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WWIGS: Marlene Gallner on 'The Leftist Self-Betrayal: Jean Améry's Essays on Antisemitism, Anti-zionism, and the Left

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Location: FAB 3.31

In the 1960s and 70s, when anti-Zionism became rampant among the independent New Left in Germany, Jean Améry was the first to publicly criticize anti-Zionism as a form of antisemitism. He called it “virtuous antisemitism”, as the new antisemites deemed themselves righteous and morally superior. A survivor of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps, he is mostly known – if at all – for his reflections on being a Shoah victim, and this experience doubtless bled into all his later work. Yet, the other part of his oeuvre has been largely ignored. Améry’s political essays were not convenient. He has lost his home twice. In the 1930s, he was cast out of his physical home, Austria and the German cultural sphere, by his own compatriots. In the 1960s, he was cast out of his political home, the left, by his former allies. He was a misfit in the literal sense of the word. His loss of trust in the world and the perspective of an outsider rendered his critique piercingly sharp and precise.

Améry’s analyses read as if they were written for the current situation. He showed how closely interlinked antisemitism and anti-Zionism are, and that Israel’s role as a shelter from antisemitism remains indispensable. Today, this notion is repeatedly attacked – not least by leftist groups and individuals. For all those who believe that obsessive criticism of the Jewish state benefits the supposedly weak, Améry’s essays will make for instructive reading.

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