Having spent the last three decades studying and trying to contain antisemitism in various ways, the elite of German BDS storm troopers has informed me in no uncertain terms that in fact it is me who has been the antisemite all along. Let me explain. As some readers may now, the documenta, Germany’s internationally acclaimed and most important art show, is currently running in Kassel. For months prior to the opening of the show, various individuals and groups—including the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland, Germany’s officially recognized central Jewish representative body, in a formal letter to the responsible junior minister in the federal government—warned of the distinct possibility, indeed likelihood, given what was known of the organizers and participants, that the show would become a forum for various expressions of antisemitism. Also for months, the usual suspects could barely contain their outrage at the fact that anyone would dare to suggest anything of the kind. When the show opened, several works of art instantly turned out to be so outrageously antisemitic that even many of those who ordinarily spend most of their time explaining away “accusations” of antisemitism had to be seen to express their repulsion. Particularly amusing were the articles by journalists who, having been there, wrote one day that there was nothing antisemitic to be seen anywhere, and the next day, how outraged they were by the patent antisemitism.
Now, you might think those who had spent months denouncing all those who predicted exactly what had now occurred might go quiet for a little while or perhaps even hint at the possibility that they might not have been entirely right. Far from it. They doubled down. They had been absolutely right all along because the warnings came from people who had warned for all the wrong reasons (as racists and assorted fascists always do). Besides, the curators and artists were not from the West, hence, their antisemitism could not really be classified as strictly antisemitic, it merely reflected a distinct, non-Western perception of the world. The racist outsourcing of various forms of barbarism frowned upon, to varying degrees, in the West since 1945 to the “global south”, whose inhabitants evidently cannot be expected to attain our Western levels of sublimation, has, of course, always been one of the ideological mainstays of the New Left and has more recently emerged as the quintessence of what now counts as ideological antiracism.
Consequently, they concluded, what the maybe, perhaps, in some ways, though not really, yet in this particular context mildly irritating “antisemitism” at the documenta amounted to above all was—an excellent opportunity finally to have a grown-up discussion about these tricky, hitherto quite unexplored issues.
Consequently, they concluded, what the maybe, perhaps, in some ways, though not really, yet in this particular context mildly irritating “antisemitism” at the documenta amounted to above all was—an excellent opportunity finally to have a grown-up discussion about these tricky, hitherto quite unexplored issues. No one showed himself more gratified by this excellent opportunity than Meron Mendel. The two most important things one needs to know about Mendel are, firstly, that he holds a PhD and, secondly, that he works as a professor. He doesn’t work at a traditional university, nor does he seem to have completed the postdoctoral qualification “proper” German professors usually need. Now, I could not care less about these things, far from it. During my nineteen years at universities in the UK, I looked on aghast as more and more institutions went from simply listing their academic staff alphabetically to subdividing them into hierarchical groupings and demoting what were once temporary lecturers to teaching fellows etc. My point here is that on twitter you meet Mendel as “Dr Mendel: Prof”. So beware: do not proceed further unless you have mustered the requisite deference for his status!
Dr Mendel: Prof also runs an educational facility attached to the Jewish Museum Frankfurt named for Anne Frank (Leila Khaled would be a better choice!) Like many of his peers, Dr Mendel: Prof too thinks that true antisemitism only exists and is only ever dangerous when it comes from the political right (in the traditional sense of the word). (It is not without irony that the same ideological scene, that now makes this argument was trying to persuade us fifteen years ago that the Muslims were the new Jews because not even the far right was in any meaningful sense antisemitic anymore.) All other kinds of what some might consider antisemitism aren’t really antisemitism anyway and the false impression that they are can easily be dispelled by having a sensible conversation with the non-antisemitic antisemites. A couple of years back, the centre sponsored a book-length publication explaining in great detail why nothing could be more heinous and harmful than the suggestion that any kind of similarity exists between the (far) left and the (far) right. In short, as several observers have noted, Mendel may not have signed the Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism, but he and his centre are devoted to its uncompromising, indeed aggressive implementation. Add to this that in Germany the fact that he is a Jew and grew up in Israel makes his wisdom and legitimacy unassailable.
Little wonder, then, that none other than Dr Mendel: Prof has emerged as the most highly prized antisemitism “expert” who now tells the media how to analyze the documenta scandal in a “differentiated” manner and who has been called upon by the authorities to make the most of the great opportunity provided by the documenta’s antisemitism. (Talk of putting the fox in charge of the hen house!) Who would be better suited to continue denouncing those who dared to raise concerns in advance as racists, minimize the antisemitism in evidence at the documenta and appease everyone except those few who, rather than merely going through the well rehearsed (and in many cases well paid) motions, are genuinely outraged by what has occurred and demand serious consequences (including the resignation of the documenta organizers and the junior minister charged with overseeing the art show)?
Who would be better suited to continue denouncing those who dared to raise concerns in advance as racists, minimize the antisemitism in evidence at the documenta and appease everyone except those who are genuinely outraged by what has occurred and demand serious consequences?
My coming out as one of the most reprehensible antisemites ever to walk on this earth took the form of a sarcastic response to one of Dr Mendel: Prof’s “antisemitism as opportunity” statements. What a shame, I suggested, that Dr Mendel: Prof had not lived at the time of the Shoah, never had there been more opportunity, and as well as eradicating antisemitism he would presumably have been able to heal cancer and create perpetual peace while he was at it. A few days later, one of the most aggressive BDS storm troopers on twitter whom I had encountered before started putting it about that I had called for Dr Mendel: Prof to be gassed, and with that started the usual monstrous pile on of endless often patently antisemitic statements and all the usual insults. Finally, the BDS storm troopers had found something they considered antisemitic. Here was a non-Jewish German, descendant of the perpetrators, who wanted to gas a “critical” Jew—just what one would expect from an “Israel apologist”. The absurdity of all this should not detract from the epistemological consistency of the procedure. When the Israel haters want to make actual antisemitism disappear, they bury it in ostensible context. When they want to conjure up antisemitism where it does not exist, they resort to total decontextualization.
A few days later, one of the most aggressive BDS storm troopers on twitter whom I had encountered before started putting it about that I had called for Dr Mendel: Prof to be gassed, and with that started the usual monstrous pile on
Now, these things happen. There can be few twitter users who have not at some point had people with whom they totally disagree signal their ostensible agreement. No one can genuinely choose the company they keep on twitter and, in stark contrast to some of Dr Mendel: Prof’s defenders, I would not dream of assigning guilt by association on such grounds. However, come early evening of the first day of the pile on, Dr Mendel: Prof entered the fray himself and expressly thanked “all those”—all!—who had taken issue with my statement and called on me to be less polemical.
Come early evening of the first day of the pile on, Dr Mendel: Prof entered the fray himself and expressly thanked “all those”—all!—who had taken issue with my statement and called on me to be less polemical.
The icing on the cake is yet to come, however. My message was repeatedly reported to twitter who repeatedly decided it did not violate any regulations. Not content with this outcome, the storm troopers tried a different approach, and this time they succeeded. My response to Dr Mendel: Prof alone would not have sufficed, so it took a second tweet to put me in breach of the rules and lock my account. The statement that broke the camel’s back commented on a news report about the latest federal police figures concerning potential Muslim and far-right terrorists in Germany. The headline placed great emphasis on the huge increase in the number of potential far-right terrorists and a marked decrease in the number of potential Muslim terrorists. Only on closer inspection did it turn out that, as I then put it in my tweet, even after the massive increase in the number of potential far-right terrorists, there were now 0,15 times more potential far-right than potential Muslim terrorists. This clearly proved, I added, that far-right terrorism was indeed (as leftists like to claim, the blinder they are to the danger of political Islam, the more so) the principal threat. Now I had demonstrably harassed and wished harm not only on Dr Mendel: Prof but, apparently, also on potential far-right and Muslim terrorists, and twitter had no choice but to lock my account. (What not many people may know: while your account is locked, BDS storm troopers are still allowed to defecate all over you, you just have no right of response. Nor can you unsubscribe from twitter’s email alerts because, after all, your account is locked.)
Now I had demonstrably harassed and wished harm not only on Dr Mendel: Prof but, apparently, also on potential far-right and Muslim terrorists, and twitter had no choice but to lock my account.
I have to confess that until this weekend I radically underestimated Dr Mendel: Prof. His stance is, after all, the norm in today’s real-existing left. He seemed not particularly bright and was certainly annoying, to be sure, but what’s new? Observers have repeatedly commented on his ostensible opportunism, and I myself have called him a leftist Hans-Joachim Schoeps. He struck me as one of those people who want to be ur- and uber-woke and therefore cannot admit to themselves that antisemitism is not some inexplicable aberration but integral to the real-existing left (and always has been to the New Left). It has now become clear to me that Dr Mendel: Prof’s ostensible opportunism is in fact a consummate form of demagoguery.
Those who have studied the rise of the Nazis will know that in the final years of the Weimar Republic, the Nazis toned down their antisemitic rhetoric in order to assuage more moderate middle-class citizens. This has sometimes been misunderstood to mean that the middle classes were largely unsympathetic to antisemitism per se. However, what frightened some was not the antisemitism as such but what the Nazis seemed to suggest might be the “solution” to the “problem” with the Jews. The Nazis were not trying to make themselves look non-antisemitic, they wanted to ease middle-class consciences in accepting their antisemitism. At the same time, no loyal supporter of the Nazis doubted for one moment that antisemitism remained the Nazis’ most prized possession.
Dr Mendel: Prof has turned just so staying this side of the law and avoiding the threat of losing his public funding, on the one hand, while leaving his true supporters in no doubt whatsoever as to where he actually stands, on the other, into a fine art. In this respect, he stands heads and shoulders above his peers. The content he stands for may be the norm in German’s universities, cultural institutions and adult education, but few implement it with the passion and unscrupulous brutality Dr. Mendel: Prof brings to the task and few are therefore nearly as dangerous.
The content he stands for may be the norm in German’s universities, cultural institutions and adult education, but few implement it with the passion and unscrupulous brutality Dr. Mendel: Prof brings to the task and few are therefore nearly as dangerous.
Twitter has given me the option to delete the incriminated tweets and return after observing a twelve-hour ban. I will do nothing of the sort. The BDS movement knows full well that the likelihood of its ever inflicting any substantial economic pain on Israel is minimal. Its principal goal is the delegitimization of Israel and the attendant bullying of all those in the West who support Israel and oppose Israel-related antisemitism into submission. One might conclude from this that it is important not to “give in” to such bullying. There is something in this argument and until recently, I have felt a strong commitment to using social media, firstly, to harass antisemites (which I consider a virtue and the only appropriate way of treating them) and, secondly, to perhaps offer support to some who may be finding it increasingly difficult to keep track of when they are being gaslit by antisemites. However, the flipside to this approach is that it in fact does no more than set up a self-selecting echo chamber while creating the impression (for ourselves and others) that the forces for and against antisemitism are both well represented in the social media (facebook is obviously a more complicated case, given that it is supposedly a site for communication among “friends”). Nothing could be further from the truth. One might as well tell the story of Nazi Germany as one of rampant resistance rather than almost total complicity.
If a tenable social or political consensus regarding the threat of antisemitism and the need to nip it in the bud existed, neither would the documenta be taking place in the way it is, nor would the German media now be spending half their annual freelance budget to pay God and her aunt to make endless “differentiated” statements about a supposedly complex and controversial issue which could hardly be simpler or clearer.
As I have pointed out before, we are currently exiting an absolutely exceptional historical period in which antisemitism has officially been considered iffy. It will take a radical rethinking of relevant educational, political, legal and direct-action concepts to come up with something that might be able to contain antisemitism in the face of its inevitable normalization. There is nothing to suggest that a tenable social or political consensus regarding the threat of antisemitism and the need to nip it in the bud exists. If it did, neither would the documenta be taking place in the way it is, nor would the German media now be spending half their annual freelance budget to pay God and her aunt to make endless “differentiated” statements about a supposedly complex and controversial issue which could hardly be simpler or clearer. If the ostensible consensus existed, half of what is now being published or broadcast would go without saying and the other half would not be published because it is clearly antisemitic. If we delude ourselves or others into believing such an anti-antisemitic consensus exists, we do more harm than good. This is the crucial distinction between the seemingly well-meaning claim that “there is no place”—presenting antisemitism as an outlandish aberration even as it engulfs Jews the world over—and that “there should be no place” for antisemitism.
If we delude ourselves or others into believing such an anti-antisemitic consensus exists, we do more harm than good.
A good place to start might be the key insight formulated by Horkheimer and Adorno, Sartre and others, that antisemitism is fundamentally a compensatory device that lends individuals a sense of strength they lack as individuals and therefore need to borrow from the antisemitic collective. Most of what is currently done to contain antisemitism is geared not to the question of how individuals might attain a strong, reflective sense of self but to the attempt to poach them from an antisemitic collective by offering to lend them the emotional support afforded by a different collective. Given that the alternative collective tends to be, to varying degrees, less antisemitic but rarely entirely non-antisemitic, when push really comes to shove, individuals will—quite rightly—prefer the real thing!