Who Is Max Blumenthal, and What Does He Want From Us?

Late last year, Germany was captivated by a mesmerizing, almost absurdist video at the heart of something eventually dubbed Toiletgate. In it, anti-Zionist activists Max Blumenthal and David Sheen chase Gregor Gysi, the chairman of die Linke, Germany’s left-wing opposition party, down his office’s hallway. The two men hound Gysi with accusations that he called them anti-Semites, which Gysi denies. Gysi flees into a toilet stall, and Sheen and Blumenthal try to force their way in, without success.

German newspapers across the political spectrum denounced the obsessive radicals who had tried to prevent Gysi from urinating in peace, and the German media wasn’t shy about calling Blumenthal and Sheen—who are both Jewish by birth—anti-Semites. But the story behind Toiletgate was a little more complex. Two Linke politicians known for their opposition to Israeli “imperialism,” Inge Höger and Annette Groth—who had also sailed on the Mavi Marmara in 2010 when Israeli commandos disastrously raided the ship bound for Gaza—had invited Blumenthal and Sheen to speak at a conference on Israel in the Bundestag on Nov. 10. Tipped off that the two men were ferocious denouncers of Israel, Gysi canceled the invitation.

The reason was simple politics. The Baader Meinhof era still echoes in Germany: Nothing can tarnish a German politician like charges of anti-Semitism. Gysi has for years now been trying to put a stop to the radical antics that have led most Germans to shrug off die Linke as a sideshow. In June 2011, under Gysi’s leadership, die Linke adopted with a large majority statements affirming Israel’s right to exist and in favor of a two-state solution. Gysi also pushed through a measure stating that Linke representatives would not take part in boycott efforts and Gaza flotillas or advocate for a one-state solution. Höger and Groth, boisterous radicals (and not just about Israel), have been chafing under these restrictions. Toiletgate was their failed attempt to push back…