Entebbe: for some, the beginning of wisdom

For Joschka Fischer and other radical Western leftists, the events at a Ugandan airport which culminated 30 years ago tomorrow were the beginning of wisdom.

For others, nothing ever changed.

In his book Power and the Idealists, Paul Berman writes that Fischer’s transformation– from street-fighting radical leftist to Green party politician and, eventually, the German foreign minister who supported NATO intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo– began on June 27, 1976, with the hijacking of an Air France passenger plane, enroute from Tel Aviv to Paris, to Entebbe airport in Uganda.

The book is based on a long piece Berman wrote for The New Republic in 2001 called “The Passion of Joschka Fischer.” It’s no longer online, but I attempted to write a summary for the George Orwell newsgroup.

Berman traces the beginning of Fischer’s (and a lot of other New Leftists’) transformation to the German New Left’s attitude towards Israel:

The 1967 war, in which the Israelis seized a lot of land, seemed to confirm Israel’s imperialist nature. The Soviets became fierce enemies of Zionism. Palestinian Marxists stepped forward. Soviet resources poured in. And under those circumstances the New Left came up with one more interpretation of the Middle Eastern conflict, in which the New Left’s vision of a lingering Nazism of modern life was suddenly re-configured, with Israel in a leading role. Israel became the crypto-Nazi site par excellence, the purest of all examples of how Nazism had never been defeated but had instead lingered into the present in every more cagey forms. What better disguise could Nazism assume than a Jewish state? Israel thus advanced in the New Left imagination into the vanguard of imperialist aggressors, and the Palestinian resistance into the front ranks of modern anti-Nazism.

Earlier, in 1969, Fischer attended a PLO meeting in Algiers, which adopted a resolution to achieve final victory, i.e., to destroy Israel. Berman tells about Hans-Joachim Klein, a friend of Fischer, who joined the Revolutionary Cells (a violent German group loosely connected to Baader-Meinhof) and was sent for military training in an Arab country.

He found himself in a military training ground where, in one part of the camp, European leftists singing left-wing songs received their anti-Zionist military training, and, in another part, European fascists singing fascist songs received their own anti-Zionist military training.

Klein, whose mother had been imprisoned by the Nazis for a time, was horrified. He abandoned the Revolutionary Cells and “accused his old comrades among the German guerrillas not just of having betrayed the revolutionary ideal but of being out-and-out anti-Semites.”

Fischer had a similar shock in 1976 when two members of the Revolutionary Cells, acting on behalf of jailed Palestinian terrorists, joined with the Marxist-Leninist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to hijack the Air France plane from Tel Aviv. The RC members, Wilfried Boese and Brigette Kuhlmann, went about arranging a “selection” of passengers, Israelis on one side, non-Israelis on the other, with the Israelis slated for execution. Many non-Israeli Jews chose to stay with the Israelis, as did the Air France pilot and crew. (Before the hijackers could carry out the executions, Israeli commandos staged a raid that killed all the terrorists and rescued almost all of the hostages.) According to Berman, “Fischer never got over the shock of Entebbe.” He cited the hijacking and the “selection” as part of his disillusionment with the violent left.

Berman writes:

Entebbe had such an effect on quite a few of West Germany’s New Leftists. A new suspicion was dawning on those people–a little tardily, you might complain, but dawning nonetheless. It was a worried suspicion that New Left guerrilla activity, especially in its German version, was not the struggle against Nazism that everyone on the New Left had always intended. It was a suspicion that, out of some horrible dialectic of history, a substantial number of German leftists had ended up imitating instead of opposing the Nazis-had ended up intoxicating themselves with dreams of a better world to come, while doing nothing more than setting out to murder Jews on a random basis: an old story.

Emma Rosenkovitch, one of the Israeli passengers rescued from Entebbe, recalls that some Holocaust survivors among the hostages had to be calmed during the “selection.”

“They thought they were going back to the concentration camp. They saw crates of coffee and tea and were sure they were explosives. They started to scream.”

…”[A German hijacker] stood watching with his Uzi. I said. ‘Why are there all these guards with Uzis? We are surrounded by Lake Victoria and its crocodiles, desert and jungle. Where are we going to go?’

“Then I asked him, ‘You are not embarrassed to see these Holocaust survivors with numbers tattooed on their arm?’ He was silent.”

You don’t have to be a Holocaust survivor to grasp the horror these people must have felt– more than 30 years later– at once again being ordered around and “selected” by armed Germans.

You would think any western leftist with even an ounce of historical awareness would, like Fischer, have been shaken to the core by such events. You would think any sentient leftist would have recognized something rotten at the very center of the violent Third-Worldist, anti-Zionist, “anti-imperialist” Left.

And yet…

When the German Red Army Fraction (aka Baader-Meinhof) disbanded in 1998, it paid tribute to the hijackers Boese and Kuhlmann, among others.

Some westerners continue to romanticize the thugs of the violent German Left as “idealists.”

When George Galloway “debated” Christopher Hitchens in New York last year, he said Hitchens’s “courageous stand with groups like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the hijackers of many an aircraft, the carrying out of many a military operation, was very significant because it was very rare.”

Whether Hitchens took such a stand– and if he did, whether he still believes it was correct– I have no idea. But Galloway seems to have no doubts at all. And neither, I suspect, do many of his “comrades.”