Mr. Asher Ben-Natan, the Israeli ambassador in Germany, mounted the stage at the University of Hamburg on June 12, 1969, to the sound of catcalls and hissing from the audience. The ambassador, invited to speak by a German-Israeli student association, attempted to begin a discussion, but the hissing and booing grew stronger, as the students stormed the podium and threw him off the stage.
This was the second such reception for Ben- Natan. Two days earlier, at a conference at the University of Frankfurt, insults were hurled at him. In both cases, the protesters were students from the New Left, alongside Fatah supporters, Arabs, Germans, and a few Jewish Israelis as well.
Following the Frankfurt event Ben-Natan received a letter of apology from author Gunter Grass. But after the second riot, on June 12, hundreds of letters and telegrams from West German citizens arrived at the Israeli Embassy in Bonn: students, university deans, public figures, professors, teachers, representatives of youth movements and labor unions, and, again, author Gunter Grass, all expressed "shame and anger regarding the disturbances caused by representatives of the New Left and supporters of Fatah during the appearances of the Israeli ambassador in Frankfurt and Hamburg."
Ben-Natan had been caught up in a leftist demonstration in Frankfurt about a year earlier, on his way to take part in a ceremony awarding a peace prize on behalf of the German Booksellers Association. Apparently, the demonstration was not against his presence there, but against the winner of the prize, author and president of Senegal Leopold Senghor: "Leftist students in Frankfurt raged against the prize winner, whom they described as a fascist," reported Haaretz, "organizing a mass demonstration against the entire ceremony." The Israeli ambassador encountered difficulties trying to reach the event venue and "tried to make his way through on foot." While doing so, "he remarked to the surrounding students that the last time demonstrations were held in Germany against the blue-and-white flag was in 1933." An "excited dialogue" then developed between the ambassador and the demonstrators, in the course of which Ben-Natan called the students from the New Left "modern-day Nazis."
Haaretz criticized Ben-Natan's behavior during the incident: "There was no reason to assume that the demonstrators intended to prevent him personally from entering the ceremony (... ) irritation over a turbulent demonstration disrespectful of the status of foreign diplomats should not have spurred Ben-Natan to a rebuke that is cut off from reality." The reason for Ben-Natan's behavior, as unseemly as it may have been, was clear: "The incident revealed with renewed force, perhaps, a fact well known for some time now. Radical leftist circles in West Germany have begun turning a cold shoulder to Israel."
In the June demonstrations there was no longer any doubt about the target of the protests. "The disturbances by leftist students encountered by our ambassador Asher Ben-Natan," read Haaretz, this time in its front-page editorial, "are a novelty. The participation of Arabs and a handful of Israelis is not as important as the central role taken in them by the SDS (the Socialist German Student Union ) and the 'extra-parliamentary opposition' (... ) up until now, the general impression had been that the New Left in Germany has not forgotten what happened to the Jews under Hitler."
"The intellectual rioters," as Haaretz called them, "claim that they are not, God forbid, anti-Semitic: they oppose imperialism and therefore reject Zionism, and for the same reason they support Fatah. This is what they claim, in any case, and subjectively perhaps they are being honest. But, in that case, the nonsense which they have adopted as truth is much more troubling; and it should be added that their methods are fascist."
Whereas in the not-so-distant past, Israel believed that its role is to persuade the New Left that it is mistaken when identifying Zionism with colonialism and Israel with Western imperialism, it now "seems there is no longer any hope of engaging them in a serious discussion and pointing out their errors of judgment to them. We should make a note to ourselves that in West Germany there are now two public factors hostile to us: the NPD and the radical left." The neo-Nazi party and the New Left, the two extremes of the political arena, found common ground in their "expressions of hostility toward the State of Israel."
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