of Palestine begged the Palestine Arabs to remain calm, friendly and to respect to unassailably legal rights of the Jewish people. Despite wanton aggression the State of Israel, in its declaration of Independence, held out its hand in friendship to its Arab neighbours, even at the moment her borders were being violated. The avowed intention of murdering the Jewish people and completely destroying the State of Israel was the Arab answer to this offer of friendship. (...) We come now to the most horrible of all the facts concerning the Arab refugees. The Arab nations do not want these people. They are kept caged like animals in sufferings as a deliberate political weapon. In Gaza, to cite one example, the roads are mined and patrolled so that these refugees cannot reach Egypt. (...) The Arab people need freedom, not desert sheiks who own thousands of slaves, not hate-filed religious fanatics, not military cliques, not men whose entire thinking is in the Dark Ages. The Arab people need civil liberties, education, medicine, land reforms, equality. They need people with the courage to face the real problems of ignorance, illiteracy, and disease instead of waving a ranting banner of ultranationalism and promoting the evil idea that the destruction of Israel will be the cure for all their problems."
This quote is from 1948 (Barak Ben Canaan "Summary of the Arab refugee situation" as quoted in Exodus) but in our eyes it carries a lot of positions that are very important to be aware of when you want to discuss the problem.
WE do not have a waterproof consensus on how to see the situation in middle east, we only know this much:
- we will not declare our solidarity with fascist suicide bombers
- we do not think that Palestinian "liberation" holds liberation for the majority of people, because we think that the problem is not Israel but the internal dynamics of oppressive structures and authoritarian Palestinian leaders who spend millions of dollars on funerals for "martyr" suicide bombers while people live in shacks and are half-starving
- with an anarchist approach we cannot feel 100% comfortable with the necessity to defend a nation state. Once emancipation and liberation has come far enough to give security to Jews everywhere in this world, i.e. once anti-Semitism is eradicated there will be no need for the State of Israel anymore. Unfortunately this is not the case -- quite of the opposite: the anti-Semitic backlash in European and Arabian societies is obvious and frightening
- suicide bombers carry in their actions the symbolic continuation of the fascist project to exterminate all Jews. They are aimed at civilians, no matter whether they are part of the peace movement, they work at indymedia or any other reasons as long as they are Jews. In March a student cafe where many Israeli leftist hung out was victimized by a suicide bomber.
- a person like Arafat is a corrupt leader but no person to identify with or feel in solidarity with. Neither is Ariel Sharon. Nevertheless we feel that it is not the job of a German leftists to publicly criticize Israel and add fuel to the anti-Semitic fire burning alive in the hearts and minds of the German mob.
- we feel in solidarity with all people in the Middle East region who are longing for peace and want to fight anti-Semitism.
- we do not believe in a homogenous group of "the Palestinian people" - the political elite of the PA uses Arabian civilians for their power as much as the Hamas uses their suffering as a motivator for their religious mania.
- not excusing anything or trying to use cultural chauvinism, we still feel that a lot of internationalists have rather romantic ideas about what the so-called "liberation" of Palestine will be like - What the situation of queer people will be like, what the situation of women will be like, what the situation of non-religious people will be like - we rarely ever even hear these question, let alone efforts to find answers.
4.) a few words about anti-Americanism
In your letter to us you openly admit that COF is anti-American "in the way that they are critical to culture imperialism, USA and their actions worldwide and their support to Israel".
This is one approach to the problematic global distribution of oppressive structures, we have a different one.
To understand our position we ask you to try to include the German context in your reception.
Germany has a widespread anti-Americanism. If the radical left ever had the support of large parts of the population, it was in their actions against US imperialism, against the occupying forces, against the culture-less Yankees. Asking ourselves why this was so popular, we do not think that all of Germany suddenly longed for emancipation and to dissolve all forms of oppression. The USA occupied Germany not because they felt like it or had a bad day, but because they helped to defeat fascism and wanted to make sure not to leave before there was a minimum of civilization and enlightment in Germany. Germans predominantly didn't like that - they didn't like to be the losers of World War II, they didn't like not to be the super power anymore, they didn't like to be denied their sovereignty. Anti-fascists all over the world should love it. Anti-fascists should acknowledge that despite all self-interest the US had in installing an allied Germany on the border to Bolshevism, it helped to defeat fascism. Anti-Americanism in Germany is not only the tune of the young leftists but also of the old Nazis: yes, the culture-less Americans with their stupid way of life that ruined our aspirations to become...
"Culture imperialism" as we understand it means that it is a bad thing that all regional and national cultures are destroyed and replaced by one uniform consumer culture American style. We will not move a finger to save the 'original' German culture from being put to an end - we will open a bottle of Champagne at its funeral. We think it is dangerous in general to positively reinforce the idea of regional or national cultures as sources of identity. As many anti-racist theorists have pointed out, cultural racism has displaced biological racism since the middle of the 20th century. "Cultures" are constructed. So are subcultures - and we just create our own - or borrow from other cultures and subcultures; like the majority of the hardcore scene (and the idea of "Food Not Bombs") is borrowed from the US. We would not call it cultural imperialism if a huge sum of persons actively WANTS to be part of the American culture and then gets it. If you are talking about cultural imperialism in terms of a global white supremacy and the chauvinist attitude that the global north has towards anything that looks "different" we can agree with your critique but cannot see anything particularly American in it.
You might be shocked but some of us think that it is good that the US supports Israel. Some of us think that without US aid the surrounding countries would have crushed Israel long ago and therefore fulfilled another part of the German extermination prophecy against the Jewish people. To remind you of the Gulf War in 1991: Saddam Hussein sent missiles to Israel. In the missiles was nerve gas produced by Iraqi companies with German know-how and experience. It was German chemical corporations (that have a pretty dark history in inventing the Auschwitz gas "Zyklon B"), that exported equipment and know-how to Iraq.
Jewish survivors of the Holocaust hid in basements with gas masks to prevent being killed by "German gas". The US prevented the worst and has led a lot of people to the insight: "sometimes the wrong people do the right thing for the wrong reasons. but we should be glad they do it.
The worldwide actions of the USA are nothing we want to excuse - from the support of despotic regimes in Latin America to the killing of Serbian civilians there is not much to be proud of. Still, we like to stick in our analysis to the quote by Rosa Luxemburg: "your main enemy is in your own country" or even change it to "Your main enemy is your own country." AS long as there are German planes bombing Belgrade for the third time in one century, we have better things to do than to criticize the US. AS long as British forces engage in wars, the anti-USA rants in England seem more like nationalist chauvinism than the search for emancipation. If friends in the American context see it as their mission to criticize their own government we respect that. For a German to live in Germany while the German army expands its international mission, while refugees are caged in and deported every day, while Neo-Nazis set homeless people on fire, to talk about how evil the USA is, is sheer hypocrisy.
We hope that we have cleared up and explained a lot of the misunderstandings. Please feel free to keep this discussion alive and add your views on the subject.
Food Not Bombs Köln, Germoney