World-Famous Philosopher Honderich Hit with "Anti-Semite" Slur in Germany
Habermas and Suhrkamp Cut and Run
August 13, 2003
By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
The distinguished British philosopher Ted Honderich, is threatening
to sue the head of the Holocaust museum in Frankfurt for calling him
an anti-Semite. The director, Micha Brumlik , levelled the charge
last week after Honderich's book After The Terror was published in
Germany in July.
Suhrkamp, the jelly-kneed publisher, has said it is taking the book
off the market, though in practice this appears to mean Surhkamp
won't order a reprinting when the first printing of 3,000 is sold out.
Germany's most eminent philosopher, Jürgen Habermas, has said he was
the one who recommended the book to Suhrkamp, can find nothing
anti-Semitic in it, though, in a kindred display of pusillanimity,
simultaneously says he regrets having been involved in anything that
may have caused offense.
Honderich is a resolute supporter of the Palestinian struggle for
nationhood. But, as he emphasizes, he is in no way an anti-Semite,
has a Jewish wife and step children and has always refused to lecture
in Germany because of the Holocaust.
The book was published in a German translation as Nach dem Terror:
Ein Traktat, in July 2003, by Suhrkamp in Frankfurt on Main, as one
of their 40th anniversary books. Micha Brumlik is director of a
centre for the history and effects of the Holocaust in Frankfurt, and
a professor of science-education, at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe
University, Frankfurt on Main.
On August 5, in the liberal paper Frankfurter Rundschau, Brumlik
published an open letter to the publisher Suhrkamp denouncing the
book and Honderich as anti-Semitic, and demanding that it be taken
off the market.
On August 6 the paper carried an embarrassed dispatch from Prof. Dr.
Jurgen Habermas, Germany's best known philosopher. This man of the
mind vouchsafed that himself had recommended After the Terror to
Suhrkamp for publication. Having been surprised by his friend
Brumlik's letter, he had now read the book again and found in it no
evidence of anti-Semitism. But he was sorry to have been involved in
something that caused hurt.
Suhrkamp then announced in a press release it was taking the book off
the market. Subsequently it became clear that what this comes to is
that they are not reprinting a book that has sold out, or more or
less sold out its run of 3,000 copies. It remains the case that they
have 'banned' a book. In a letter to Honderich they remark in passing
that they have a Jewish imprint within their house.
On August 8, after it had already appeared on my website, the
Frankfurter Rundschau published most of an open letter from Honderich
to Johann Wolfgang Goethe University. Honderich denied as absurd the
charge of anti-Semitism, saying that it was made only because he
assrted the moral right of the Palestinians to their terrorism or
resistance, as the Israeli state asserts its moral right to killing.
He demanded the removal of Brumlik from his professorship.
The affair has become theprime cultural-political controversy in
Germany. eliciting at least 50 articles, some virulent.
Honderich says, " I have come to realize fully, mainly from German
journalists, German emotions about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism,
60 years after the event, remain very strong indeed, [involving]
guilt, resolution, and probably other things.
"My strong line has been the one in my open letter: I am being
attacked as anti-Semitic because I assert the moral right of the
Palestinians to their terrorism, as the neo-Zionist state in Israel
asserts a moral right overtly and covertly to kill Palestinians. (My
claim of a moral right to violence is far from unique.)
"That I am anti-Semitic is certainly a falsehood, probably a lie. The
neo-Zionist use of the libel and slander of anti-Semitism is very
well-known, at any rate outside of Germany, and recorded in the
Englishliberal press. It is dirty politics and dirty morals. In
Germany, it isoperating in a circumstance that does honour to the
Germans: their guilt etc. 60 years after the Holocaust. The banning
of this book is sad for Germany.
Honderich emphasizes that the charge of anti-Semitism has strong
personal overtones for him:
"I have had a Jewish wife, now have a Jewish step son-in-law and, so
to speak, Jewish grandchildren. I refused to lecture in Germany
because of the Holocaust. Even if philosophically advanced, as you
might say, I am a British Lefty, a member of the Labour Party still,
My autobiography Philosopher: A Kind of Life, provides evidence on
the Holocaust point and also strong evidence of a general kind as to
my attitudes to Jews.
"I am taking advice on the possibility of sueing Brumlik for libel.
There is the personal consideration of course. ('Honderich monster'
finds you some files on Google.) There is also the moral and
political aspect of the case, including that of the Palestinians, to
which I am committed."
In the forthcoming The Politics of Anti-Semitism, edited by Jeffrey
St Clair and myself, there is a very interesting essay by Norman
Finkelstein, recounting similar charges of anti-Semitism levelled at
him when he visited Germqany. In it Finkelstein writes:
In fact, the Holocaust has proven to be a valuable commodity for
politically correct Germans. By "defending" Holocaust memory and
Jewish elites against any and all criticism, they get to play-act at
moral courage. What price do they actually pay, what sacrifice do
they actually make, for this "defense"? Given Germany's prevailing
cultural ambience and the overarching power of American Jewry, such
courage in fact reaps rich rewards. Pillorying a Jewish dissident
costs nothing--and provides a "legitimate" outlet for latent
It happens that I agree with Daniel Goldhagen's claim in Hitler's
Willing Executioners that philo-Semites are typically anti-Semites in
"sheep's clothing." The philo-Semite both assumes that Jews are
somehow "different" and almost always secretly harbors a mixture of
envy of and loathing for this alleged difference. Philo-Semitism thus
presupposes, but also engenders a frustrated version of, its
opposite. A public, preferably defenseless, scapegoat is then needed
to let all this pent-up ugliness ooze out.
To account for Germany's obsession with the Nazi holocaust, a German
friend explained that Germans "like to carry a load." To which I
would add: especially if it's light as a feather. No doubt some
Germans of the post-war generation genuinely accepted the burden of
guilt together with its paralyzing taboos on independent, critical
thought. But today German "political correctness" is all a charade of
pretending to accept the burden of being German while actually
rejecting it. For, what is the point of these interminable public
breast-beatings except to keep reminding the world: "We are not like
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