Staatsraison: Dispatch From Germany
- By Prof. Dr. Sabine Broeck
Thank you for inviting me to speak on the panel you are hosting. I am writing to you because it enables me to find words better than speaking into a Zoom group.
I write from Bremen, Germany, as a retired white professor who is no longer in any political or academic collective, and thus bereft of a forum for articulating mourning, grief, anger, and resistance. This loneliness, however, is not just the loss of immediate connection to meetings, discussions on the floors or in the cafeteria, and afterwork gatherings. It is also the fact that I am surrounded by an enveloping silence vis-à-vis the ongoing annihilation of Palestine’s people and their future/s.
Part of this silence stems from the obvious wish to stand still in sadness with the mourning of Jewish families in Israel, and worldwide; to show respect to Jewish grief caused by the most massive lethal violence against Jewish life since the Shoah. It is an empathy to hold on to, independent of any contextual judgment of the Hamas killings, although Israel’s the long occupation of Palestine demands such judgment.
Silence also stems from white Germans needing to walk a very careful line in any reckoning with anti-Semitism. We cleave to the urgency of sustaining active solidarity with the Jewish community, especially in Germany, against the current dramatic rise in anti-Semitic attacks.
Yet, in a supremely violent and horrible historical irony, we face a rabid campaign by Europe’s extreme Right: Le Pen in France, Wilders in the Netherlands, and their German counterparts, to whip up Islamophobia to new levels of hysteria. Their smokescreen is unconditional support of the state of Israel in its current fascist incarnation. Of course, this quasi-philosemitic alliance does not keep fascists in any European country from spewing hatred against people of Jewish faith, from desecrating graveyards and synagogues, and from assaulting Jewish individuals to a dramatically escalating extent.
In this letter, though, I want to look closer at what my German friends have expressed as their “disorientation.” There is a particularly white German kind of self-isolation from Black and Indigenous anticolonial knowledges and interventions, and specifically from decades of Palestinian historiography and struggle. This isolation has kept their horizon limited to Germany’s terrible guilt for the Shoah, as the singular unprecedented and unforgiveable historical break with Enlightenment’s promise in European history. It has become the unsurpassable moral compass for German generations post WW 2. The credo of “never again” categorically excluded any reckoning with European, or German, enslavement, and colonialism.
From anti-fascist mobilization in my generations’ political formation, “never again” has become today’s “Staatsraison” of unconditional economic, military, political, cultural and social support of the state of Israel. Max Czollek’s critique of how on-the-ground antifascist struggles against latent and blatant anti-Semitism have been re-articulated as a state-mobilized and state-supported public Versöhnungstheater (published in 2023, no English translation yet), and Desintegriert euch! (De-Integrate! A Jewish Survival Guide for the 21st Century) introduces a long-overdue discussion. Let me therefore add some personal notes.
I was born in 1954, into a post-Holocaust Germany where Nazi judges still held offices, Nazi professors still taught at universities, Nazi property was still intact. . . and German history had not been thoroughly deconstructed by critical antifascist research. Into a period before multicultural migrations arrived in Germany, where Black and Brown and Jewish German citizens – the very few that had survived extinction - had been made largely invisible. Into a German Bundesrepublik that was the heart of European whiteness and Christianity, and of a re-ascending racial-capitalist patriarchal reign.
It was my historical luck to enter high school at a moment when the first generation of 1968’s antifascist protest movements hit public education as teachers and professors. We were reading Adorno and learning about our inheritance of the Shoah as our unforgiveable German crime. I was still a child when we were shown Unwertes Leben, a film on Nazi euthanasia of differently abled children. The memory is etched in my body forever. In my eleventh year of school, we read Die Ermittlung, a drama on Auschwitz by Peter Weiss. It taught me about fascism as a white death machine – another formative moment.
On the heels of those moments came the assassination of Martin Luther King and the protests against the Vietnam war. I read Baldwin, then George Jackson, Angela Davis, and Malcolm X. I read Steven Biko, Frantz Fanon, and Aime Césaire in small press translations. Long before I began to study and teach enslavement, colonization and Black struggles, I saw that the Shoah was not the break with post-Enlightenment humanism of Europe. Instead it happened on a racial-capitalist continuum initiated by “New World” conquest, transatlantic enslavement and colonialism – by Germany and other European countries. Without having sat with and studied Black knowledge, I could not have seen this. Even our homegrown Marxism and feminism had ignored it. However, this exposure to radical critiques of modern European sociality and its white mythologies has never become a standard requirement in German schools or higher education.
For white Germans to stand for the rights of Palestinians to life, health, safety, and freedom, they would need to study our world from outside Germany’s myopic narratives. Without knowledge of imperialism’s grip on the world, and the structural violence of European nation states, we cannot “read” the state of Israel as we know it today. We cannot see the ethical challenge which the ongoing annihilation of Gaza presents to the world.
Instead, we are witnessing a desperate attempt by white German elites of all political stripes to maintain their collective fantasy of their white goodness in the world, proven by unwavering and unconditional support of the state of Israel. This fantasy is being massively revived and revamped in a slew of Islamophobic, often hysterically absurd campaigns. Examples include the targeting of anti-Zionist Jewish groups and individuals from Israel, the US, or Germany; and activists like Greta Thunberg who dared to connect climate struggle to justice for the oppressed Palestinians.
Where will this wave of white re-nationalization lead us? Already we face the likelihood of extreme Right victories in the next regional and national elections. “Respectable” politicians of all camps are considering an addendum to German citizenship laws that requires requiring immigrants to unconditionally support the state of Israel.
German cultural institutions, political circles, media, and academy are currently under massive pressure to denounce as anti-Semitic, wholesale, even the humble and relatively recent gains of postcolonial and decolonial scholarship and activism. Or on a more aggressive note, as pro-Hamas. Merely calling for #CeasefireNOW is deemed to be anti-Semitic incitement. This castigation extends to Jewish intellectuals in Germany, like Deborah Feldman, and to the Berlin art collective OYUN, who have called for an end to the siege of Gaza, and spoken out against settler colonialism.
I see an unethical evasion on the part of academic colleagues to respond to the IDF’s human devastation campaign, executed in the name of Israel’s self-defense. Almost all political parties and institutions, the mainstream media, any number of public, cultural, and social institutions, and respected intellectuals like Jurgen Habermas have come forward to voice “Staatsraison” – unconditional support of the state of Israel in its present form. Immediate political effects include the cancelling of events, the interdiction of demonstrations, the firing of individuals from their publicly visible positions, the recalls of fellowships, the disinvitation of artists, the shaming away of the Kassel Documenta 2024 head curator. This stunning denial of the slaughter of Gaza has collective psychic repercussions in the forbidding silence around the calls for freedom for Palestine.
I long for active political alliances in Germany that stand against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Blackness under one banner, in solidarity with all oppressed peoples. Alliances that see the imperial design at work in Palestine, undersigned and financed by the US, Europe and Germany. Alliances that differentiate between a militarized, colonial-settler state machine, and the rights of Jewish and Palestinian people to peaceful daily life and practice of their religions.
I urge you to listen to the statement by the Palestine representative at the recent UN assembly, Nada Abu Tarbush.
White Germany has, again, made this about itself. Isolated white racist agnotology has no questions, let alone answers, to the struggles of decolonization. White scholars and activists need to break the stronghold of their self-elected separation from knowledges steeped in freedom dreams, from knowledges not tied to imperial logics.
“Staatsraison” – not in my name.
PROF. DR. SABINE BROECK is professor emerita of English-Speaking Cultures and Transnational / Transcultural Studies at the University of Bremen, with foci on intersectionality, narrativity, critical race studies and slavery. Early in her academic career, she published the monographs Der entkolonisierte Koerper (1988) and White Amnesia-Black Memory. American Women’s Writing and History (1999). In 2014 she co-edited (with Carsten Junker) the pathbreaking collection Postcoloniality-Decoloniality-Black Critique. Joints and Fissures (Campus and Chicago UP). She is also co-editor, with Stella Bolaki, of Audre Lorde’s Transnational Legacies, University of Massachusetts Press (2015,) as well as, with Jason Ambroise, of Black Knowledges/Black Struggles: Essays in Critical Epistemology, Liverpool University Press (2015). Her third monograph, Gender and the Abjection of Blackness, was published by SUNY Press in 2018.