Achille Mbembe is no anti-Semite – Ahmed Kathrada Foundation

Organisation rejects with disdain baseless and damaging accusations against board member

Kathrada Foundation rejects anti-Semitism claims levelled against Board member

21 May 2020

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation expresses its disdain at the baseless and damaging accusations levelled at one of its Board members, Professor Achille Mbembe, which labels him and his intellectual stance anti-Semitic.

The Foundation entreaties the German Embassy in South Africa to convey the demand for a reprimand to the German Liberal Democratic Party (FDP) politician, Lorenz Deutsch, and Dr Felix Klein, the Federal Government Commissioner for Combatting Anti-Semitism for their attack on Mbembe, by the relevant authorities in Germany. Deutsch’s signature appears on a letter, later promoted by Klein, which called on the Parliament of North-Rhine Westphalia to ban Mbembe from delivering a speech at a cultural event.

Mbembe is a respected and leading member in the global academic community and his intellectual work has always been in the service of a more just, humane and equal global society. His works have contributed immensely to understanding and diagnosing racism in post-colonial societies.

The Foundation has over the years, unapologetically voiced its objection toward the deplorable and hateful treatment of the Palestinian people by the Zionist Israeli state.

The argument that any expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle against Israeli occupation is anti-Semitic, is not only puerile, but misleading. It is an attempt to by pro-Israeli lobbyists to whitewash the human rights violations that the Palestinian people have been subjected to under Israeli occupation.

There are numerous Jewish scholars and organisations that are equally critical of the abuses meted out by the Zionist state. Indeed, the overwhelming number of people that have publically risen to defend Mbembe against accusations of anti-Semitism, are Jewish scholars – a stance which has been deeply reassuring both to him, and to the Foundation.

Yet, the response we are calling for from the German Embassy, is not simply in defence of the esteemed professor.  

We urge Ambassador Martin Schäfer to acknowledge the profound damage these accusations have done to the historical and ongoing global struggles against racism, as well as state-sponsored violent hatred in the name of nationhood, and the erosion of human rights.

German society knows from experience the horrors that hatred sows. The brutality of the Holocaust, which at its core was driven by hatred, should prompt us today to recognise where right wing views surface, and to challenge it. The collective memory of pain and oppression, as has the experience of South Africans under apartheid, should encourage people to stand in solidarity with those across the world, including the Palestinians, who are facing oppression driven by a similar kind dehumanising hatred and right wing mentality.

In this regard, it is alarming that some have equated being critical of the Israeli state to being anti-Semitic. To echo Mbembe’s own thoughts on the matter, expressed in an interview with Germany’s Deutschland Radio, the struggle against anti-Semitism should not be used as “cover for any new brand of racism”.

“We cannot fight a moral battle with immoral means and hope to structurally defeat racism. The means we use to fight anti-Semitism and racism must be beyond reproach.... the global struggle against anti-Semitism, the resurgence of neo-Nazism and other forms of racism worldwide requires the utmost vigilance. I am afraid it will be fatally compromised if the unspeakable crime of the annihilation of the Jews at the heart of Europe is misused either for racist ends or to suppress the fragile voices which, throughout our world, are still striving for justice.”  

Issued by Neeshan Balton, Executive Director, Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, 21 May 2020