Analysis: The rise of German academic BDS

Anti-Semitism without anti-Semites largely captures the parameters of the debate permitted in Germany.

August 2, 2016 22:18
3 minute read.

The German town of Hildesheim in Lower Saxony, home to HAWK, the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Hildesheim. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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A German university seminar designed to teach that Israel harvests Palestinians’ organs ignited a new debate about anti-Semitism this week. There is, however, a kind of poverty to the discussion.

Anti-Semitism without anti-Semites largely captures the parameters of the debate permitted in Germany. Tagging a person as an anti-Semite is a no-go area, for the most part. But labeling non-animate works as filled with Jew-hatred is still within the bounds of accepted discourse in the Federal Republic.

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Now, the row over the seminar has been reduced to a bottomless pit of academic relativity where modern anti-Semitism is a respectable opinion, and anti-Israel seminars stand above criticism.

“From an academic perspective, there is no justification for a ‘seminar on the social situation of young people in Palestine.’ This choice of this topic is entirely subjective and used for demonizing Israel, as is the selection of subjects such as the anti-Semitic libel of organ stealing,” Prof. Gerald Steinberg, a prominent political scientist at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

Steinberg added, “Universities exist to examine and educate on the basis of research – not to market the propaganda of victimization. This course is a moral and professional black flag for all students and faculty at HAWK – regardless of specialization.”

HAWK is the acronym for the German university, the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Hildesheim, where the anti-Israel course has been taught for a decade. The state government of Lower Saxony provides public funds to HAWK.

Asaf Romirowsky, the executive director of the US-based Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told the Post, “The university decided to stand by the course and let it run despite the clear historical and factual revisionism disseminated by the instructor.


This represents yet another egregious example of how classrooms have been hijacked by pro-Palestinian falsehoods compounded with classical anti-Semitic tropes illustrating the ongoing misinformation used in classes that deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict, where pro-Palestinian propaganda has replaced actual scholarship and inquisitive research.”

He continued, “Moreover, while the president of HAWK defends academic freedom, there is a clear line between academic freedom and hate speech, something that was clearly broken here.”

The spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, Emmanuel Nahshon, told the Post the HAWK “is not a university – it is a hatred factory.”

HAWK’s president Christiane Dienel said on Monday: “The accusations have a severe impact on us and we are convinced that they are unjustified and indefensible.” She punted the dispute to a third party from the state government to evaluate the course for anti-Semitism.

Dienel argues that criticism of a seminar that teaches Israel is an apartheid state and engages in ethnic cleansing is part of “different perspectives,” and outsiders (the Central Council of Jews in Germany and a German Jewish weekly) are attempting to stymie debate.

It is worth recalling that the British sociologist and scholar of anti-Semitism David Hirsh wrote, on the website Engage: “The claim that Jews raise the issue of anti-Semitism as a dirty trick to silence the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] movement is itself an anti-Semitic claim.”

One can argue that the course material at HAWK, which consists of articles from anti-intellectual BDS advocates, is a form of BDS targeting Israel. In fact, Dienel cited a Bremen-based BDS website and a sloppy study playing down anti-Semitism on Twitter to boost her arguments.

Volker Beck, a leading Bundestag deputy from the Green Party, told the Post it would be good if this “anti-Zionist seminar is stopped.” The course “is not an academic event,” rather it serves to “stoke prejudices.” Beck is an expert on contemporary anti-Semitism in the Federal Republic.

The anti-Israel academic trend in Germany is unsettling for many observers of modern anti-Semitism in Germany. The University of Göttingen, which is also based in Lower Saxony, triggered outrage over its decision this year to not extend the employment contract of Dr. Samuel Salzborn – one of the most distinguished academic experts on German anti-Semitism.

Shakespeare comes to mind when considering what is unfolding in German academia: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars. But in ourselves...”

Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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