BERLIN – The organization Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) on Tuesday published a letter in support of Germany’s commissioner for combating antisemitism, who classified a South African-based pro-BDS academic’s language as antisemitic.
The 50,000 scholars affiliated with SPME wrote that they support “the latest actions of Germany’s federal antisemitism commissioner Dr. Felix Klein who condemned the invite of Achille Mbembe. Klein correctly pointed out that Mbembe had made the antisemitic equation between the former apartheid regime in South Africa and the Israeli government, endorsed the global BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] campaign to divest and sanction from the Jewish state, and diminished the Holocaust by comparing it with the apartheid system.”
Mbembe and his wife, the academic, Sarah Nutall, advocated an aggressive boycott of Shifra Sagy, a psychology professor at Ben-Gurion University. As a result of a joint statement by Mbembe and Nutall, Sagy was disinvited from the South African Stellenbosch University’s conference in 2018.
The Jerusalem Post press queries to Sarah Nuttall, who is a professor of Literary and Cultural Studies and Director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and Mbembe, were not answered.
Mbembe also teaches at the University of the Witwatersrand. The post-Colonial theorist Mbembe has written that there must be a “global isolation“ of the Jewish state.
SPME wrote that “Klein’s actions echoed what the Bundestag made clear in September 2017 that BDS is an anti-Semitic campaign and that its objectives, and methods correspond with the extended International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which was adopted by the German government in September 2017. “
Jeremy Issacharoff, Israel’s ambassador to Germany, tweeted on May 2: “Expressing deep admiration & respect for my friend and colleague Felix Klein, the Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany & Fight against Antisemitism. He has strengthened the German Jewish Community and Flag of Germany ties with Flag of Israel in the face of a complex & challenging reality.”
According to a report in the German paper Die Welt on Wednesday, a spokesman for Germany’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, defended Klein and rebuked Mbembe for antisemitsm, stating that “the repeatedly used image of drawing parallels between Israel and South Africa’s apartheid system is very problematic and uses antisemitic clichés.”
The SPME letter continued that “For cosmetic and political reasons BDS groups try, albeit unsuccessfully, to draw a distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism to soft peddle their racist policies and include Jewish individuals in their midst to disguise their racism which is what the groups who are trying to discredit Klein are doing now.”
Klein told the German paper WAZ in April: “The person selected should be someone who lives up to this responsibility, not someone who has been criticized in the past for the relativization of the Holocaust.”
Klein added that Mbembe had “questioned Israel’s right to exist and also compared South Africa’s apartheid system to the Holocaust — something that is out of the question in view of the unprecedented crimes during the Nazi era, and especially given Germany’s historical responsibility for it.”
Mbembe was slated to deliver the opening speech at the Ruhrtriennale cultural festival in Germany. After the public row over Mbembe’s reported Jew-hatred, the event was cancelled allegedly due to the coronavirus crisis.
SPME said that “The issue at hand was not a matter of free speech but rather one of hate speech something that Klein should be praised for.”
A group of nearly 40 Israeli and Jewish academics called for Klein to be dismissed in a late April letter sent to Germany’s interior minister Horst Seehofer. A number of the 40 academics support BDS measures against Israel.
According to the pro-Mbembe letter, “We consider Mr. Klein’s attempt to frame Prof. Mbembe as an antisemite is baseless, inappropriate, offensive and harmful. We are aware that the attack on Prof. Mbembe was initiated by others, who rejected him as the opening speaker of this year’s Ruhrtriennale Festival. Given his official role and responsibility, we find it unacceptable that Mr. Klein joined this attack, which degraded into a witch-hunt.”
SPME wrote that it believes that the BDS movement as a whole is contrary to the search for peace, since it represents a form of misguided economic and cognitive warfare. “It is in direct opposition to decades of agreements between Israel and Palestinians, in which both sides pledged to negotiate a peaceful settlement and a commitment to a two state solution.“
The letter continued that “By focusing obsessively on Israel, and not on countries where actual human and civil rights abuses exist and where academics are suppressed, the actions of those supporting the BDS campaign are, as former Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers put it, ‘anti-Semitic in their effect if not in their intent.”’
Uwe Becker, the president of the pro-Israel NGO German-Israel Friendship Society, said on Wednesday: “I would like to take the opportunity to expressly express my support for the position of Dr. Klein and for its excellent work in combating growing antisemitism in our country. The criticism of him is…offensive…represents an attempt to massively intimidate a committed champion for Jewish life and commitment to hatred of Jews in our country. This is completely unacceptable and must be rejected in the strictest of ways.”
Becker, who is also the commissioner of the Hessian federal state government for Jewish life and the fight against antisemitism, added that “Klein rightly criticized Mbembe’s position on Israel, “noting that “Mbembe contributes to defame and delegitimize the Jewish state and promotes the spread of anti-Israel and thus antisemitic resentments.”
He continued that “It is the task of the federal commissioner against antisemitism to name and combat hostility to Jews in all its forms. This includes the commitment against Israel-related hatred of the Jews, as promoted by Achille Mbembe.”
The president of the Germany’s 105,000 member Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, opposed Mbembe as a speaker because Mbembe’s writings argue that Israel’s interaction with the Palestinians in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is worse than the Holocaust.
“With that he [Mbembe] disqualifies himself.” said Schuster, adding “I wonder what the [Ruhrtriennale] director was thinking when she invited him.”