Germany is now notorious for weaponizing the charge of antisemitism in order to silence Palestine solidarity, labelling BDS – the peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israeli violations, as inherently anti-Semitic.
In May last year, the German Bundestag passed a resolution condemning BDS as “anti-Semitic”, flatly conflating “Israel” with “Jews”, thus associating BDS with the Nazi boycott of Jews.
So now, there is a whole brouhaha about the distinguished professor Achille Mbembe, who is booked to speak at the Ruhrtriennale festival in North Rhine-Westphalia. Mbembe is booked to give the opening speech on the 14th of August, titled “Reflections on planetary living”. He has been supportive of BDS and has made comparisons between South African Apartheid and oppression of Palestinians. Mbembe is a Cameroon-born, South Africa-based historian who lectures around the world, holding an A1 rating from the South African National Research Foundation. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
The attacks against Mbembe appear to have been initiated by Lorenz Deutsch, a local politician with the FDP (Liberal Party), through a letter forwarded and promoted by Dr. Felix Klein, the “Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life and Against Anti-Semitism”. Deutsch’s letter highlights quotes from Mbembe’s writing which are supposed to prove his anti-Semitism, and what local as well as Israeli press have concocted to be “Holocaust trivialization” and “Holocaust relativization”. Here are the critical Mbembe quotes:
- Moreover, given its ‘hi-tech’ character, the effects of the Israeli project on the Palestinian body are much more formidable than the relatively primitive operations undertaken by the apartheid regime in South Africa between 1948 and the early 1980s.
- The apartheid system in South Africa and the destruction of Jews in Europe – the latter, though, in an extreme fashion and within a quite different setting – constituted two emblematic manifestations of this phantasy of separation.
Now, how do you reach from here to antisemitism, Holocaust relativization or Holocaust trivialization? Even in this clinical isolation, the quotations are quite logically formed, and the latter quote even makes a crucial point of distinguishing the Holocaust from South African Apartheid.
The key to charging Mbembe is in the infamous ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which has been weaponized internationally to chill critique of Israel. The vague and clumsy definition provides a list of 11 examples of antisemitic speech, seven of which are related to Israel. Among these examples are:
- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor
- Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
These two examples seem to fall close to the accusations against Mbembe, though they don’t really fit them anyway. This “definition” is not meant to be a perfect fit anyhow – the whole point of it is to open up for a general campaign of tarnishing against BDS and critique of Israel in general, as has been the case in the many places, like the US and UK, where in the latter, the definition served as a major asset in the campaign against Jeremy Corbyn.
The attacks against Mbembe appear to have multiple outlets – from the local politicians and conservative Jewish leaders to the Jerusalem Post. “German cultural festival director urged to be fired for BDS antisemitism”, is the title of the latest in a series of articles by Benjamin Weinthal in the Jerusalem Post, a journalist for whom such witch-hunts appear to be a pet project.
Weinthal’s target is also the festival director, Stefanie Carp. He approvingly cites a German official saying she should be fired because she booked Mbembe. Notice also the pairing “BDS antisemitism”. This is a linguistic wholesale conflation which leaves absolutely no room for the possibility that BDS is actually a movement concerned with human rights. No, it is simply a sub-form of antisemitism, and that’s beyond discussion.
Weinthal cites Uwe Becker, the “commissioner of the Hessian federal state government for Jewish life and the fight against antisemitism in Germany”, who makes the precise same conflation:
Once again, the director of the Ruhrtriennale Stefanie Carp sets an anti-Israel accent and stages the defamation of the Jewish state in the guise of freedom of art and expression… Obviously Ms. Carp not only has a problem with Israel but also deliberately provides a large platform for Israel-related antisemitism. Once again, she is abusing the framework of a publicly funded festival for antisemitic enemy images toward Israel.
Never mind that Carp confirmed that Mbembe, in his Festival speech, will “not deal with Israel and the Middle East conflict”. His positions are apparently beyond the pale, and Carp has to be fired for even considering to have him speak, about anything.
Weinthal points to Mbembe’s cardinal sin: That in a forward to a book from 2015 called “Apartheid Israel: The Politics of an Analogy,” Mbembe wrote that “the time has come for global isolation” of Israel.
It’s a real problem when these conflations of Israel and all Jews are made – and you can’t talk about Israeli Apartheid without it being taken as an inherent hatred of all Jews.
Even Jews are attacked for these things. Last year, the German Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Near East, received a peace prize from the city of Göttingen, which Israel-apologists sought to have cancelled, suggesting these are the ‘wrong kind of Jews’. In 2016, after an incitement campaign by the Israeli government and its local supporters, the bank account of the organization was closed. This was in fact the first time in the post-WW2 era, that an account held by a Jewish organization in Germany was closed. It was explicitly explained to them that this was for political reasons – if they would rescind their support for BDS, they could reopen the account. Only after a massive protest campaign, were they allowed to reopen the account.
Germany, in this respect, is applying state-sponsored censorship on steroids. The Holocaust guilt, which is actively and admittedly promoted by Israeli diplomats, is serving as a central emotional core from which to enact this censorship, which is meant to protect Israel from critique and condemnation, by tarnishing anyone who ever spoke about its racism, as racist themselves.