When the German Bundestag passed a resolution condemning the entire Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign as antisemitic in May 2019, it kicked off a sharp debate that flared up again when the conflict in Israel/Palestine escalated two years later.
Micha Brumlik was Professor for Theories of Education and Pedagogy at the Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main from 2000 to 2013, and director of the Fritz Bauer Institute from 2000 to 2005. He has been a Senior Research Fellow at the Selma Stern Centre for Jewish Studies Berlin/Brandenburg since 2013, publishes on the history of Judaism and contemporary Jewish topics, and is co-editor of the Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik.
Between those two events, the invitation of African philosopher Achille Mbembe to the 2020 Ruhrtriennale Festival of the Arts, subsequently cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stirred up the German press in a way that had not been seen since the “historians’ dispute” between Jürgen Habermas and Ernst Nolte in the 1980s. Back then, the question was to what extent Nazism, including the extermination of the Jews, was an understandable defensive reaction against “Bolshevism”. Now, it was about Israel and Zionism.
Yet Mbembe’s disinvitation was by no means the climax of the debate. A little while later, administrators at the Weißensee Academy of Art and Design in Berlin cancelled a workshop by Israeli students who had come to the conclusion that Zionism does not represent a viable basis for the future of the State of Israel, and removed the event from their website, citing the Bundestag’s anti-BDS resolution.
The Israeli government in the person of Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu had already sent a letter to Angela Merkel in 2019, protesting an exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin because it did not give due recognition to the centrality of Jerusalem for Judaism and the State of Israel. Subsequently, the Central Council of Jews in Germany withdrew its confidence in director Peter Schäfer and forced him to resign. This move was justified with, among other things, the accusation that he tolerated BDS-affiliated positions in the museum’s academy.
These and other incidents all point to the ongoing relevance of the debate around “post-colonial antisemitism”. In this book, German scholar Micha Brumlik, a renowned authority on Jewish issues in the German-speaking world, intervenes in the never-ending debate, outlining its contours and evaluating the various positions staked out within it.
As a left-wing institution in Germany, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation cannot and indeed does not want to be guided by exclusively German or European perspectives on the issue. Instead, the foundation sees itself as an organization that operates on an equal footing with its partners around the world, exchanging knowledge, experiences, and information.
Nevertheless, as much as the foundation is mindful of the perspectives of left-wing and progressive actors from around the world and seeks to communicate these views through its work in Germany and Europe, there are still certain German and European experiences that have to be taken into account and communicated if partnership on an “equal footing” is a genuine objective.
To this day, and with good reason, the mass murder of six million European Jews continues to shape left-wing attitudes in Germany. Murderous antisemitism, its causes, consequences, and reasoning are a quintessentially, albeit not exclusively, German experience. The resulting perspective is not necessarily one our partners from other regions share, but they should at least acknowledge it.
Through its international offices, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation works in many different regions around the world with a whole range of initiatives, movements, organizations, and institutions, including those focusing on issues of antidiscrimination, politics of memory, and the related historical and current responsibility that Germany bears, particularly as regards the country’s colonial history and its relationship with Israel/Palestine.
It was for this reason that we decided to commission the English translation of Micha Brumlik’s Post-Colonial Antisemitism? as a way to facilitate dialogue and communication — a process that can be painful for both sides.
Post-Colonial Antisemitism? Achille Mbembe, the Palestinian BDS Movement and Other Controversies
Translated by Carla Welch
144 pages | ISBN 978-3-948250-59-1