Why I’m Boycotting the Word Antisemitism

Anti-Jewish Racism in Germany

It was at a demonstration against Israel’s genocide in Gaza that I first deeply felt what it means to be Jewish: to stand firmly against injustice and to hold those responsible accountable.

Protest against Antisemitism. Rathaus Neukölln, Berlin.

I felt enormous solidarity with Palestinians and the diverse array of protestors in attendance.

In the months following 7 October, I met more Jews than I had in many years. It was the first time I had seen so many Jewish people proudly displaying, redefining, and celebrating their Jewishness publicly.

Despite recognising a rich newfound Jewish identity, the German media, government, and security forces labelled us all “Antisemites”. And there were consequences for being awarded this label.

I witnessed and learned of fellow Jews and Jewish allies being arrested, often brutally, and being charged with inciting hatred, that is, Antisemitic hatred.

Signs with “From the river to the sea”, “From the river we do see nothing but equality”, “As a Jew and an Israeli: Stop the genocide in Gaza”, or  “Another Jew for a free Palestine” accompanied by a star of David with Palestinian colours could all warrant arrests, and sometimes even beatings.

In February, Udi Raz, a Jewish Israeli activist, historian, scholar, and authority on Antisemitism, was arrested and charged for calling the president of the Freie Universität an “Antisemite” at a demonstration.

Many cases of Palestinians and people of colour being brutally attacked and arrested have surfaced, often while at events co-organised or organised solely by Jewish organisations.

Although I was a bit surprised to experience Polizei Berlin’s interpretation of Antisemitism,  the German Police are, as it turns out, some of the world’s finest experts on the subject.

According to police researcher  Sven Deppisch, the Ordnungspolizei alone, that is, the regular uniformed police, were responsible for over two-thirds of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, killing a million directly with their own hands by the end of the Shoah.

Not to mention the fact that denazification failed horrifically and tragically (the vast majority of police war criminals and mass murderers got off practically scott-free after WWII, and some even maintained high-level positions), there have also been several recent cases revealing neo-Nazi terror networks within current police forces.

German universities and media have also recently uncovered a swarm of Antisemitic students, including several Jewish Antisemites. Recently, the Universität der Künste released a statement from teachers and staff condemning several “violent anti-Semitic” protests and actions on campus that were in solidarity with Palestine.

To my knowledge, these demonstrations were non-violent, and there were Jews who spoke and helped organise the events. (Listen to this clip of an ‘Antisemitic’ Jew speaking at a protest condemned in the above statement.) In December of 2023, the Freie Universität Berlin called over 100 police officers to clear out a group of Antisemitic students, Jews included, during a nonviolent action.

That day began a trend of using #exmatrikulation on social media, which has unfortunately precipitated legal action. To cleanse the universities of Antisemites, the Berlin Senate alarmingly announced its aim to quickly reinstate exmatriculation, a device used under various laws and guises during the Third Reich to repress and expel political dissidents and non-Aryans on campus. The vote will be held on 26 March.

German media has also been outing alleged Antisemitic Jewish students who stand against genocide. Take, for example, the recent case of Der Spiegel accusing a Jewish activist of Antisemitism, which they somehow explained through a sophisticated critique of his transgender identity.

Not long after that, Federal Antisemitism Commissioner Felix Klein published an article condemning “Antisemitic” students, Jews included (along with post-colonial theory and “Antisemitism under Muslims”). In fact, under the article’s title, “Hierarchies of Hate”, one can find a picture which includes members of the leftist Jewish organisation Jüdische Stimme.

A large number of Jewish artists and scholars have been cancelled and censored on the grounds of Antisemitism. It has recently been revealed that an estimated 90% of censorship cases in 2023 in Germany were against racialised peoples and Jews.

Artist Adam Broomberg is one of these Jews who recently had shows cancelled, lost funding, and did not receive a renewal of his professorship.

Adding insult to injury, Bromberg was not only beaten and arrested by Berlin police in May 2023 at a Jewish-organised event to commemorate the Nakba. Weeks after his mother, who was a Holocaust survivor, passed away, he was accused of advocating for terrorism against Jews by one of Germany’s curiously-titled “Commissioners for the Fight Against Antisemitism and for Jewish Life”, Stefan Hensel.

Herr Hensel converted to Judaism only after being appointed as commissioner by the state of Hamburg. Together with several Jewish scholars, we could not identify any of the sixteen German state commissioners as Jews at the time of hiring. Besides Hensel, all remain presumably Christian. In fact, many are quite religiously Christian.

Along with the federal and state commissioners, a growing number of these officials seem to be installed in public prosecutor and police offices, as well as various religious, school, and non-governmental organisations.

While the Jewish population seems to make up a mere .33% of the German population (using generous figures), the country has only one general antiracism commissioner. There is no commissioner for Islamophobia, even though about 6.6% of the country practices Islam.

Anti-Jewish racism is undoubtedly a major issue in Germany. For example, Molotov cocktails were thrown at a synagogue in Berlin in October. But racism and violence towards other minorities are also a major problem. In a two-and-a-half-week period shortly following the synagogue attack, there were ten attacks on mosques and fifty-three cases of threats, violence and discrimination against Muslims.

According to figures released during that same fall, Germany has the highest rates of anti-Black discrimination and harassment in the entire EU. We should also note that hate crimes against the LGBTQIA+  community are also on the rise.

The anti-Antisemitism office is rather peculiar, as officials are not democratically elected but appointed by committees, sometimes in consultation with officials from Jewish Councils, most of whom are strictly Zionists. For example, after an “intensive discussion process” with one Jew and three white, presumably Christian Germans, Benjamin Immanuel Hoff (a non-Jew) was installed as State Antisemitism Commissioner of Thüringen.

There’s Michael Blume, who not only enjoys accusing “very very many” Muslims of Antisemitism but also called into question the legitimacy of the Jüdische Stimme, of which I am a member, by calling it “allegedly” Jewish – “vorgebl. Jüdisch” for criticising Israel (along with outing a few “Antisemitic” Jews). Jüdische Stimme responded with an official complaint.

It should be painfully noted that in 2022, according to the Federal Ministry, about 84% of Antisemitic crimes were carried out by right-wing extremists rather than Muslims or leftist Jews. There were 20,967 right-wing extremist criminal offences in 2022 alone.

The state of Hessen has been privileged to have one of the country’s leading and most effective fighters against Antisemitism.

Uwe Becker was anointed the Antisemitism Commissioner of Hessen in 2019 and was mayor of Frankfurt from 2016 to September 2021. Becker, a Catholic German and former president of DIG (the German-Israeli Society), was recently sued in court in 2023 by an Israeli Jew.

This case referred to an incident in October of 2019: ironically or tragically, the Commissioner fought tooth and nail to cancel an event called “Freedom of Opinion Instead of Censorship.”

Just days after a neo-Nazi synagogue shooting in Halle (where minorities, including Jews and Muslims, were targeted), Becker identified an Israeli Jewish woman, Judith Bernstein, who was scheduled to speak at the event, as a “sympathiser of anti-Jewish Israel haters”.

Bernstein, whose grandparents had been sent to Auschwitz, was awarded this label apparently due to her support of BDS. Becker called for funding to be cut for the organisation that hosted the event, Club Voltaire. After the accusation, Bernstein was no longer invited to speak in Frankfurt.

Becker didn’t just keep things at the personal level; given that he believed BDS is Antisemitic based on a non-binding government resolution, he stated that supporting it “leads to the severance of possible relations with the city of Frankfurt.

The city of Frankfurt was later convicted for this anti-BDS campaign for violating the constitutional rights to equality, freedom of expression and assembly.

While the anti-Antisemitism battle was raging against Hessen’s most dangerous Jewish Antisemites, Becker’s state witnessed the most horrific neo-Nazi crimes to take place in Germany this century.

In February 2020, a far-right terrorist killed ten people of “migrant roots” in Hanau, and it was later revealed that thirteen of the special unit officers on duty during the operation to stop the terrorist were part of neo-Nazi chat groups. 20 Special Force officers were investigated for participating in these groups in Frankfurt, the city in which Herr Becker sat as mayor, and the whole unit was disbanded.

In July, the police president of Frankfurt resigned after it came out that the National Socialist Underground 2.0, a neo-Nazi group attempting to revive the organisation that murdered ten people, mostly of immigrant background, between 2000-2007, had been sending out death threats from police computers.

Again, this occurred during Becker’s mayoral reign.

It doesn’t end there. Just months after Uwe Becker became Hessen’s Antisemitism czar, a neo-Nazi killed politician Walter Lübcke in that same very state.

Casting a pall over all of this is Becker’s lay membership in the medieval Crusader group Teutonic Order, which was a big inspiration for the Nazis.

I am not saying that Uwe Becker [or any German official mentioned in this article] is a Nazi, Nazi sympathiser or Antisemite for participating in such an organisation. Under German law, this could lead to legal action taken against me.

The problem, in this case, is the order itself and its ties to the political mainstream. Understanding its history underlines this concern.

Although the Nazis banned the order in 1938 due to the Order being overly Catholic, Hitler, as he stated in Mein Kampf (page 123, to be precise), hoped to follow in their footsteps.

In homage to the Crusaders, the Führer created the Nazi Order Castles to train the Nazi elite. “Only the most fanatical young National Socialists” were chosen. They shared the discipline and intentions of the original Teutonic Order, “the principle of absolute obedience to the Ordensmeister” and the devotion “to the German conquest of the Slavic lands in the East and the enslavement of the natives”.

Students were to study in all four NS Order castles, culminating in a year and a half at the massive historic Teutonic Order castle in Malbork, Poland. The order is in such high regard in Germany that both the Nazis, and the modern Bundeswehr, or German Military, use an adaptation of the Order’s cross, known as the Iron Cross.

In 2021, there were 1,452 suspected cases of right-wing extremism in the Bundeswehr.

Evermore fascinating, the Teutonic Order was founded in none other than Jerusalem in the 12th century and fought to defend the Holy Land from Arab Muslims and Jews. After their defeat, they returned to Europe to engage in the Eastern expansion that had so inspired Hitler.

In the words of E. P. Rémond, the Order “waged a war of extermination against the local populations until they succeeded in establishing a model state […] Their original religious aim disappeared little by little”.

In November 2023, Becker toured the Gaza border with the Israel Defence Forces, which had recently received 303 million euros worth of military equipment from his country of the Iron Cross, to see first-hand the effects of the war with Hamas in which 32,000 Palestinians have so far been killed, and is increasingly called a genocide.

As I learned more about the foundation of the Commissioners for Antisemitism, things got weirder.

According to researcher Emily Dische-Becker, the first commissioner, indeed the Federal Commissioner, Felix Klein, was appointed partly as a response to fear-mongering from news reports, which falsely claimed that there were chants calling to murder Jews at a demonstration critical of US-Israeli affairs.

Although it was later revealed that these chants were fabricated, the office remained. Felix Klein is not Jewish and comes from a family of Evangelical pastors. Klein has been widely criticised for taking action against ‘Antisemitic’ Jews and people of colour who criticise Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.

After reading Magda Teter’s Christian Supremacy: Reckoning with the Roots of Antisemitism and Racism I learned that the persecution of Jews is a deeply and fundamentally European phenomenon rather than a Palestinian invention, exemplified by Christian texts going back to the 4th century.

Upon reading about early forms of non-Jewish Zionism stemming from Antisemitism in Regina Shariff’s seminal work Non-Jewish Zionism: Its Roots in Western History, I became more apprehensive about how things were unfolding in Germany.

How could it be that White Christian Germans could decide what Antisemitism is? How could they cancel, censure, even beat and arrest Jews claiming we are Antisemitic? How are all Palestinian people inherently Antisemitic?

Why did Federal Antisemitism Commissioner Felix Klein say Muslims must “distance themselves” from this scourge while neo-Nazis have been running around killing people and filling up police, military and governmental offices?

Why aren’t all White Christian Germans presumed, instead, to be Antisemitic?

When I attend ‘Antisemitic’ protests and am moved to tears by the resilient people around me fighting for justice and peace, are my tears also Antisemitic?

I decided it was time to learn about the word Antisemitism itself.

Antisemitism was famously penned by the proudly self-identified Antisemite Wilhelm Marr in 1879 in his book Victory of Judaism over Germandom.

Just ten years after Jews were finally granted full German citizenship, Marr, emerging from a long European tradition of Antisemitism, reimagined the terms ‘Semites’ andSemitic’ to refer solely to people of the Jewish faith as a means of racialising them as “oriental aliens”.

In 1880, German historian Heinrich von Treitschke claimed, “There has always been an abyss between Europeans and Semites […] there will always be Jews who are nothing else but German-speaking orientals”.

This not only erases the very reality of Jewish Germans, who had existed in what is now known as Germany since at least 321 AD. It also erases all ethnic diversity and make-up of the Jewish diaspora and whittles us down to one pseudo-race – the ancient Hebrews of the Bible, offspring of Shem.

At the same time, it erases all the other Semitic-speaking peoples, and most critically in the context of Palestine- the indigenous Palestinians.

This erasure served to dehumanise and denationalise German Jews and set the groundwork to send them back to their so-called ancient fatherland, which had already been conveniently cleansed of all native inhabitants in the minds of some of Germany’s most influential racists for centuries.

While Jewish Germans fought hard for civil rights and to be seen as genuinely German, Immanuel Kant said, “Jews are the Palestinians among us.”

Martin Luther, who helped to birth the very Protestantism that still remains deeply embedded into much of the structures and ideologies of the “secular” German state, said the following in the 16th century:

Who prevents the Jews from returning to their land of Judea? Nobody. We shall provide them with all the supplies for their journey, only in order to get rid of them. They are a heavy burden for us, the calamity of our being.

In 1793, German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte stated:

But to give them civil rights, I see at least no other means than to cut off all their heads in one night and put on others in which there is not even a Jewish idea. To protect us from them, I again see no other means than to conquer their promised land and send them all there.

The word Antisemitism is part and parcel of a toxic ideology which sought to:

1.) Erase all diversity within the Jewish diaspora along with its rich cultural and linguistic heritage;

2). Return Jews to their historic country of origin. This remedy was taken up as an official solution to the Semitic problem by the Nazis to varying degrees until 1938;

3.) Replace the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine with exiled Jews.

In this sense, I think we can begin to appreciate the complexities indulged by the German government’s appropriation of Antisemitism to persecute both Jews and Palestinians today.

We can begin to understand how Germany can arrest, persecute, censor, and de-platform Jewish people for being Antisemitic and how it can blame its very own deep-seated hatred of Jews on Muslim people in general and other Semitic-speaking peoples, specifically people of Palestinian origin.

Germany invented the word, after all. Its ideology is embedded in German thought and religion.

Why shouldn’t Germany have the freedom to redefine what Antisemitism means or is?

I say let them keep it and use it how they will. If they choose to arrest and press charges against a Jewish Israeli scholar for calling a German an Antisemite, it makes perfect sense.

Beat us, arrest us, charge us. Call our Palestinian friends and comrades Antisemites. Use the word as much as you want.

I, for one, refuse it. I reject the grounds of its formation. I detest the ethnic cleansing implicit in the very word – both of Jewish people in Europe and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

Germany’s definition of Antisemitism is genocidal.

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Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit. All rights reserved.