„Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism“: About the new struggle about defining Antisemitism

More than 200 scholars from around the world have signed the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism. Most of them are Jews who have dedicated their lives to the study of Jewish history, anti-Semitism or the Holocaust. And who are united by a growing sense of unease that prompted me to sign as well.


The fight against anti-Semitism has been hijacked, by political interests that have little to do with defending Jewish life and culture, with defending Jewish self-determination. We live in a world in which an authoritarian nationalist like Victor Orban, who owes his power not least to an anti-Semitic campaign, can declare himself a friend of Israel. His propaganda is based on an effective strategy: he combines racism against Muslim migrants (of which there are none in Hungary) with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about the alleged power of a “Jewish capitalist” who wants to rob Europe of its Christian identity by flooding it with “Oriental” immigrants. In the same vein, last year “King Bibi’s” heir to the throne Yair Netanyahu joined the AFD in calling for the end of the “globalist EU” and a “Christian Europe.” The world in which we fight anti-Semitism today has become more complicated.
But when German politicians talk about anti-Semitism today, there is almost only one topic: BDS, the Palestinian boycott movement and its friends – or, precisely, people who are accused of it, but who in fact are not. The dispute over this has various dimensions. It is about whether we understand Europe, whether we understand Germany as open societies in which we may be ethnically, culturally and religiously different, but live together in compliance with common rules, or whether we define identities and territories homogeneously, thus perpetuating the catastrophe of nationalism. This then also includes: to refer the Jews to “their” territory.
At the same time, it is about a painful inner-Jewish dispute: Can we still – or finally – live self-confidently and self-determined in the Diaspora after Auschwitz? Or, after the national delusion of the 20th century, must we all entrench ourselves in a “safe haven” that may turn into a self-imposed ghetto, only this time behind walls of our own making?
And finally, an internal Israeli dispute is becoming ever more apparent, over whether this country should be an ethno-religiously exclusive castle to which Jews can retreat, or whether the country should be “liberated” from “foreign occupation,” as BDS demands. Or whether it can become a common state of its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens, which must find what these people can share with each other, but cannot be based on what separates them.
How and why one positions oneself in these conflicts also determines which definition of anti-Semitism one leans towards. And what and whom one fights under this sign. Only a few days ago, Germany’s “anti-Semitism commissioner” Klein uttered the strange sentence that there is no wrong and right understanding of anti-Semitism. Could he mean anything other than: there is no need for a proper concept of what we mean by defining something as anti-Semitism, because he alone decides that anyway? “Who is an anti-Semite, I decide”.
The “working definition” of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which is now used by many governments as a yardstick for such judgments, was launched with noble motives, and is proving to be a boomerang. It oscillates between meaningless generality: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews”, and a focus on the issue of Israel that invites political abuse, an abuse that one of the definition’s first authors, Kenneth Stern, has since strongly deplored. To date, it is not really clear what the IHRA actually decided at its 2016 Bucharest conference. Just the skinny four lines posted on the Alliance’s website as a “working definition”? Or also the examples positioned below it, which, it literally says, may serve as an “illustration?
In 2017, the German government eagerly quoted the first sentence of the working definition as an allegedly decided part of the definition: “Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

With this “illustration”, which from now on will be colocated as a resolution, the IHRA definition produces above all a misunderstanding.

In fact the reverse is true. It is not primarily anti-Semites, but the self-proclaimed “defenders” of Israel, who want to define this state as a “Jewish state”, and thus as the core of the “Jewish collective”. And who can thus declare any criticism of this state, its policies, and its exclusive definition “as a Jewish state” to be a case of “anti-Semitism” when the Israeli “Ministry of Strategic Affairs”, set up specifically for this purpose, decides that this criticism is not appropriate.
No, the dispute about BDS is not really about BDS at all, it is about whether one is allowed to discuss a different constitution of Israel, and about whether Jews are allowed to make self-determined decisions about their lives in the Diaspora or not.

The fact that the debate about Israel and Palestine leads to all kinds of injustice, to double standards, and to a toxicity in the debates that can hardly be surpassed, is not primarily due to anti-Semitism. It has to do with the fact that the adherents of the two largest world religions assume that the fate of the world is decided in Jerusalem. This is an attitude that is often not even conscious and does little to resolve the conflict. To declare the respective opponent an anti-Semite or a racist only leads further in a hopeless spiral of violence and non-recognition of the other. The Jerusalem Declaration could help to bring the discussion about Israel and the discussion about anti-Semitism back into more rational waters, and that means, above all, to separate them a bit. Even if the storm of “indignation” or its seconder, the gloating, will not be long in coming.


About the freedom of the dissenter: Rosa Luxemburg

European Diary, 5.3.2021: 150 years ago today, the socialist Rosa Luxemburg was born in Zamosc, Poland, which was then part of Russia. When she was two years old, her family moved to Warsaw. A hip ailment suffered by the three-year-old was mistakenly diagnosed as tuberculosis and incorrectly treated. She would suffer from limping all her life. Sentenced to nearly a year of bed rest at age five, she learned to read and write self-taught, remained dwarfed, and at age nine began translating German texts into Polish, writing poetry and novellas. She wrote a Polish mocking poem about Kaiser Wilhelm, who visited Warsaw when she was 13, saying, “Tell your cunning rag Bismarck / Do it for Europe, Emperor of the West / Command him not to shame the pants of peace.”

Rosa grew up multilingual, speaking Polish and German at home, Russian and French, reading English, understanding Italian, and learning Latin and ancient Greek. At the age of 15 she joined revolutionary circles, a group called “Proletariat” founded in 1882. In 1888 she fled from the tsarist police to Switzerland.
In Zurich, women are allowed to study on an equal footing with men. The only place in Europe where this is possible. Many young Jewish women from Eastern Europe take advantage of this opportunity. Rosa studies philosophy, mathematics, botany and zoology, then international law and constitutional law, economics, political science and history. Soon she joins the Polish Socialist Party. But contrary to the party line, she advocates a resolute internationalism, founds the Polish exile newspaper Arbeitersache in Paris with her partner Leo Jogiches and other comrades, and opposes Polish nationalism. She is expelled from the party and founds a new Social Democratic Party that advocates democratic reforms in Russia instead of Poland’s independence. An independent Poland, she argues, is a mirage that would only distract the Polish proletariat from the class struggle, just as in other countries. From then on, as a Jew, she became the target of constant anti-Semitic attacks, insulted as a “Jewish spawn” whose “diabolical work of destruction” was aimed at the “murder of Poland”.
Her fight against the growing nationalism also in the labor movement brought her into fierce conflict with many leading Social Democrats, later also with Lenin. As a Jew and as a woman, she was repeatedly confronted with degrading undertones, also in statements by comrades. Nevertheless, living in Germany from 1897, she became one of the spokeswomen for the left wing of the SPD. She rejected reformism as well as Lenin’s authoritarian party centralism. Nevertheless, she succeeded in persuading leading Western European Social Democrats to make a decisive statement against growing anti-Semitism. Of course, she herself did not want to be thrown back on her Jewishness.  “What do you want with the special Jewish pains? Just as close to me are the poor victims of the rubber plantations in Putumayo, the Negroes in Africa, with whose bodies the Europeans play catch ball.” Her internationalism goes beyond Europe. “I don’t have a special corner in my heart for the ghetto. I feel at home in the whole world, where there are clouds and birds and human tears.”
She foresaw the coming world war and all the bestialities it would bring, the catastrophe of Europe, with great clarity. In 1913, in Frankfurt, on September 25, at the “Titania” in the Basaltstrasse (Basaltstreet) – a few steps away from where I am writing these lines – she makes a courageous speech against the war that would land her in jail: “If we are expected to raise the weapons of murder against our French or other foreign brothers, we declare: ‘No, we won’t do it!'” Less than a year later, she was sobered to discover that nationalism had washed away all reason – and all dreams of international class consciousness – in the European workers’ parties as well. In August 1914, together with other opponents of the war in the SPD, she founded the “Gruppe Internationale,” from which the “Spartacus Group” would later emerge.

As early as February 1914, Luxemburg was sentenced to fourteen months in prison for her Frankfurt speech on charges of “inciting disobedience to laws and orders of the authorities.” In February 1915 she had to begin her imprisonment in the Berlin “Weibergefängnis”. Her letters from her imprisonment are among the most moving writings she was to leave behind.

Released in 1916, she was arrested again just three months later. She spent more than three years in prison until 1918. In her theses written there under the pseudonym Junius, she drew a fatalistic and at the same time defiant balance in 1917: “The world war has destroyed the results of forty years of work of European socialism.” It was not by a greater power that the socialists had been destroyed; they had “blown themselves up.” The main task in this situation was: “to unite the proletariat of all countries into a living revolutionary power, to make it, through a strong international organization with a unified conception of its interests and tasks, with unified tactics and political capacity for action in peace as in war, the decisive factor in political life to whose role it is called by history.” And at the same time she criticized the totalitarian tendencies of the Russian Revolution: “Freedom is always the freedom of dissent.”
All this remained utopia. In November 1918, the workers’ movement and the short-lived soviet republic in Germany split. In the civil war, the majority of Social Democrats under Ebert allied themselves with right wing Freikorps and imperial troops to suppress the weak revolutionary forces of the Spartacus uprising.

In these days of spiraling events, Rosa Luxemburg also came into sharp opposition to the leadership of the Spartacists around Karl Liebknecht. She warned in vain against the futile attempt at armed revolution and demanded that democratic elections be held. But her admonitions went down. The last weeks of her life must have been marked by helplessness and a desperate will to hold on to the armed revolution publicly in the newspaper Die rote Fahne (The Red Flag), against her own convictions – while calls were made in the streets of Berlin for her and Liebknecht to be murdered.
On January 15, 1919, on the same day as Karl Liebknecht, she was arrested in Berlin by soldiers of the “Guard-Cavalry-Rifle Division” and murdered in a bestial manner. She was tortured in a posh Berlin hotel where the militia had set up their quarters, then dragged to a car. Her killers tried to smash her in the head with a rifle butt, drove the unconscious woman to the Landwehr Canal, shot her in the head on the way, wrapped her body in barbed wire and threw her into the water. At the end of May, her remains were found at a lock. Thousands attended her funeral on June 13, 1919.

Julius Gumbel, a Social Democrat from Heidelberg, later researched political murders in Germany. He arrived at the following figures: From 1918 to 1922, leftists murdered 22 people. There were 38 convictions. Right wing perpetrators committed 354 murders in the same period. There were 24 convictions. In 23 cases, the courts acquitted even confessed perpetrators who openly boasted of their deeds.


A plea for open discourse

European diary, 10.12.2020: This morning, the “Initiative GG 5.3 Weltoffenheit” (world openess) was presented at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, a growing working group of cultural and academic institutions in Germany that is concerned about freedom of art, science and opinion, in a situation of a growing and disturbing instrumentalization and abuse of accusations of “anti-Semitism”, which increasingly place critical discourse about racism, colonialism, but also about the Middle East under blanket suspicion and prevent necessary debates. In addition to major institutions such as the Humboldt Forum, the Goethe Institute, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of Wo9rld Cultures), the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin or the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (Federal cultural foundation), and the Alliance of International Centers of Cultural Production, the Einstein Forum in Berlin, the Moses Mendelssohn Center, the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism in Berlin – and the Jewish Museum Hohenems were also involved. Here is the link to the plea and the complete list of those involved so far. The press conference at the Deutsches Theater is the prelude to a series of further events.
Please see page three of the link for the English translation of this joint declaration.




“We are the new Jews”

European Diary, 4.12.2020: One of the leading figures and closest confidants with whom Viktor Orban has been bringing Hungarian cultural creators and institutions into line for years is Szilard Demeter, the director of the Petöfi Literature Museum in Budapest – and a member of numerous committees in which decisions are made on the allocation of grants to the literary and music industry. Szilard did not become known for his rather moderately successful literary and musical attempts, but rather for his marked right-wing slogans and threats of violence. Now he has also gone a little over the top, even for Orban’s best friends, the Israeli government.

George Soros, the Hungarian Holocaust survivor and former investment banker who has been the most popular target of anti-Semitic campaigns by the Hungarian government for years, made Europe his “gas chamber”, according to Szilard in a commentary on the Internet portal origo.hu last Saturday. “Poison gas flows from the capsule of a multicultural open society, which is deadly to the European way of life.” “The liberal Führer, and his liber-Aryan army” would try to erase the Christian and national identity of the European peoples. “We are the new Jews,” writes Demeter, referring to Poland and Hungary, and the intention of the European Union to punish violations of the rule of law in the future, which Poland and Hungary want to prevent by blocking the entire EU budget.
Demeter, who calls himself a “fanatical Orbanist”, has half-heartedly backed down after strong protests by the Jewish community in Hungary, numerous organizations and yes, even the Israeli embassy. Of course, there is no question of resignation or dismissal. After all, the fact that Soros allegedly wants to “flood” Europe with Muslims is the core of Orban’s daily propaganda, in which he is advised by close confidants of the Israeli head of government, Netanyahu. The fact that Szilard has made a few mistakes with the text modules here will not really hinder his career in Hungary.

“We are the new Jews,” wasn’t it with these words that the chairman of an Austrian right-wing party in 2012 complained about being insulted on the way to the ball of fraternity members. “It was like the Reichskristallnacht”. Only five years later the man was vice chancellor. Szilard Demeter must have a brilliant career ahead of him. Well, at least for a while.

Boycot vs. Boycot

European Diary, 19.10.2020: The consequences of the controversial BDS resolution of the German Parliament of May 2019 are once again becoming apparent. It is apparently understood as a blanket power of attorney for censorship – and perhaps it was meant to be. And so an absurd game is set in motion that only helps those who have no interest in a solution to the conflict over Israel and Palestine. And those who want to prevent us from even thinking about it together.

But let me briefly explain. The movement “Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions”, founded years ago in Israel and Palestine, sees itself as a non-violent resistance against the Israeli occupation in Palestine. And is otherwise not squeamish in its methods. It calls for boycott actions against Israel worldwide. It calls for an end to the occupation of “Arab land”, which quite deliberately goes beyond resistance to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and calls into question Israel’s right to exist in its present form as a “Jewish” defined nation state at all. And at the same time it demands equal rights for all people in Israel, which can certainly be understood as a possible offer to discuss a bi-national state of Israel. Whatever the case, BDS is and will probably remain a rather half-baked, one could also say an extremely inconsistent movement. For which, by the way, many Jews and Jewish Israelis also express sympathy or at least a certain understanding. In view of the deadlocked conditions. And even if one has a bad feeling about it.

But unfortunately, the success of BDS is limited above all to striking the wrong people. For lack of ability to assert themselves in those places where it could hurt Israel, activists (especially in the USA) repeatedly concentrate on scandalizing appearances by Israeli scientists and artists, boycotting cooperation at universities or cultural events. “Cultural boycott” is by no means approved of by all BDS activists, but of course such actions quickly reach a large public, and that is tempting.

And at the same time you hit exactly those who could actually be won over for a possible dialogue. What remains is the pale aftertaste that many in the BDS movement with their cultural boycott actions (from which the leadership of the movement does not publicly distance itself anyway) want to torpedo any discussion about common perspectives. For whatever motives.

So far so bad. But even more successful is the boycott that is now spreading in Europe. And is acting up as “measures against BDS”. These “measures” include in particular the withdrawal of public funding for projects, a broad field for arbitrariness of all kinds. For what is a subsidy? It ranges from the financing of NGOs, subsidies for cultural organizers and projects at universities to the renting of public spaces. And who makes the decision on this? And what does all this have to do with a liberal democracy and a constitutional state? These “measures” authorized by the German Bundestag are now mostly not directed against the BDS movement itself, but against all people who have been publicly suspected by anyone, with whatever right, to have anything to do with BDS. (It is sufficient to have co-signed some appeal years ago…). We have landed in the middle of a new form of McCarthyism. “Are or were you a member?” Or do you know someone?

An interesting example of how far this absurd spiral of boycott and counter-boycott has come in the meantime can be seen in Berlin at the moment. There, at the Weißensee Art Academy, a group of Jewish Israelis has been studying the Zionist narrative of history for a year. Yehudit Yinhar is the spokesperson of the group (“School for Unlearning Zionism”), which is currently planning an exhibition at the Kunsthalle am Hamburger Platz and is organizing lectures, film evenings, and workshops in English and Hebrew.

Before she moved to Berlin to study as a master student at the Weissensee School of Art, she was one of the activists in Israel of the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement Combatants for Peace, which organizes a joint bi-national memorial day for the victims of both sides one day before the Israeli state holiday for the fallen soldiers every year. Even though the movement is massively hindered by the Israeli state, more and more people take part in this ceremony every year, including well-known Israeli music stars such as Achinoam Nini (Noa). In May 2020, 200,000 people finally watched the ceremony online this time due to the lockdown. The Combatants for Peace, who are searching for ways out of the conflict between the fronts, regularly have to put up with harsh criticism from BDS as well as from the Israeli government. And, of course, from all kinds of organizations and media that act as watchdogs against “anti-Semitism”.

This is now also the case with the project at the Weißensee Art Academy. The Jewish-Israeli group has come under fire. And so the opponents of BDS are now organizing a boycott against Jewish Israelis.

First, the right-wing populist Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, which is close to the government, scandalized the project. The newspaper’s denunciation can now affect anyone. And sometimes nothing happens. But this time the Israeli embassy and the self-proclaimed champion against BDS in Germany, former member of the Bundestag Volker Beck, jumped on the bandwagon immediately and, strangely enough, so did the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee. “No tax money should be used for the delegitimization of Israel,” they said. The NGO Amadeo Antonio Foundation ranks the Israelis’ project under “Anti-Semitic incidents”.  And Volker Beck even demands the withdrawal of “indirect” funding. This could perhaps even lead to the ban of critical Jews and Israelis in Berlin from using the (state-subsidized) subway. Yehudit Yinhar probably sums it up best in the Berliner Zeitung: “A group of Jewish Israelis wants to take a critical look at their own history, but then the white German comes along and says: No, you can’t do that! As if the power to define our own history were German property. What does this amount to? Are we again divided into good and bad Jewish women? When German institutions seriously claim that they want to protect Jewish life in Germany and then withdraw funds from us on suspicion of anti-Semitism, something is going very wrong.”

Now let’s imagine that Donald Trump would demand that the money be withdrawn from projects at German universities that critically deal with American history (for example, the “Indian Wars”) on the grounds that it “delegitimizes” the United States. Or Putin would demand that Russian emigrants in Germany no longer be allowed to critically examine the October Revolution. Or Erdogan would demand that no more Kurdish artists be allowed to perform in German concert halls who also talk about Turkish policy toward the Kurds. (Oh yes, that’s right, he does indeed, and yet he gets rather clear answers…).

Funding for the Berlin project now is stalled and the website is taken offline by the Art academy, that fears loosing future public funding and thus their existence. Welcome to the illiberal democracy of Victor Orban in Germany.

19.10.2019: The House of Commons in London votes in a special session against the immediate approval of the new Brexit Treaty. Boris Johnson is forced to apply for an extension of the Brexit deadline in Brussels. Great Britain is still refusing to withdraw from the EU at any price.

Hannah Arendt: Jewish Cosmopolitanism and Broken Universalism

European Diary, 14.10.2020: She was one of the most dazzling Jewish thinkers of the 20th century. Today 114 years ago she was born in Hannover: Hannah Arendt.

She did not want to be called a philosopher. She saw herself as a political theorist. And in her unsparing analyses of political systems of rule and ideologies, her contributions to the theory of democracy and plurality, she saw herself as a historian.
Her studies took her through the German intellectual province, to Marburg, Freiburg and Heidelberg, to Heidegger (with whom she had a love affair that was later much discussed), Husserl and Jaspers, with whom she had a moving, friendly and contradictory dispute about the relationship between Germans and Jews before and after National Socialism. “For me, Germany is the mother tongue, philosophy and poetry,” she wrote to Jaspers before 1933, while at the same time emphasizing the need to keep a distance. She did not want to have anything to do with a “German being” that Jaspers liked to talk about.

As universalistically as she thought in terms of political issues, she always understood herself to be a Jew and took an offensive approach to the Jewish role as the pariah of society.

In 1933 she was briefly imprisoned by the Gestapo. And from then on, “If you are attacked as a Jew, you must defend yourself as a Jew,” as she dryly remarked in a legendary television interview by Günter Gaus in 1964. There was hardly anything that burdened her as much as the fact that her own intellectual environment in Germany not only came to terms with National Socialism, but like Heidegger and many others, was even attracted by the new power. She never doubted that such decisions were the responsibility of the subjects. She had nothing but biting derision for the “tragic” self-image of many Germans who, after 1945, had understood themselves in categories of entanglement and doom, as being “guiltless guilty”.
But also for the attempts of Holocaust victims to lend some positive meaning to the mass crimes, as a cathartic event in history, she had no sympathy. “Auschwitz, that must never have happened,” was her bitter résumé, which was also behind her book on the Eichmann Trial, with which she attracted fierce criticism in the Jewish public.

But before that she had experienced flight, internment, and statelessness. In 1933 she fled to France. In Paris, she belonged to the circle of friends around Walter Benjamin and the lawyer Erich Cohn-Bendit (the later father of Dany Cohn-Bendit). In 1940 she was interned in Gurs, now stateless, as an “enemy foreigner” in France, an experience that she dealt with in her essay Wir Flüchtlinge (We Refugees). After a few weeks she managed to escape from the camp, and in 1941 she was able to emigrate to the USA. In her luggage she carries Walter Benjamin’s last manuscript, his theses on the concept of history, his examination of the myth of progress and the growing heap of rubble that the angel of history must look upon, which the storm drives backwards into the future.
She now argues more and more independently as a Jew for Jewish self-defense, and after 1945 she is committed to the rescue of Jewish cultural assets whose real location, the Jewish communities of Europe, have been destroyed – and which must find a new use, especially in the USA and Israel.

She maintained a critical distance from the Zionist project of territorial Jewish sovereignty at the expense of the resident Arab population – and mixed feelings between sympathy, solidarity and political disillusionment. When, under the leadership of Menachem Begin, Jewish militias massacred the Arab population of Deir Yasin in 1948, she issued a fiery call, together with Albert Einstein and others, for a conciliation with the Palestinians. She saw her own place in the USA, a society she believed capable of reconciling universal civil equality and collective rights to belong to particular identities. Later, in private letters, she also expressed her attachment to Israel as a Jewish retreat, at a time when her disappointment about the persistence of anti-Semitic resentment was growing.

In the ever more intense debates about Jewish “identity” and self-confidence, however, she publicly took up a very individual, Jewish-cosmopolitan position, with which she came between all chairs, as Natan Sznaider showed in his book about Memory space Europe. The visions of European cosmopolitanism emphasized. Natan Sznaider will open the European Summer University for Jewish Studies in Hohenems in June 2021 with a lecture on this topic.


European Diary, 13.10.2020: Tomorrow evening Micha Brumlik (Berlin) will speak in our program about the new discourse on “Christian-Jewish Occident”. To get into the right mood André Heller will sing his unrhymed chanson about “Occident”.
André Heller’s Jewish father fled from the National Socialists and lived after 1945 mainly in Paris. Thus Heller also grew up with French citizenship before he became a chansonnier in Vienna.
In 1967 he was one of the founders of the pop channel Ö3 and presented the program Musicbox. His political commitment was always a balancing act. As a “Jew living in Vienna,” he criticized Kreisky for his compromising attitude toward old Nazis and anti-Semites, and Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, even though some critics accused him of “promoting” anti-Semitism. André Heller has not challenged such poisonous absurdities. He has remained as politically awake and critical as ever. When he spoke in the Austrian Parliament on 12 March 2018 on the occasion of 80 years of “Anschluss” in the Austrian Parliament, he ended his speech with a look at the new populism of the icy cold that had entered Austrian politics – and has not been overcome to this day.

“Allow me to tell you another strange thing about my life. For decades I thought I was something better than others. Wiser, more talented, more amusing, entitled to pride. I was arrogant, narcissistic, constantly judging others, and it didn’t do me any good until one day I was looking around me in a London Underground car. There were sitting and standing very different people with different skin colors and I heard different languages: In a kind of lightning bolt into my consciousness, I realized that each and every one of these women and men, old and young, hopeful and desperate, is also myself and that German, English, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic or Swahili is not our real mother tongue, but the world mother tongue is and should be the compassion. It enables us to recognize ourselves in each other and to be intimately and lovingly connected with them and to take this realization into account in all our thoughts and actions.

Late time, twilight
hour that carries hope, sadness and ashes
Take a breath, be lonely
Autumn of thoughts and last refuge for me
Occident, Occident ‘I respect and despise you

Not my tiredness
But the longing for dreams makes me look for sleep
The disturbing possibility of the transformations of my figure
Into other characters and locations
In the Von der Vogelweide
Cervantes, Appollinaire and James Joyce
Children’s crusades, funeral pyres, guillotines, colonies
The infamy, in fornicators on the Holy See
Expeditions to the edge of consciousness
Bankruptcy of good intentions
Congresses of the cynical laughing masters
Marc Aurel’s “Astronomy of contemplation”.
The storm baptisms Vasco da Gamas
Leonardo’s mirror writing
Gaudi’s anarchy of buildings
In Pablo Ruiz Picasso
Who grabbed the wishes by the tail
The Uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto
The Great Progroms of Armenia and Spain
Percival, Hamlet, Woyzeck, Raskolnikov
The flowers of evil
De Sade, Hanswurst and the man without qualities (“Mann ohne Eigenschaften”)



The tale of the “Christian-Jewish Occident”

European Diary, 28.9.2020: Do you know this joke? Mayer, a Viennese Jew,  wants to travel. At the train station in Vienna, already on the platform, he realizes that he still has to go to the toilet. He asks around: “Excuse me, can you tell me, are you anti-Semitic?” “Me? Well, that’s an insinuation. I love the Jews.” “Okay, You obviously can’t help me.” And he turns to the next one: “Excuse me, are you anti-Semitic?” “Well, really, not at all. I love Israel, such a wonderful country, fighting against those…” “Let it go.” And again he turns to the next one. “Please, can you tell me, are you anti-Semitic?” “How not! Of course, Jews rule everywhere, even the weather…” “Thank you, you are at least honest. Can you watch my suitcase for a minute?”

Austria’s “Integration Minister” Susanne Raab loves it, Germany’s AfD loves it, Viktor Orbán loves it, Identitarians love it, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz loves it, the German CSU loves it, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and Martin Engelberg love it: the “Christian-Jewish Occident”. HC Strache even loves the “Christian-Jewish-Aramaic heritage”. But hardly anyone is interested in that anymore.

I don’t remember exactly when the Jewish-Christian dialogue, that began in the 1950s under the impression of the Shoah – and the critical reflection among Christians – was taken up by the slogan of the “Christian-Jewish Occident”.

In Germany, this was already being talked about more and more often in the late 1990s. The Enlightenment and the Greek heritage were also frequently invoked. The only thing missing in this talking was Islam. As if it had not been Islamic philosophers in the Middle Ages who had a decisive contribution to Europe’s rediscovering of its Greek heritage in the Middle Ages. One could not avoid the impression that this void in public identity rhetoric was the only real thing about this discourse.

In 2010 the slogan of “Christian-Jewish Occident” also arrived in Vienna. Martin Engelberg, editor of a “Jewish” magazine and now a conservative (that is – in Austria – for the time being right wing populist) member of the Parliament and “Israel expert” of the Chancellor, invoked the “Judeo-Christian heritage” and the notion of a “common Jewish-Christian community of values” (after 1000 years of Christian persecution of Jews). And he warned against Muslim immigrants.

In the meantime, talk of “imported anti-Semitism” has become commonplace and serves not at least as justification for racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic asylum and migration policies.

And it serves as a distraction from everything that does not fit into this world view of essentialist identities. The greatest danger for Jews in Austria and Europe in fact still emanates from right-wing extremists, even if many Islamists make a successful effort to learn from them. Even in the everyday life of the middle classes and bourgeois circles, the so-called middle of society, Jews still have to listen to cultivated resentment about Jewish influence on this or that.

More than ever before, the most intimate friends of Israeli politics – from Victor Orbán and Matteo Salvini to Marie le Pen, to the right-wing populists of the Netherlands, Belgium, and most Eastern European countries – are always capable of rough-caliber anti-Semitic rides. That is in effect, when it is not about Israel, the Jews in the Middle East, who, as vanguard of the “Occident,” are expected do the dirty work for Europe and the United States, and are supposed to receive the blows for it.

Jews all over the world instead defend their right to live in open societies, in which it is not ethnicity or religion that decides whether one enjoys civil, political or social rights.

Thus, as a Jew, one has to deal with the fact that Israel, of all countries, as a “Jewish state” is now being misused by the nationalists of this world as a justification for their own racism, and is happy to be used.

And thus one now is faced with a strange constellation of ardent anti-Semites and fanatical “friends” of Israel: more and more often the same people.

The “fight against anti-Semitism”, which the current Austrian government has written in full in its program, and even more so the commitment to Israel as a “Jewish state”, is in reality not directed against anti-Semitism at all, but against everything that can be interpreted as “too far-reaching” criticism of Israel. Is it Austria actually that decide whether Israel defines itself in terms of ethnic-religious or secular pluralism?

In the name of the “Christian-Jewish Occident”, this naturally affects not only Muslims, who – like Christian fundamentalists – get stirred up to the “fight for Jerusalem”, but at least as often it is directed against Jews, i.e. the “right ones”. Cosmopolitan Jewish Intellectuals, or even critically minded Israelis. Orbán has demonstrated this most vividly. Advised by his friend Benjamin Netanyahu, he cemented his power with a campaign against the “Jewish world conspiracy” of George Soros, who would try to flood Europe with Muslim immigrants.

In Germany, one can observe the beneficial activity of a state sponsored “commissioner against anti-Semitism” for quite some time. In the meantime, he denounces so-called “left-wing liberal” critics of his politics (most of them Jewish and Israeli intellectuals) as latently violent “anti-Semites”. We will certainly get such specialists in Austria soon.

Hungary’s enemy?

European Diary, 13.9.2020: Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban and the country’s media, now largely controlled by him, are apparently worried that with the aged George Soros they could at some point lose their favorite enemy, the Jewish world conspiracy to flood Europe with Muslim migrants. The Central European University Orban has also successfully expelled from Budapest (to Vienna), at least its regular teaching activities.

Now Orban has discovered the conspirator behind the conspirator, the Austrian migration expert and pro-European activist Gerald Knaus.

His small think tank ESI (European Stability Initiative) critically observes corruption and anti-democratic tendencies in many European countries, restrictions of press freedom or the treatment of minorities. And of course also the worrying developments in Hungary.

The major Hungarian daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet now dedicates an entire six-part series of reports to Gerald Knaus, beginning on the front page with a portrait of Gerald Knaus and George Soros side by side. And colorful infographics that reveal their secret power and network. An unprecedented hate campaign.

The facts are quite banal. Gerald Knaus was one of those who in 2015 advised German and European policy-makers to reach an agreement with Turkey on the support of refugees on Turkish soil, but who at the same time repeatedly called for a fundamental examination of the causes of flight, especially the situation in Africa, in order to offer people a legal, but also controllable way to migrate to Europe, instead of just “offering” the illegal (and very often letal) trafficking routes to them. Gerald Knaus has also repeatedly and sharply criticized the way the EU deals with refugees on its own periphery, not least on the Greek islands. He has now dedicated a book to his observations and political advice, which will be published in October (“Which borders do we need?”) and which he will present in November in Hohenems and Vienna, among other places.

Whether the Hungarian campaign is connected with the fact that Knaus is currently (all the more so because of the events in Moria) again a sought-after interview partner in Germany and Austria, or whether the concerted media action of Viktor Orban’s vassals was prepared for this hunt anyway? You need to know Hungarian to penetrate this jungle of hate speech.

Even the Hungarian television was involved in the smear campaign: On september 12th HIR TV dedicated an own TV discussion to Gerald Knaus, with four sinister “experts” discussing how to fight “Hungary’s enemy” for an hour.

“Never Forget!”

Installation “never Forget”. Photo: Dietmar Walser

The imperative “Never Forget!” is a warning that endeavors to keep the memory of the National Socialist regime’s crimes and the Shoah alive. Indeed, as early as in 1946, Communist Vienna city councilor for cultural affairs Viktor Matejka mounted a large exhibition with that title at the Vienna Künstlerhaus. It was organized by the “Austrian federal association of former politically persecuted anti-fascists,” the umbrella organization of Austrian victims of National Socialism that existed until 1948, which had been joined by the “Austrian federal association of individuals persecuted for reasons of origin.” Yet, it was only at the last moment that Heinrich Sussmann (1904–1986), a Jewish Auschwitz survivor, was commissioned with designing a poster and exhibition room VI, “Persecution of the Jews.” It was not, however, Sussmann’s poster, which addressed the suffering in the concentration camps, but rather Victor Slama’s resistance fighter forcefully destroying the swastika that became the main advertisement vehicle. Even beyond that, exhibition preparations proved to be conflict-ridden. The Austrian People’s Party was unwilling to see the events immediately preceding the National Socialist period addressed, that is, the authoritarian corporate state, which had started with Austrians shooting at Austrians; and both large parties wished to have the Austrian victim theory underscored. No party was interested in dealing with the active participation of Austrians in the pogrom and murder of the Jews.

^ Sussmann family tomb at the Vienna Central Cemetery, Vienna 2020, © Oskar Prasser

< Heinrich Sussmann, poster for the exhibition “Never Forget,” Vienna 1946, © Austrian National Library-Picture Archive

Anti-Semitic “game” anonymously sent by mail to Simon Wiesenthal, n. d., © Archive of the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies (VWI)

v Simon Wiesenthal, Vienna 1988, © Archive of the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies (VWI)

Throughout his entire life, Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal (1908–2005) implored to never forget that the Shoah had been a consequence of the dismantling of democracy and human rights. Through the “Documentation Center of the Association of Jews Persecuted by the Nazi Regime,” which he had founded, he collected and documented Nazi crimes and searched for escaped perpetrators around the world. Politically, Wiesenthal was close to the ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party). His protest against former Nazis being ministers in the FPÖ-supported (Freedom Party of Austria) minority government of the SPÖ (then: Socialist Party of Austria) under Bruno Kreisky—who in turn had found himself berated as “Saujud” (sow of a Jew) by an ÖVP member of parliament in 1966—prompted the Federal Chancelor to maliciously insinuate that Wiesenthal had been a Nazi collaborator. Now, two Austrians of Jewish descent were attacking each other in public, and the republic watched. Despite all the educational efforts and all the affirmations of their anti-fascist convictions automatically uttered by politicians, Wiesenthal was repeatedly exposed to rude anti-Semitism. When in 1990 an FPÖ mayoral candidate let it be known in an interview: “I’ve said to Simon Wiesenthal: We are already building ovens again, but nor for you, Mr. Wiesenthal —you have plenty of space in Jörgl’s pipe,” it only was the tip of the iceberg.


The Idea of Europe

Installation “The Idea of Europe”

The concept of the “United States of Europe” has been around already since the 18th century, based on the model of the United States of America. So far, it has not materialized. Walther Rathenau (1867–1922) was among those who pursued this idea.

The son of the well-known founder of AEG—himself a prominent entrepreneur—was responsible for the supply of raw material for the German Reich during World War I. He also demanded the use of Belgian forced laborers to offset the lack of manpower in Germany caused by the war.

Already before the war, Rathenau had made the case for the establishment of a Central European customs union with a German-Austrian economic community at its center; he envisaged that in the long run its appeal would be irresistible to Western European countries. After 1918, he pursued in various political functions the normalization of the relationship between Germany and the allied victorious powers as well as a settlement with Soviet Russia. In 1922, the Pan-European Movement was founded based on the “return to Christian, Western values.” Its first major donor was German-Jewish banker Max Warburg. To the present day, however, it has remained largely ineffective. By contrast, Rathenau’s idea of a European Economic Community became reality in 1957, which eventually evolved into the European Union in 1992.

^ Walther Rathenau, presumably Berlin, ca. 1920, © Jewish Museum Berlin

< Walther Rathenau, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 1, 1918, excerpt, © Montage Günter Kassegger

> Commemorative stone for Rathenau’s assassins in Saaleck, 2012, © Torsten Biel

Rathenau did not live to witness Europe’s unification or World War II. He was labeled as “compliance politician” by the ethno-centric right of the Weimar Republic, his actions as foreign minister were construed as evidence of the “power of international Jewry,” his negotiations with Russia vilified as “Jewish Bolshevism.” The extreme right’s hatred of anything Rathenau represented was vented not only by chanting the slogan “Gun down this Walter Rathenau, the godforsaken Jewish sow!” In fact, on June 24, 1922, he was assassinated by members of the right-wing extremist terrorist “Organization Consul.”

The perpetrators Erwin Kern and Hermann Fischer perished in the course of their arrest in Saaleck in Saxony-Anhalt and were hastily buried at the local cemetery. Hitler had a monument erected for these “heroes” with an inscription that was removed in GDR times. Following German reunification, the tomb became a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis. As a result, the army removed the stone and the local parish abolished the burial plot. In 2012, on the 90th anniversary of the assassins’ death, a boulder was placed here by unknown individuals featuring—in runelike script— the name of these two men.

Michael Miller (Vienna) about Antisemitic accusations after WW 1 and the Paneuropean-Movement:

Lucian Brunner

“Soirée at Lucian Brunner’s” March 23, 1909Oil sketch, presumably by Alexander Pawlowitz. Loan from Francesca Brunner-Kennedy, Virginia
Lucian Brunner (1850 – 1914) spent his childhood and early adulthood in Hohenems and St. Gallen, but was also often in Trieste and traveling. The son of Marco Brunner and Regina Brunner, née Brettauer, worked at the “Jacob Brunner Bank” in St. Gallen until 1888, but eventually settled in Vienna together with his wife Malwine Mandel and their three boys; here he was active as industrialist and politician. He became involved in a small liberal-oriented party, the “Viennese Democrats,” assuming functions as Viennese municipal council member, as chairman of the “Demokratischer Zentralverein” (Democratic central association), and as publisher of the associated newspaper Volkstimme. In the Viennese municipal council, he repeatedly confronted the anti-Semitic mayor Karl Lueger, for instance, when preventing subsidies from tax money for a church construction or when contradicting nationalistic positions. Lucian Brunner always kept in touch with his home community in Hohenems and donated significant sums for the construction of the hospital and the gymnasium. When he passed away on April 15, 1914, he left behind a bequest for a non-denominational school in his hometown of Hohenems. The Hohenems municipal council refused to accept the bequest. The sketch shows the Brunner family as typical representatives of Vienna’s upper bourgeoisie whose evenings were used for self-representation in their own parlor.
Lucian Brunner, speech in the Vienna City Council on the German-Czech Language conflict – after a Language decree by Minister of Interior Badeni made Czech a second mandatory official language in Bohemia and Moravia. Vienna, April 27, 1897.
Lucian Brunner, speech in the Vienna City Council about minority rights in Vienna and Trieste – on the occasion of the planned extension of the Czech Komensky-School in Vienna-Favoriten. Vienna, October 22, 1897.

“Christian-Judeo Occident”

Installation “Christian-Judeo Occident”. Photo: Dietmar Walser

The Jewish communities in Europe are in part significantly older than the Christian communities; after all, Europe’s Christianization was completed only in the Middle Ages. Nonetheless, until recently, the term “Christian Occident” was applied to Europe; hereby, eleven million Jews who had lived here prior to the National Socialist period were erased from European culture via linguistic usage. The relationship between Catholicism and Judaism was put on a more positive footing only under the impact of the Holocaust and with the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). This had been preceded by the establishment of Christian-Jewish associations—as a critical reaction to the anti-Semitism and complicity of the churches in the genocide of the European Jews. It would take until 1986 until the first pope, John Paul II, Karol Wojtyła (1920-2005), would enter a Jewish house of prayer, namely, the Great Synagogue of Rome together with Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff.

< Pope John Paul II and Chief Rabbi Toaff on their way to the Great Synagogue of Rome in 1986, © Str/EPA/picturedesk.com

> Anti-Islam protests in the Czech Republic with Miloš Zeman on the occasion of the 26th anniversary of the “Velvet Revolution” in November 2015, © Matej Divizna, Getty Images

The catchword “Judeo-Christian West,” which has recently become popular, is a political battle cry. With its help, an old minority is meant to be coopted and mobilized against a new minority. It alludes to the cultural heritage of Greek and Roman antiquity as well as to the Bible. The fact that a significant part of this heritage is owed to Arabo-Islamic mediation is withheld as is the fact that Jews have always been forced into precarious life conditions and threatened by pogroms. Moreover, European protests against the construction of mosques recall prohibitions to build synagogues, which had been in force in large parts of Europe until well into the second half of the 19th century. Thus, the protests are also directed at the houses of worship of Muslims who speak Slavic languages and are shaping the culture of Southeastern Europe since hundreds of years. The concept of a European “Judeo-Christian community of shared values” blatantly contravenes Article 10 (1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union that declares: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

Doron Rabinovici (Wien) über die Rede vom “christlich-jüdischen Abendland”:


Carlo Alberto Brunner

Extinguishing Cradle from Carlo Alberto Brunner’s desk. Jewish Museum Hohenems, Carlo Alberto Brunner Estate
The Jewish Museum Hohenems owes its collections of Carlo Alberto Brunner (1933-2014) to his children who, after his passing, have decided to permanently loan the museum part of his estate. Carlo Alberto Brunner grew up in Trieste as the first son of Leone Brunner and Maria Teresa Brunner (née Clerici). He survived the Nazi period with his family on their compound in Forcoli, Tuscany. From the German invasion onward until the late 1960s, the family had to face substantial economic losses. After the sale of the property in Forcoli, Carlo Alberto moved to Israel and converted back to Judaism. He first lived on a religious and then on a socialist kibbutz. In 1974, he married Nurit Feuer and went on living with his family in an apartment in Giv’atayim, a suburb of Tel Aviv, surrounded by memorabilia from his Hohenems and Triestine family, oil paintings from the early 19th century and from Trieste, heirlooms and memories. Carlo Alberto Brunner also left behind a book manuscript, Il Fondo del Ghetto, in which he contemplates the stations of his life and his family history as mirrored in the great political ideas, historic events, and nationalistic catastrophes of the 20th century.
Carlo Alberto Brunner: Il Fondo del Ghetto (The Bottom of the Ghetto), Manuscript. Jewish Museum Hohenems
Carlo Alberto Brunner, Il Fondo del Ghetto (The Bottom of the Ghetto). Childhood under German occupation
Carlo Alberto Brunner, Il Fondo del Ghetto (The Bottom of the Ghetto). Israel and ethnic nation states

Do We Understand Each Other?

Installation Do We Understand Each Other? Photo: Dietmar Walser

Having grown up in Białystok, now Poland, a formerly multiethnic, multireligious, and polyglot city in the Russian Empire, Ludwik Zamenhof (1859–1917) began already early on to think about a new, universally understandable language. Like some of his contemporaries, he hoped to improve international and ethnic relations through the development of a easily graspable universal language. He was convinced that “division and hate among the nations will completely disappear only when all of humanity will have one language and one religion.” In 1887, the son of a Yiddish-speaking mother and a usually Russian-speaking father published his “planned language” under the pseudonym Doktoro Esperanto (the hopeful). This would soon become the name of the invented language. Its logical structure and possibly also Zamenhof’s translation of the Hebrew Bible into Esperanto contributed to the fast dissemination of the language—and to the formation of an international movement propagating it. Already in 1905, the first World Esperanto Congress took place in Boulogne-sur-Mer, which was followed by annual conventions around the world.

^ Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, ca. 1900, ©: Austrian National Library, Picture Archive

< Poster for the World Esperanto Congress in Warsaw 1937, © Austrian National Library, Picture Archive

> Quotes regarding the rejection of the Zamenhof-year by the Białystok municipal council, December 2016, © mounted by Günter Kassegger,  source: www.esperanto.de

Esperanto had the potential of becoming a common language in a united Europe. Yet, politics and language is always also a matter of power. Hence, several national languages have prevailed for use in EU bodies and not Esperanto. However, UNESCO has paid tribute to the significance of this linguistic utopia. Zamenhof’s death anniversary was included in the official list of UNESCO commemoration days for 2017. Then again, the Białystok municipal government failed to display any particular interest in the city’s illustrious son who had worked to enable Europeans to better understand each other. When in 2016, a motion was made in the municipal council to commemorate him with an official program on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of his passing in 2017, it was rejected with the votes of the national-conservative PiS (“Law and Justice”) party. Esperanto, it was argued, had no longer any significance today. This decision was originally reported only in several Polish newspapers. However, when this was brought to international attention by the newsagency Agence France-Presse and then by Yahoo, reports about Ludwik Zamenhof’s repudiated heritage and the PiS party’s nationalist anti-Semitism were published all over the world.

Liliana Feierstein (Berlin): About Esperanto as a Jewish, European, and International language