No boycott of Israel in the name of Adorno!

Open Letter on the Invitation of Linda Martín Alcoff for the Adorno Lectures 2022


June 26, 2022

The mayor of Frankfurt, Germany Nargess Eskandari-Grünberg wrote on her social media channels Thursday, 6/23, "When you invite BDS, you get anti-Semitism."

The current anti-Semitism scandals at "documenta fifteen" are by no means the first incidents to support such a statement, but they impressively illustrate the blindness that the cultural and academic establishment still displays when it comes to hatred of Jews and Israel. The extent of the anti-Semitic positions, which this year at the "documenta fifteen" will receive state funding and social publicity, now seems to be no longer ignorable even for large parts of the political landscape. 

Against this background, it is particularly shocking that Linda Martín Alcoff, a philosopher close to the anti-Israel "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)" movement, has been invited to give this year's Adorno Lectures at the Institute for Social Research (IfS). Her three lectures are entitled "Race, Culture, History" and will take place from Wednesday, June 29 to Friday, July 1, 2022 in Lecture Hall IV on the Bockenheim campus.

In the past, Linda M. Alcoff has expressed her closeness to the BDS movement, for example, by becoming a signatory to the "Free Palestine/Strike MoMA: A Call to Action" in May 2021. In the midst of the violent escalation between Israel and the Gaza Strip, in which the terrorist organization Hamas fired over 4,000 rockets from Gaza at Israeli civilians, the signatories called for a protest against the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York City. These demands were prompted by the ties of members of the MoMa board to the state of Israel.

Among other things, the board members were criticized for their financial support of programs such as "Birthright," which allows Jewish youth to travel to Israel, or their supposed financial support of cultural exchanges between U.S. arts institutions with Israel. In addition, Ronald S. Lauder - the president of the World Jewish Congress and honorary chairman of MoMa - was denounced in the letter for advocating internationally for the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association's (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. The entire appeal makes no mention of Hamas's aggression, which was causal to the military escalation last May. Instead, the signatories unequivocally oppose the "continuation of the Israeli settler colonial project [and] its apartheid regime" - which is no different than the rejection of the state of Israel - and call on "friends, colleagues and communities to join the struggle for a free Palestine" (note: translation by the authors).

The letter's accusation of "artwashing" through cultural exchange and the clear call to cultural institutions to participate in the fight against Israel through boycotts are particularly shocking against the backdrop of the documenta fifteen scandal. Here, the warnings of those concerned and Jewish organizations about the expected anti-Semitism on the part of the organizers went unheeded, as did the reference to the clear absence of Israeli artists at the documenta. Instead, such indications are met with a trivializing reference to the specific perspective of representatives of the Global South: a culturalist argument that implies that these very people cannot recognize a clearly identifiable anti-Semitism as such in Europe, and that a profoundly reactionary image of origin and ethnic groups must thus be assumed.

The fact that it is not about cultural perspectives, but the universal hatred of Jews, is shown again and again by the involvement of BDS supporters and sympathizers with terrorist organizations. [1] Linda M. Alcoff also called for an event together with Rasmea Odeh - a convicted PFLP terrorist - back in 2017. Odeh was convicted for her role in a 1969 Jerusalem supermarket attack that murdered two students and injured nine. In 2019, Odeh had her visa to enter Germany revoked due to her terrorist activities.

We are shocked about the ignorance of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research towards the anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli positions of their speakers, but not surprised about this new invitation. Already in February of last year, the IfS participated as co-organizer in the conference "The (Re)Construction of the World - Help. Solidarity. Politics" from 12-14.2.2021, at which Achille Mbembe also spoke as a guest, after the demonization and delegitimization of Israel had been comprehensively stated in Mbembe's work a few weeks earlier. [2] Last year, the Young Forum Frankfurt already noted "how selective the historical consciousness of academically encapsulated anti-Semitism proceeds. The importance that the critique and study of anti-Semitism had in the founding of the Frankfurt Institute [for Social Research],[3] the persecution and eventual emigration of its members during National Socialism, and the educational mandate that the returned scholars:in brought to the Germans 'that Auschwitz not be again' [4] - all these constituent experiences disappear under the comparability of injustice and inequality."

Now, again, in the name of Adorno, a person whose anti-Zionist statements in the past leave us very concerned about what "the possibility of an anti-colonial and resistant praxis" might look like in Alcoff's Adorno lectures. There is a growing fear that anti-Semitic omissions toward the Jewish state are to be expected in her remarks on "how to overcome existing problematic conceptions of the Global South in order to be able to place cultures in a new, emancipatory relationship to one another."

Anyone who really believes that such fears are motivated by a racially based defense of postcolonial theorizing must indeed have kept their ears and eyes firmly shut last week.

We therefore concur with Mayor Eskandari-Grünberg's statement:

Anyone who invites BDS inevitably invites anti-Semitism. And where anti-Semitic actors are given a forum for their views, the security of Jews is also at stake in the long term.

Anti-Semitism is not a hip theoretical perspective and certainly not a critical theory. Anyone who collaborates with terrorists and actively calls for the destruction of the only Jewish state must not be given an unchallenged forum in the lecture halls of Goethe University.

In 2019, the German Rectors' Conference adopted the IHRA definition and thus resolutely opposed BDS and all - including Israel-related - anti-Semitism at universities. The student parliament of Goethe University also took a stand against anti-Semitic boycott movements at universities in 2017 with a resolution. These demands must now be implemented in concrete terms.

We therefore demand a clear statement from the IfS against the "BDS" movement and especially against a boycott of Israeli artists, academics and cultural institutions. We also demand a critical examination of the anti-Semitic content of current postcolonial theories and how postcolonial theoretical approaches can look without anti-Semitism.

The signatories

Young Forum of the German-Israeli Society (DIG) Frankfurt

Federal Board of the Young Forum of the DIG

Association of Jewish Students Hessen (VJSH)

Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin (MFFB)


[1] Cf. also the recently revealed praise of Hezbollah by the artist exhibiting at "documenta fifteen Hamja Ahsan.

[2] For a detailed critique of anti-Semitism in Mbembe's work, see Alex Gruber (2021): Spearheading Postcolonial Anti-Semitism. Achille Mbembe's 'Nekropolitik' as a Handout for German Memory Culture. In: sans phrase No. 17. or ders. in conversation with Philipp Lenhard and Niklaas Machunsky on "Die Causa Mbembe - Antisemitismus, Postkolonialismus und deutsche Erinnerungskultur":

[3] Hermann Weil's financial support for the founding of the Institute came about, among other things, because the critical study of anti-Semitism was established as an explicit goal of the Institute, precisely in order to enable critical research on anti-Semitism. Cf. Philipp Lenhard (2019): Friedrich Pollock - Die graue Eminenz der Frankfurter Schule. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. and: Jeanette Erazo Heufelder (2017): The Argentine Croesus. A short economic history of the Frankfurt School. Berlin: Berenberg Verlag.

[4] Theodor W. Adorno (1966): Erziehung nach Auschwitz. In: Ders. (2011): Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft II (GS 10.2) Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, p. 674.