ON THE DEBATE AROUND “TEXTE ZUR KUNST,” ISSUE 119 STATEMENT BY SUSANNE LEEB, JENNY NACHTIGALL, JULIANE REBENTISCH, KERSTIN STAKEMEIER, AND DIEDRICH DIEDERICHSEN
With its 30-year history, the journal Texte zur Kunst stands above all for feminist, institution-critical, and capitalism-critical positions within the field of art. It is precisely because we, as members of the advisory board, are so closely connected to this political and editorial project that we feel compelled, in the following, to problematize the current issue, titled “Anti-Anti-Semitism.” We also write this statement as documentation of an internal debate within the journal, and in the belief that such disagreements have the potential to be generative.
The increase in anti-Semitic tendencies that has accompanied the recent rise in nationalism and strengthening of new reactionary coalitions, both in Germany and abroad, is alarming. In Berlin, we observe the way in which mass demonstrations against state measures aimed at stemming the COVID-19 pandemic have brought together right-wing, libertarian, and ecological splinter groups whose connections to each other lie not least in the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories their followers adhere to.
While the current issue of Texte zur Kunst does address the problem of the trend for such conspiracy theories, it lacks any deeper analysis of the specificities of current anti-Semitism in Germany, an analysis that is still needed. Instead, attention is steered toward other scenes. That “Anti-Anti-Semitism” is perceived as being an “anti-BDS” issue should come as no surprise, considering the combination of its title, introductory texts, and line of argument. We consider the implied identification of the (in fact quite heterogeneous) BDS organization as anti-Semitic to be politically fatal, regardless of one’s own stance toward it. This identification, which by way of a decision of the German Bundestag leads to a situation, in which “projects which call for Boycott or are in support of BDS cannot be financed,” only serves to close off necessary political debate. Within the issue, this often manifests itself in the way in which certain contributions become ensnared in a performative self-contradiction, in which their own polemic and allegations preclude the very openness to discussion and advocacy of difference they demand from the other side. The long-overdue and ongoing self-education of the left as to the function and history of a left-wing anti-Semitism in Germany, and the internationalization of the positions that this left within this process takes on toward the Middle East conflict and global colonial politics, cannot simply be projected onto (and thereby deferred to) an international scene.
In the context of the discussion around Achille Mbembe within the issue, in turn, the various political and intellectual positions that engage with the necessary decolonization of our present, and thus with that of our own institutions alike, are all too often reduced to the postcolonial theory, which is then diagnosed as suffering from a Manichaeism that is said to reproduce structural anti-Semitism. While the issue does contain one contribution that sketches out a more differentiated picture of the Mbembe debate, elsewhere in this issue Mbembe’s argumentation is interpreted as anti-Semitic. This is all the while in the issue as a whole, Arab and Palestinian voices are just as unrepresented as counter-positions regarding BDS formulated by Jews and Israelis. It is, however, precisely here that we see the task that faces us today: to block the path of a strengthened anti-Semitism, and to do so as leftists who seek to decolonize their own perspectives. In our view, it is necessary to be mindful of all of those alliances that run contrary to their respective conditions of oppression, and not to play them off against one another instead.
While we are aware that the texts that appear in the issue were subject to contentious discussions between the editors and guest editors, and that it also contains other contributions that differ in their themes, stances, and tones, with its anti-BDS slant the issue nonetheless threatens to split its readers: between those whose focus is on fighting anti-Semitism, and those who advocate for decolonization. We want to warn against any such division, since the ethno-nationalist Right, currently celebrating triumphs across the world, attempts to draw part of its dynamism from precisely this sense of increasing division within left-wing positions.
We see the strength of this journal as lying not least in its willingness to repeatedly turn the sense of responsibility for critique it claims toward others back on itself. It seems to us that this strength is now needed once again.
Translation: Ben Caton