How East Germany Abetted Palestinian Terror and the Growth of Modern Anti-Zionism

As early as 1949, the Soviet Union and its European satellites began their campaign against Israel, thus giving rise to much of the now-familiar rhetoric espoused by the Jewish state’s left-wing enemies. In these efforts, writes Jeffrey Herf, East Germany was the most “passionate and prominent” participant, and also lent outright support to Palestinian terrorists:

East Germany faced in West Germany an adversary that sought to isolate and delegitimize it by refusing to have diplomatic relations with any state that recognized the East. In playing the anti-Zionist card, East Germany found a means to . . . open the floodgates of diplomatic recognition. A breakthrough with the Arab states began in 1969, when Iraq became the first non-Communist government (after Cambodia) to establish diplomatic relations with the German Democratic Republic. A joint declaration by the foreign ministers of the two countries made a clear connection between Iraq’s decision to establish diplomatic relations and East Germany’s antagonism to Israel, stressing their “shared struggle . . . against imperialism, neo-Nazism, colonialism, and Zionism” and describing Israel as “racist, imperialist, reactionary, and aggressive.”

The description of Israel as a racist state and an imperialist tool, and the implication that both it and West Germany were expressions of neo-Nazism, was thus embedded in East Germany’s diplomatic relations with the Arab states. . . . The East Germans presented themselves as a different sort of “good German,” a German state that was an enemy of Israel; their antagonism to Israel contributed to their considerable popularity among Third World states. Following its admission to the United Nations in 1973, East Germany repeatedly found itself in the middle of the huge General Assembly majorities voting in favor of unbalanced resolutions denouncing Israel.

In June 1979, the [East German secret police] Stasi signed a formal agreement of cooperation with the PLO intelligence services based on their shared interest in preventing the use of East Germany as a base for terrorist operations against Western Europe and, instead, fostering it as a base for terrorist operations against Israel. . . .

During the 1970s, the PLO and [its] affiliates, . . . notably the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PDFLP), carried out numerous terrorist actions against the cities and towns of northern Israel from bases in southern Lebanon. . . . East Germany’s diplomats in the region were in contact not only with [Yasir] Arafat but also with leaders of the PFLP and PDFLP. During these years, East Germany joined the Soviet bloc in sending these groups weapons of terror, including thousands of Kalashnikovs, hand grenades, and abundant ammunition and in offering them military training and medical care.

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