From the controversy over allegations that some staffers at the Jewish Museum Berlin harbored sympathies for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to the fracas over Achille Mbembe, an observer of these and other anti-Semitism debates of recent years can only note that intransigence on all sides has resulted in a discursive situation that can feel claustrophobic. Critics who suspect leftist milieus of anti-Semitic tendencies and point these problems out find themselves accused of downplaying the dangers of right-wing anti-Semitism or of being – witting or unwitting – stooges of the Israeli government, which is said to have weaponized the concept of “anti-Israel anti-Semitism” to delegitimize any criticism of its authoritarian policies. In Germany, in particular, the critique of anti-Semitism also raises suspicions of siding with “the powers that be,” which is to say, the hegemonic bourgeois consensus. After Angela Merkel’s assertion that Israel’s security is part of Germany’s raison d'état and the public interventions of Felix Klein, the Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Anti-Semitism, an interparty resolution passed by the German Bundestag that declared the BDS movement to be anti-Semitic did much to reinforce this notion. In other words, anyone who surmises that anti-Semitism is not exclusive to Holocaust deniers, conspiracy theorists, and hate-mongers is only too often branded as complicit with the state, the Axel Springer press empire, and Islamophobes and faces the adamant opposition such associations would merit. That is why a leftist critique of left-wing anti-Semitism – and not just of “anti-German” positions, which were either never a viable option or ceased to be one when some of their exponents drifted far to the right – finds itself in a tough spot these days. Yet, in conceiving this issue of Texte zur Kunst, we did not mean to discuss solely the anti-Semitism of “those others”: we wanted to explore the – often implicit and latent – anti-Semitism “among us,” which is to say, among people who see themselves as leftists and left liberals.
The charge of anti-Semitism has become unmoored from any meaningful definition and, in Germany, is perfidiously brandished to make the status quo of the country’s Erinnerungskultur (roughly, culture of remembrance) immune to criticism: that is one central argument from the left. Another is that contemporary discussions around anti-Semitism deprive other concerns of air, or even worse, that they are a diversion helping Germans paint an idealized portrait of themselves as the “world champions” of reflecting on the past, all while preventing an honest reckoning with Germany’s colonial history or perhaps even trivializing the disparately more menacing right-wing anti-Semitism. We cannot escape from this ostensible zero-sum game with its logic of mutual suspicions and obstinate blind spots simply by an act of will. On the contrary, the problem of how to talk about anti-Semitism without ignoring other forms of discrimination that often, in intersectional fashion, compound it has left an unmistakable imprint on the conception of this issue. In particular, the composition of a planned roundtable conversation on the BDS movement – which, in the end, did not take place, in part because several prospective participants thought that it would be too critical of BDS – was a subject of ongoing discussion, not least over whether and how Arab and Palestinian voices should be represented. Some of the guest editors defended the decision, which remained controversial among us, of not including these voices by arguing that the objective was to examine BDS’s prominence in “Western” art-world and academic settings and not to stage a miniature version of the Middle East conflict. The complete editorial team ultimately decided to replace the originally planned roundtable with individual statements on BDS by Saba-Nur Cheema, Jörn Etzold, and Daniel Laufer that set out the provisional results of their critical engagements with the movement. In their diversity, we believe, they limn the outlines of a leftist critique of anti-Semitism beyond predictable scandalizations, something that is more necessary than ever today, given a discursive praxis in which cancel culture is ascendant and all sides consider their counterparts a priori as enemies.
Still, as the issue’s “Anti-Anti-Semitism” title indicates, our goal is not to pursue a kind of relativist pluralism of opinions by questioning the necessity of a critique of anti-Semitism. The urgent need to examine anti-Semitism not merely as a variant of a more general “group-focused hostility” but as a very specific – historically, ideologically, and spiritually overdetermined – form of discrimination is manifest. The response to various BDS positions is highly symptomatic in this respect. The movement has gained widespread support in recent years; its sympathizers are notably found in contexts and milieus with which we have longstanding ties. As Aram Lintzel argues in his contribution, what is especially striking is how often those sympathizers unquestioningly adopt ideologically problematic positions. The ways in which some postcolonial discourses recycle anti-Semitic narratives and tropes are also analyzed by Meron Mendel and Tom Uhlig, whose perspective helps throw into relief the specificity of anti-Semitism as distinct from other forms of discrimination. The French rabbi Delphine Horvilleur has discussed this same “special status” of the Jews in her recent and seminal book Réflexions sur la question antisémite (an English translation, Anti-Semitism Revisited: How the Jews Made Sense of Hatred, is forthcoming). In an interview with Isabelle Graw and Dirk von Lowtzow, she explains what makes “the Jew” such a peculiar figure: racism sees “the other” as inferior; Jews, by contrast, are accused of being (all-)possessing and (all-)controlling.
The resentment against modernism and its abstract relations of power and capital often expresses itself in anti-Semitic narratives, in what may be described as an “anti-Semitism without Jews.” Leon Kahane’s essay illustrates how artistic practices rearticulate this resentment; Vivian Liska demonstrates something similar in the philosophical writings of Alain Badiou and Giorgio Agamben. Noit Banai and Sabeth Buchmann approach the problem from the other side by reflecting on cinematic modes of perception that allow empathetic and affective processes of recollection associated with the Shoah to be translated into collective forms of participation and resistance. In that sense, the double negation in the title “Anti-Anti-Semitism” is meant not only to signal our condemnation of anti-Semitic discrimination but also our effort to open our minds to multi-perspectival and non-identitarian viewpoints on Jewish history and culture. One such viewpoint is sketched by Cristina Nord; working from intersectionality yet mindful of its pitfalls, she writes that we must develop a stance toward decolonial criticism that combines solidarity with critique if we hope to broaden one of its central concerns – privileging bonds over dissociations – to include a critique of anti-Semitism.
The urgent appeal to decolonial critique that it indeed should do so is the guiding thread of this issue. It is the point on which we were and still are in unqualified agreement. What we will keep disagreeing on is that widespread tendency to seek immunity for one’s own exclusions, which in the end amounts to a critique without self-critique. In encouraging the reader to join this disagreement, we are inviting criticism of our own positions as well.
Translation: Gerrit Jackson