Idea Of The Day

The Politics of Conversion

Who is Joschka Fischer and what is his past? The New Republic published the first of Paul Berman’s three-part article on the life and times of the German foreign minister. Earlier this year, a 1973 photograph of a street-fighting Fischer mugging a policeman surfaced in a German magazine; the picture was significant since the foreign secretary had been called as a witness in the trial of Hans-Joachim Klein, a former political friend whose gang, the Red Cell, helped orchestrate the 1972 PLO attack on Israeli athletes in Munich and who was also in the group that killed three people at an OPEC meeting in Vienna in 1975. The photograph therefore suggested (though didn’t prove) that Fischer had a past more violent than he admitted. As it turned out, Klein was convicted and jailed, while a subsequent investigation of Fischer—had he committed perjury during the trial by disguising his past actions?—was dropped in April.

One of the most interesting passages in Berman’s article deals with Fischer’s break from the Left after in 1976 German terrorists hijacked an Air France plane and forced it to fly to Entebbe, Uganda. The terrorists, Berman writes, “went about arranging a ‘selection’ of passengers, Jews on one side, non-Jews on the other, with the Jews slated for execution.” The subsequent raid on Entebbe by Israeli troops made Ehud Barak, the commander, a hero and Jonathan Netanyahu, brother of Benjamin and the only soldier to die in the attack, a martyr; for Fischer, the hijacking brought about a conversion. As Berman puts it: “Suddenly the implications of anti-Zionism struck home to [Fischer]. … It was a worried suspicion that New Left guerrilla activity … 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. … It was Fischer, more than any other … world figure of any sort, who took it upon himself to confront Arafat in person, who (so it has been reported) berated Arafat ferociously and even forced him into declaring some sort of a cease-fire. The erstwhile militant for the PLO, now militant against Palestinian terror.” Fischer’s conversion is all the more pertinent since the foreign secretary is now shepherding the Israelis and the Palestinians to peace talks in Berlin.

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