"New" Anti-Semitism in Contemporary German Academia

Article excerpt

It is one of the bitter ironies of the dialectics of modernity that the very sphere of science and academia, the purpose of which is to enlighten mankind, has provided intellectual cover to modern Jew-hatred. It was in Germany of all places that scientific discovery and academic discourse were subject to the utmost perversion, contributing intellectually and technically to the Holocaust. While anti-Semitism in German society in general has survived Auschwitz, its persistence in academia in particular is all the more a reason for concern. The tenacity and openness of anti-Semitic ideologemes in the writings and utterances of figures with an academic standing throws a dubitable light onto various institutions of higher learning and education, as well as onto the state bodies that fund them and that draw on their expertise. In conceptual terms it makes sense to differentiate between "old" and "new" anti- Semitism. Traditional forms of Jew-hatred that use a religious or racist pretext still exist in modern academic discourse in Germany, but are likely to be reprimanded and marginalized by society in general and by the academic community in particular, which generally perceives itself to be "critical, ' "progressive, " and "politically correct. " Yet it is precisely against this self-perception that a new political pretext for the articulation of anti-Jewish attitudes is often found in the Jewish State and its real or alleged behavior. Anti-Zionist rhetoric has become a socially acceptable way of expressing anti-Semitic sentiments in the German academic context. While the anti-Semitic nature of these articulations is generally denied by their proponents, their superiors in the political arena tend to ignore or belittle them. The wide-spread inclination to have recourse to "Jewish" anti-Zionist voices as key witnesses of particular authority has led to a situation where the "new" anti-Semitism has successfully infused the very academic discourse and research on anti-Semitism itself. At the same time there is a considerable reluctance on the part of German decision-makers and opinion leaders to confront this problem.

"Anti-Semitism, contained in anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism, like thunder in the cloud, has once again become honorable."l


Anti-Semitism in academia is by no means a new phenomenon, nor is it an unusual one. Academics, while striving to approach an objective view of the world, are always part of society at large, a fact which must be borne in mind when discussing the present manifestations of Jewhatred in the field of higher education and scientific research. What makes anti-Semitism in academia extraordinary is the fact that this is the intellectual and scholarly sphere where many of the discourses that shape social reality and that are often taken for granted take place. Indeed, the notion of anti-Semitism, the very term itself, was the product of discourses that aspired, or at least purported, to be scientific in nature. Wilhelm Marr, its spiritual father, attempted to place the traditionally religion-based hatred of Jews onto a firm scientific footing. He wished to provide it with a new pretext more suited to the epistemological criteria of modernity. Others followed in his footsteps and expanded the concept to universal dimensions, providing it with the character of a "theory of everything." Jew-hatred purportedly gained objective consciousness of itself through its "scientific" emancipation from its earlier religious context of justification. What became known as antiSemitism constituted the negation of Enlightenment and its aspirations of human freedom through reason and science. Yet ironically it bore the very marks of the âge d'illumination, whose illegitimate but unmistakable offspring it was.

The racial theories and teachings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that climaxed in the Holocaust made their mark not only on particular faculties and universities, but left imprints that can be felt to the present day on numerous academic disciplines. …


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