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Is Germany’s Left Party Harboring Anti-Semites?

A report by a pair of German academics accuses the Left Party of becoming increasingly anti-Semitic. While the party’s top leadership dismisses the yet-unpublished study as “nonsense,” others within the Left say there may be some truth to the allegations.

Left Party leader Gregor Gysi
Left Party leader Gregor Gysi
M. Hollstein and P. Kuhn

BERLIN - Gregor Gysi, leader of Germany's Die Linke (The Left), has one word to describe recent allegations that there is widespread anti-Semitism within his party: "Nonsense."

Though at times openly critical of Israel, the party neither espouses nor accepts anti-Semitism, insist Gysi and other Left leaders. "We need no lectures from outside parties," Die Linke veteran Klaus Ernst told the newspaper Westfälische Rundschau. "We have shown our position several times, and very clearly, we do not tolerate anti-Semitism in the Left party."

A highly anticipated (though still unpublished) report written recently by social scientist Samuel Salzborn and anti-Semitism expert Sebastian Voigt of the University of Leipzig suggests otherwise. The study, entitled "Anti-Semites as a Coalition Partner?" argues that "anti-Zionist anti-Semitism" has become a largely consensus position within the Left in recent years. It is even gaining force, the authors conclude.

Voigt and Salzborn were especially struck by critical attitudes towards Israel within Germany's western states. "Anti-Semitism has been nourished there within an anti-imperialist tradition that originated in the 1970s," said Salzborn in an interview with Die Welt.

In Herford, Left politician Erika Semaitis was the only member of the City Council to deny a grant to a synagogue – allegedly for financial reasons. In Bremen, members of the Left Party called for a boycott of Israeli fruit.

Anti-Israel attitudes by members of the Left reached a peak after the storming of the "Gaza flotilla" by Israeli soldiers in May 2010, which killed nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists. Annette Groth, Inge Hoeger and Norman Paech, two deputies and a former deputy of the Left Party, participated in the flotilla, alongside several radical Islamic groups. The Left publicly appluaded their efforts. "We are very proud," said party-leader Gesine Lötzsch at the time.

Voigt and Salzborn found that this incident was used as propaganda at some party meetings, including during a panel discussion in Hamburg led by Jan van Aken. One listener suggested, to great applause, that the next convoy should be protected by the Turkish army so as to stick it to the "fascist regime in Israel."

Only about a month before the Israeli commando operation against the "Mavi Marmara," the party had solidified its anti-Zionist stance in a resolution on the Middle East conflict. In it, the Left party recognized Israel's right to exist, but insisted at the same time that the Palestinian group Hamas – which has committed itself to the destruction of Israel – should be involved in future discussions.

Gregor Gysi blasted the report's claims, saying that criticisms of Israeli government policy and anti-Semitism are by no means the same thing.

Other members of the Left admit there are "problems," but point out that the party's leadership has been careful to distance itself in cases – such as the proposed fruit boycott – where junior members have taken particularly divisive stances. "These are by no means majority positions in the Left," said parliamentary secretary Dagmar Enkelmann

In some cases, however, allegations of anti-Semitism have come from within the party's own ranks. In recent years, there has been an "increase" in anti-Semitic incidents in the Left, says Benjamin-Christopher Krueger, founding member of BAK Shalom, a working group dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, anti-zionism, and anti-Americanism within the Left party. According to Krueger, party leadership has distanced itself from anti-Semitism, but not done enough to actively combat it.

A case in point is Hermann Dierkes, the leader of the Left in Duisburg. In an interview conducted in early May, he compared Israeli policy towards the Palesinians with the Nazi regime. Dierkes said the Israelis are using methods against Palestinians that look "damn close to what the Nazis did in the 30s." The month before, a pamphlet mentioning the "so-called Holocaust" was briefly available on the Duisburg District Association website.

The BAK Shalom is increasingly attacked from within its own party. A Facebook group called "Stop the BAK Shalom" has already emerged as a reaction against the working group. "Anti-Germans, get lost from the Left ... you are whores of imperialism," has been written on the page. The Facebook page was founded by Christian Sedlak, who was in the running to be a Left candidate representing Dachau, Bavaria in the general election two years ago.

Salzborn has been surprised by the initial reaction to the still unpublished study. "We haven't heard the usual complaints yet." Many supporters of the Left have reacted positively to the paper, he says, glad someone has finally said what's been on their minds for awhile.

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Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

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