NUREMBERG, Germany — “Fascists!” the young woman furiously screamed at a speaker at Saturday’s Nuremberg town meeting. Just a few seconds before, a man had grabbed her companion by the neck following a heated exchange, and shook her.
What was supposed to have been a discussion about censorship and the radical Left instead devolved into a violent attack against critics of an anti-Israel group.
The impetus for the town meeting was the aftermath of a decision to ban a group of artists from erecting an anti-Israel exhibit at the Nuremberg Left Literature Fair. The fair takes place each year in the city-owned Künstlerhaus cultural center and Mayor of Nuremberg Ulrich Maly (Social Democratic Party) had prohibited the building’s use for a well-known anti-Semitic program.
The program in question was a photography exhibit on the so-called Cologne Wailing Wall — a controversial interactive art installation that was on display in Cologne’s Cathedral square on and off since 1991. There creator Walter Herrmann, who died this year, invited passersby to write their opinions of the Jewish state on pieces of cardboard.
Historically adorning the “wall” have been such slogans as, “Hitler is the past, but Israel is the present.” Alongside the slogans, a painting showed a man draped in an American flag and a Star of David devouring a boy on the end of a fork. In his other hand, the man held a knife with the word “Gaza” on it. Next to the dinner plate stood a glass of blood.
Jewish organizations, political parties and the mayor of Cologne have accused Herrmann of spreading anti-Semitic sentiments.
The recent Nuremberg town hall meeting was representative of the polarizing effect the subject has had on residents — in fact, at certain points the evening’s events could be only described as pure pandemonium.
“I am allowed to be a little bit emotional,” Anneliese Fikentscher said, excusing herself for her use of foul language in front of the roughly 30 people gathered in the Künstlerhaus to discuss the banned exhibit.
Fikentscher is co-head of the Arbeiterfotografie photography association — which developed the current exhibit on the Cologne Wailing Wall — along with her comrade Andreas Neumann.
Fikentscher and Neumann claim the ban is against the city’s restrictions, and have described the actions against their group as censorship, saying the municipality was being unconstitutional. Article 5 in the German constitution prohibits censorship.
Yet some of the meeting’s attendees had other questions — such as why Arbeiterfotografie works together with right wing-publicists, and why the group went to Iran to meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Elias Davidsson, an Icelandic composer who described himself as a Palestinian of Jewish decent, stepped to the microphone and declared, “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is one of the greatest statesmen in the world!”
A shouting match ensued, with supporters of Arbeiterfotografie taking aim at the critics. At one point, one critic stood up and said, “Fuck off,” before leaving the room.
Two women continued to ask questions, inquiring why Arbeiterfotografie works together with Salafist radicals. After one of the women was physically attacked, the Left Literature Fair’s organizer, Walter Bauer, lost his temper and threw the women out. The attacker, however, remained in the room undisturbed.
Arbeiterfotografie has participated several times at the Left Literature Fair, where this year more than 60 events were held.
Fikentscher and Neumann, heads of Arbeiterfotografie, have been accused of trying to form a “national-socialist querfront,” or unification of the extreme Left and extreme Right. The two contest the fact that Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust, and have reported that the US might have induced the earthquake in Fukushima using weather warfare technology.
The planned exhibit in Nuremberg, which was published online following the ban from the festival, does not mention the discussions about the Cologne Wailing Wall. The installation includes phrases like, “An elite of criminals, the New-World-Order-Mafia, enslaves the rest of the world and controls politics, media and corporations.”
According to Arbeiterfotografie, the Cologne Wailing Wall is an “outrcy against racism and war,” and “a memorial to democracy and freedom of expression.”
But prior to the fair, the publishing house Ventil Verlag decided to cancel its participation, stating that the exhibition is anti-Semitic.
“Not least the withdrawal of one of the participating publishers the requests of concerned citizens who heard of this item on the program make it — from the viewpoint of the Künstlerhaus — advisable to not give the impression that even a touch of anti-Semitic sentiments will be tolerated,” said Matthias Strobel, director of the city’s cultural centers.
“We believe in a responsibility to history, to the citizens of our town, to guests and to everyone who finds any relativization of the Holocaust unbearable,” Strobel said.
‘We believe in a responsibility to history’
Apart from Fikentscher and Neumann, other authors and publishers with a profound interest in Israeli politics appeared at the Left Literature Fair this year. One, the Zambon Verlag from Frankfurt, is well known for spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, both from left- and right-wingers.
And publisher Unrast Verlag presented a book that questions the “narrative of selection“ concerning Operation Entebbe. According to an article in the book, the selection of Israeli hostages by German left-wing terrorists was not anti-Semitic because the hostages were selected by their nationality, not religion.
The presence of anti-Israel groups in Nuremberg doesn’t come as a surprise to Norbert Zlöbl, who is head of an arts and crafts program for young people based in the Künstlerhaus. Up until 2008, he represented the Ça Ira publishing house, which is known as a left-wing, pro-Israel organization, at the Left Literature Fair.
‘I call that a militant refusal of reasoning, and what we see today are the unsavory results of that refusal’
Ça Ira was, however, accused of being overly aggressive and was banned from the fair — according to Zlöbl behind the back of many other publishers. Zlöbl says that certain organizers of the fair “didn’t want to tolerate criticism of left-wing anti-Semitism anymore.”
“I call that a militant refusal of reasoning,” he said, “and what we see today are the unsavory results of that refusal.”
In the last few years, anti-Israel activity in Nuremberg has increased. Following the Israeli military’s actions in Gaza 2014, hundreds of demonstrators stormed a Burger King restaurant in Nuremberg’s central train station, believing it was in the hands of Zionists.
This year, a small al-Quds demonstration was held — the only one in Germany apart from another in Berlin.
Also, the anti-Israel organization Solidarity International has been active in Nuremberg for years. On their website one can donate to the Emergency Committee for Relief and Reconstruction of the Jenin Camp. Its general coordinator, Fakhri Turkman was a minister in the Hamas-led Palestinian National Authority government of March 2006. Solidarity International has a post office box in a social center of the city of Nuremberg.
According to its director Matthias Strobel, the Künstlerhaus “cherished the trustful and reliable cooperation with the organizers of the Left Literature Fair.”
Given this, Strobel said that the Künstlerhaus continues to see itself as the future venue of the Left Literature Fair. This assessment was made before the attack against one of the critics at the town hall meeting.
Asked for a statement about the accusations that Arbeiterfotografie was spreading anti-Semitism, the organizers of the fair — two societies associated with the autonomous radical left in Nuremberg — declined to comment to The Times of Israel.
Despite all the commotion surrounding the fair, Joachim Hamburger, press spokesman of the Jewish community, sees no concrete threat of physical harm for Jews in Nuremberg. However, following recent attacks against Jews in Europe, security measures on the community grounds were increased. Hamburger is relieved that the mayor prohibited the exhibit on the Cologne Wailing Wall.
“Every time we have needed this town’s help, she has stood shoulder to shoulder with us,” Hamburger said.