Revisiting the 1972 Munich Massacre

Was it the far right or the far left that helped Palestinian terrorists murder 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympics in 1972? The German periodical Der Spiegel has studied 2,000 pages of released files from the domestic intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), and concluded that two German neo-Nazis, Willi Pohl and Wolfgang Abramowski, supplied the Palestinians with fake passports, drove them around Germany, and possibly helped supply some of the weapons.

Apparently, months before the massacre, police in Dortmund sent the BfV a note about “presumed conspiratorial activity by Palestinian terrorists” and pointed to meetings in Germany between Pohl and Mohammed Daoud (a.k.a. Abu Daoud), the brains behind the Munich massacre. When Pohl himself was arrested in October 1972, he was in possession of submachine guns, hand grenades, and other weapons that matched those used in the massacre. The documents secured by Der Spiegel suggest he was planning further attacks within Germany at the behest of the PLO.

Pohl was sentenced to only 26 months in prison. In fact, within days he was released and fled to Beirut. It seems likely the German authorities were engaging in a preemptive surrender to terrorism. Only days before, they had released the three surviving terrorists from Munich after the PLO hijacked a Lufthansa jet.

So, case closed? Not so, says an expert on the German far left’s connections to Palestinian terrorism. The political scientist and historian Wolfgang Kraushaar, writing in the German Jewish newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine Wochenzeitung, restates the traditional view that it was the German far left that aided the Munich terrorists. He tells the Jerusalem Post that “people like Willi Pohl were in reality useful idiots for the Palestinians” while there is “serious information” that leftists such as Wilfried Böse helped the Black September group at Munich. Certainly, far-left Red Army Faction (RAF) founder Ulrike Meinhof praised the massacre for making “the essence of imperialist control transparent.” And the involvement of German far-leftists at Entebbe has been discussed previously in this blog.

The more interesting question is: why were there individuals on both the far left and the far right who would have readily helped kill Israelis? The far right requires little explanation: fascists drink in anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk. But why would the left, the inheritors of the Enlightenment and universalism, support the massacre in Munich?

A powerful new book by anti-Semitism historian Robert Wistrich, From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel, suggests one reason: far left and far right agree about Zionism and Israel. Both, says Wistrich, are “relentlessly blackened as dark reactionary forces and the greatest current threat to world peace.”

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