The Cameroonian attacked in Germany rejects the anti-Semitism accusations against him – with one exception. And: Felix Klein may apologize.
Achille Mbembe 2015 in the LMU Muchen on the occasion of the award of the Geschwister-Scholl-Prize Photo: Matthias Balk/dpa
Achille Mbembe published this text on his Facebook account on May 8 under the title "Les conditions morales de la lutte contre l’antisemitisme."
La version francaise originale se trouve en bas de la traduction.
I am writing to reassure you. I am in Johannesburg. I am well and safe. Israeli, Jewish, German and Palestinian scholars, intellectuals, researchers, writers, artists and diplomats have been the first to jump to my side and lend me their voices. Some I know only by name.
They know how fragile our voices are – so small is their weight in the balance of power that determines the fate of our world. They also know how easily we are silenced, even when we have something to say. When our voices speak out publicly, it is primarily because a great injustice is taking place in plain sight that we cannot bear in silence.
I am also writing to reaffirm a dual certainty that many of us share. The fight against anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism is of absolute urgency. The project of the extermination of the Jews in the midst of modern Europe, by its singularity, represents a rupture not only in European consciousness, but in that of all humanity. To deny this essential fact is detrimental to all struggles for justice and equality in the world, not only to that "against Jew-hatred".
For its part, the relentless fight against anti-Semitism cannot philosophically or ethically serve as a pretext to promote racism against other peoples on earth, to silence them, to stifle their grievances, or to disqualify their dreams of equality, justice, and freedom.
What has happened?
I am receiving countless messages from alarmed people who are concerned about me, my welfare and my safety, and rightly so. They have learned that for several weeks I have been the object of completely unprovoked attacks, as crazy as they are insidious, from the right and extreme right in Germany.
At the origin of this defamation campaign is a local politician from North Rhine-Westphalia. His name is Lorenz Deutsch. He doesn’t know me and I don’t know him. Officially, he is a member of the FDP. I have been asked if he has any connections with neo-Nazi circles or ultra-nationalists. I don’t know anything about that.
What I do know is that he didn’t want me to give the big opening speech at the Ruhrtriennale this year. The festival was cancelled because of Covid-19.
Our politician couldn’t say he didn’t want a Negro at the festival. He could not say that he rejects me because I represent anti-colonial theses. Or because I advocated the return of African cultural assets. Or because I oppose Europe’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers.
So he’s found something better. He has had a diabolical idea: an anti-Semitic Negro – that kills two birds with one stone!
How else to explain this gigantic defamation campaign with racist features?
He claimed that I was a BDS member. Absolutely false. I am not a member of anything, no church, no political party, no organization. I don’t even belong to the teachers’ union at my university.
But for Deutsch, the idea that a Negro can think and take moral stands all by himself is unbearable. A Negro is an object to be used. Since the German parliament declared BDS to be an anti-Semitic movement, Lorenz Deutsch said to himself: it is enough for him to associate me with BDS, in all the power of his imagination, for me to actually be an anti-Semite.
He then leafed through one of my last books, "Politiques de l’Inimitie," then through a preface to a book published a decade ago by African scholars ("The Politics of Analogy"). He has chosen two passages on which to base his claim that, first, I am comparing the Holocaust and apartheid (thus relativizing the Holocaust) and, second, I am comparing the State of Israel to the apartheid state (thus denying Israel’s right to exist).
Completely wrong. Did he even bother to read? I argue exactly the opposite. In the preface, for example, I emphasize "Israel’s right to exist."
In "Politiques de l’Inimitie," I address different manifestations of separationist politics in several world regions as part of a reflection on the state of the world. Based on ethnographic studies by Israeli researchers, I address the situation in the West Bank and Gaza. I am actually merely summarizing what all the world knows, especially the Israelis themselves. But no, in Deutsch’s eyes, none of this is worth anything. What counts is his prejudice.
Just to show you how malicious Lorenz Deutsch is: I actually do not even believe that a comparison of Israeli policy in the occupied territories and apartheid policy is fruitful. I write this in black and white in said preface. These are not just two unique processes. Each of them has its own historicity, so to speak.
Finally, he accuses me of having supported a call by South African academics to end the exchange between the University of Johannesburg and Ben-Gurion University in Israel, which for him proves my hostility to the State of Israel.
Yes, I signed the call – because Ben Gurion University has been accused of having links with Israel’s armed forces and arms industry, which structurally promotes the occupation in Palestine.
Things took a dangerous turn when Lorenz Deutsch and his construct of lies sought out Felix Klein, commissioner of the German government for the fight against anti-Semitism, and got him to take it on. In a very careless manner, Klein then made statements to the media. Since then, not a day goes by without the regional or national press publishing an article about me.
Instrumentalization of anti-Semitism
The matter has taken an international turn. Highly respected Jewish and Israeli scholars, researchers, artists and writers have written an open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German Interior Minister. It castigates the false allegations, calls for Felix Klein’s dismissal, and is outraged by the instrumentalization of anti-Semitism for ideological purposes, for censorship, or with the aim of stifling any criticism of Israeli policy in the occupied territories.
For their part, German academics have published a letter of solidarity condemning the mendacious accusations and defending academic freedom.
This week, an international appeal with over 300 signatures from academics of different nationalities will be addressed to the German authorities. It will once again condemn the instrumentalization of anti-Semitism for purposes that have nothing to do with the protection of Jews or the true fight against racism.
If the Mbembe case is about to become emblematic, and if it is making such waves in Germany, it is because it touches the core of this country’s identity.
After the Holocaust, Germany rebuilt itself against anti-Semitism. One could say that the fight against anti-Semitism is part of Germany’s reason of state.
But it should be clear to both Germany and all other nations on earth that in order to truly eradicate anti-Semitism, it is in the interest of all of us not to instrumentalize it to silence the other or to conduct a witch hunt against it.
I would like to say one more thing.
Because he spoke out by virtue of his office and therefore in the name of the German state, Felix Klein owes me a public apology, and until my last breath I will not stop demanding it from him.
I am not the only one who has been lynched in this way. Many other intellectuals, often from or descended from countries in the South, have suffered this torment recently. Let us think of them.
For those who are concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism in the world, but at the same time reject any instrumentalization of this cause, my case is undoubtedly the one that breaks the camel’s back. Perhaps that is why so many of the best in our fields have taken up my defense, starting with Israeli and Jewish academics who themselves insist on naming their identities in this way.
Meanwhile, thank you all.
Johannesburg, May 8, 2020
Translation from the French: Dominic Johnson. Note: Mbembe uses the word "nègre" in this text to describe how he feels he is characterized by his German critics. Um dies deutlich zu machen und um Mbembes Sprachgebrauch treu zu bleiben, wird das Wort in dieser ubersetzung, anders als mittlerweile in Deutschland ublich, nicht als "N-Wort" verfremdet.
Moral conditions for the fight against anti-Semitism
If I am writing to you, it is first of all to reassure you. I am in Johannesburg. I am well and I am safe. The first to come to my rescue and to lend me their voices were Israeli, Jewish, German and Palestinian scholars, intellectuals, researchers, writers, artists and diplomats. Some of them I knew only by name.
You know how fragile our voices are, since they count so little in the balance of power that determines the course of our world. You also know how easy it is to silence us, even when we have things to say. If they chose to speak out publicly, it was largely because a very grave injustice was being committed in broad daylight, and they could hardly bear to remain silent.
I am also writing to reaffirm a twofold conviction that many of us share.
The fight against anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism is a matter of absolute urgency. Because of its singularity, the project of annihilation of the Jews in the heart of modern Europe constituted an implacable rupture in the consciousness not only of Europe, but of humanity as a whole. To deny this essential fact serves all struggles for justice and equality in the world, and not only the struggle "against hatred of the Jews".
In return, the uncompromising fight against anti-Semitism cannot, either philosophically or ethically, be used as a pretext to fuel racism against other peoples of the Earth, to silence them, to stifle their complaints, or to disqualify the dreams of equality, justice and freedom that they carry.
What’s going on?
I have received countless messages from people who are alarmed and worried about me, my well-being and my safety, and rightly so. They have learned that for several weeks now I have been the object of completely unfounded attacks, as zany as they are vicious, from right-wing and extreme right-wing circles in Germany.
At the origin of this smear campaign is a local politician from North Rhine-Westphalia. His name is Lorenz DEUTSCH. He doesn’t know me and I don’t know him. He is officially a member of the FPD. Some of you ask me if he has any connection whatsoever with neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalist circles. I don’t know.
All I know is that he didn’t want me to give the big opening lecture at this year’s Ruhrtriennale Festival. The Festival has been cancelled because of Covid-19.
Our politician couldn’t say he didn’t want a Negro at the Festival. He could not say that he opposed me because I support anti-colonial theses. Or that I took a stand for the restitution of African art objects. Or that I am opposed to the treatment that Europe gives to migrants and asylum seekers.
Then he found something better. He came up with a diabolical idea. An anti-Semitic Negro could kill two birds with one stone!
How else to explain this vast smear campaign with racist overtones?
He claimed that I was a member of BDS (a movement of Palestinian origin that advocates boycotting Israel as a way to defeat the occupation). Absolutely false. In fact, I don’t belong to anything, to any church, any political party, any organization. I am not even a member of my university teachers’ union.
But for DEUTSCH, the idea that a Negro can think for himself and take moral positions on his own is unbearable. A Negro is an object to be manipulated. The German Parliament having decreed that BDS was an anti-Semitic movement, Lorenz DEUTSCH thought that it was enough for him, in his omnipotence, to affiliate me in an imaginary way to BDS for me to be effectively anti-Semitic.
He then went to look in one of my last books, ‘POLITICS OF INIMITATION’, and then in a preface written for a book published about ten years ago by Africanist researchers (entitled THE POLITICS OF ANALOGY). He has retained two passages on which he bases his assertion: (1) I compare the Holocaust and Apartheid (and thus relativize the Holocaust); (2) I compare the State of Israel to the State of Apartheid (and thus deny Israel’s right to exist).
Totally false. Did he even bother to read? I defend exactly the opposite position. For example, in the preface, I reaffirm in full "Israel’s right to exist".
In POLITICS OF INIMITATION, in a reflection on the state of our world, I stop to consider the policies of separation in their various manifestations in several regions of the globe. On the basis of ethnographic studies made by Israeli researchers themselves (to which I refer liberally), I evoke the situation in the West Bank and Gaza. In reality, I am content to summarize what everyone knows, starting with the Israelis themselves. But no, in the eyes of DEUTSCH, all this is worthless. What counts is his prejudice.
To tell you how bad faith Lorenz DEUTSCH is: I don’t even think that a comparison between Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories and the Apartheid policy is fruitful. I write this in black and white in the preface in question. These are not just two singular trajectories. Each has, so to speak, its own historicity.
Finally, he criticized me for supporting a petition by South African academics demanding an end to exchanges between the University of Johannesburg and Ben Gurion University in Israel, which he said would demonstrate my hostility to the State of Israel.
Yes, I signed the petition because Ben Gurion University was accused of having links with the Israel Defense Forces and the arms industry, thereby structurally facilitating the occupation in Palestine.
Instrumentalization of anti-Semitism
Things took a dangerous turn when, armed with his web of lies, Lorenz DEUTSCH went to Felix KLEIN, the Federal Government Commissioner for Combating Antisemitism, and made him endorse it. KLEIN then recklessly leaked statements to the media. Since then, not a single day goes by without an article about me being published, whether in the regional or national press.
The case has taken an international turn. Very prominent Jewish and Israeli scholars, researchers, artists and writers have signed an open letter. It is addressed both to Chancellor Angela Merkel and to the German Minister of the Interior. It denounces these false accusations, demands the dismissal of Felix KLEIN, and protests against the use of anti-Semitism for ideological and censorship purposes, or in order to stifle any criticism of Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories.
German academics have, on their side, published a Solidarity Letter condemning the false accusations and defending academic freedom.
Next week, an international petition signed by more than 300 academics of various nationalities will be sent to the German authorities. It will once again condemn the instrumentalization of anti-Semitism for purposes that have nothing to do either with the protection of Jews or with the real fight against racism.
If the MBEMBE case is becoming emblematic, and if it continues to arouse so much passion in Germany, it is because it touches the very heart of the identity of this country.
Germany rebuilt itself in the aftermath of the Holocaust against anti-Semitism. One could go so far as to say that fighting anti-Semitism is part of one of the raisons d’être of the German state.
But it should be clear, both for Germany and for all the other nations of the world, that if we truly want to eliminate anti-Semitism, it is in the interest of all of us not to use it to silence (or witch hunt against) those who are not like us.
In closing, I must tell you one thing.
Felix Klein owes me a public apology because he spoke in the name of his federal office, and therefore in the name of the German state, and I will not stop asking for it until my last breath.
I am not the only one to have suffered this lynching. Many other intellectuals, often from or descended from countries of the South, have been subjected to the same ordeal recently. Let us have a thought for them.
For those who are concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism in the world, but who are at the same time opposed to any instrumentalization of this cause, my case is probably one case too many. This is perhaps the reason why so many of the most qualified figures in our disciplines have defended me, starting with Israeli and Jewish academics (since it is they themselves who wish to decline their identity in this way!).
In the meantime, I thank you all.
Johannesburg, May 8, 2020