“They try to equate Zionism and Judaism”
Interview with Eleonora Roldán Mendívil*
"Im Gespräch mit Eleonora Roldán Mendívil" (Die Freiheitsliebe, 17 Jan 2017), click here!
During this semester, a seminar entitled "Racism in Capitalism", conducted by Eleonora Roldán Mendívil, takes place at the Freie Universität Berlin. She should also teach in the coming semester, but after media reported that she was anti-Semitic because she called Israel colonialist, this seems to have been put on hold. We talked with her about the incriminations, the difference between Zionism and anti-Semitism and her view of the Middle East conflict.
Freiheitsliebe: A few days ago, it was announced that the Freie Universität Berlin will not extend your contract, how did it happen?
Eleonora Roldán Mendívil: I have only a contract for conducting a seminar in the bachelor's degree in political sciences, entitled "Racism in Capitalism", for the winter semester 2016 / 2017. This goes on to mid-February. There are still five more sessions. The direction of this seminar has not been withdrawn from me. However, I also submitted two seminars for the 2017 summer semester. Weeks ago, I got an e-mail confirming that the OSI [Otto-Suhr-Institut] had included one of the two seminars, a critical introduction to the intersectionality theory, into the curriculum for the 2017 summer semester. However, I have not yet signed a contract, as this is usually only done shortly before the start of the course. Lectures, generally, represent a very precarious kind of employment, although they constitute the majority of teaching in many institutes.
On Tuesday (Jan 17), the OSI management, basing itself on an article in a blog with an avowedly rightist content, decided not to give me, until further notice, any new courses. As a consequence my proposal for a seminary in the summer semester of 2017 was withdrawn. PS The article on the blog was pasted in the ‚Jüdische Rundschau‘ without any changes. Its insinuations were adopted by the “Group against any form of antisemitism FU Berlin”, an association of students representing, in my opinion, nothing else than an uncritical pro-Israeli point of view.
Freiheitsliebe: You are accused of anti-Semitism by right-wing circles. What is the significance of that statement?
Eleonora Roldán Mendívil: It shows the renewed attempt to equate Zionism with Judaism. This is, of course, total nonsense. Not all Jewish people are Zionists. Political Zionism in its various forms has emerged as a response to European anti-Jewish racism. It was intended to create a state, a nation in which Jews formed the majority and thus put an end to their persecution as Jews. Many Jewish people have seen here a possibility of emancipation as Jews. But many do not. Vehement criticisms came from many Jewish communists and anarchists. Emma Goldman, a Russian anarchist and laborer in the USA, was a determined opponent. And even today, there are various Jewish intellectuals firmly opposed to this equation. Well-known names are Judith Butler, Noam Chomsky, Moshe Zuckermann, Norman Finkelstein and Ella Shohat. In addition, many civil society organizations by Jewish people as well as Israelis are involved in the fight against the massive human rights violations and the occupation. These include, for example, 'Jewish Voice for Peace', 'Boycott from Within' or the 'Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East'. It is part of the Zionist historical myth that Zionism and now the State of Israel should be equated with Judaism. This argument is time and again adopted by right-wing circles, joined also, unfortunately, by a few confused subjective 'leftists, in order to shut down any criticism of the State of Israel. So there is nothing in this statement, because, like many other critical scientists, I only represent positions resulting from a differentiated and critical analysis of history. In this sense, from an analytical point of view on racism there is much to be said to categorize Israel as a colonial power and from the point of view of international law as an apartheid state. This has nothing to do with defamation, but it is a political and legal assessment of the facts on the ground.
Freiheitsliebe: the student group "Against any anti-Semitism" writes about you, "With these comparisons and expressions, she does not only play down the historical crimes of colonialism and apartheid but also places the Israeli democratic constitutional state on the same footing as regimes of unjustice." How do you react to such statements?
Eleonora Roldán Mendívil: After my lecture last Wednesday, I had a discussion about it with some students from that initiative as well as with students from my seminar. The use of analytical concepts such as colonialism and apartheid does not constitute a trivialization of historical colonialism nor of South-African Apartheid. Israel did commit historical crimes against the Palestinian population.
According to the historian Ilan Pappé, systematic ethnic cleansings were the case as well as, in addition to purchased land, land theft and systematic expulsion. Colonialism, occupation, and / or apartheid are no embellishment but they are analytical categories, in order to make actual circumstanes accessible to political science. And in the case of Israel we can specifically speak of settler colonialism, whose aim it is to subordinate the indigenous population to the immigrants or even to completely replace them. Why should we set other standards on Israel than in the case of other political analyses? Discriminatory laws, which distinguish between Jewish and non-Jewish people in Israel / Palestine, are the most obvious example of a material apartheid which, of course, differs from South-African apartheid in certain details, but is in no way inferior to it in many respects.
Freiheitsliebe: The cause of the conflict seems to be that you designate the treatment of the Palestinians as racist and their oppression as colonial. How do you come to this verdict?
Eleanora Roldán Mendívil: Using racism and colonial analytical approaches, in the same way as I think it is also necessary in the analysis of German society. The problem of the overwhelming majority of Germans, and this is more or less the case for other contexts as well, is that they want to look at Israel / Palestine only out of the German context. However, I start in Palestine on-the-spot and observe that a lot went wrong, here.
Freiheitsliebe: Is Israel, in your opinion, comparable to the South African regime?
Eleanora Roldán Mendívil: The standard here is not South Africa, but the Anti-Apartheid Convention of 1973, containing a very detailed definition of apartheid. As soon as the legal criteria of apartheid under international law are present, apartheid is involved. For Palestinian men and women a large number of discriminating living conditions exist, depending on whether they live within the official borders of Israel, or in Gaza, or in occupied East Jerusalem, or in the different occupation zones in the West Bank, according to their passport and nationality, but fundamentally at their cost. There is a systematic unequal treatment of 'Jewish' and 'non-Jewish' in almost all areas of life – in education, law, the labor market, working conditions, public infrastructure, access to natural resources, freedom of movement and medical care.
In its 2012 Concluding Observations on Israel the UN Commission (CERD) concluded that these practices represent at least a de facto segregation and thus are in violation of Art. 3 of ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination). And we should not forget that many South-African anti-apartheid activists supported and support the Palestinian struggle against oppression and for a just peace - precisely because of the many parallels.
Freiheitsliebe: These statements are a harsh criticism of Israel, but why are they called anti-Semitic? How do you define anti-Semitism?
Eleonora Roldán Mendívil: I am primarily concerned with Marxist theory, as well as with anti-racist and anti-patriarchal theories and struggles. For me, however, my scientific activity is not limited to reading and writing. As intellectuals, we have a social mission. So it is also a question of engaging ourselves in practice for the things we have dealt with scientifically, which in turn give us the responsibility and the certainty of being able to take up political positions as well. I am only one among many people who have been dealing in the past years with the oppression of the Kurds and the Palestinians from a critical-solidary perspective, not because there are no other forms of colonial oppression in the world, but because these are topics which are of permanent relevance to many migrant groups in Germany.
Criticisms I expressed on the old blog of mine are not particularly harsh. They are based on objective historical analyses. To keep quiet about injustice cannot be an option, especially with our (German) historical experience. To call this "anti-Semitic" is a well-known political strategy, which is unmasked by Moshe Zuckermann, in his book "Antisemit!", for being a frequently used instrument of power. It is about the tactical use of the anti-Semitism accusation in order to perpetuate a certain Zionist narrative. The basis of this narrative is an anti-Semitism definition that makes a series of criticisms of Israel as a state impossible. I oppose to this a materialist-dialectical definition: I understand anti-Semitism as the overriding concept of historically and geographically specific forms of racialization and discrimination of people because of their attribution to a supposedly homogeneous Jewry - this difference of treatment being positive or negative.
With this method the focus should be on the application of analytical categories that enable us to grasp anti-Jewish racism in its concrete social conditions, in order to understand, fight and overcome it.
Freiheitsliebe: In conclusion, do you believe it is difficult in Germany to be present in public space with positions that are critical of Israel?
Eleanora Roldán Mendívil: I think that the reactionary agitation that has struck me as a scientist in the past few days, and the affirmative and uncritical approval of this campaign by the Otto Suhr Institute, proves it just sufficiently. The constitutionally guaranteed scientific freedom is called into question with this. I would have preferred a constructive approach of it by the Otto Suhr Institute. However, I hope that this attack triggers a serious discussion about political censorship of critical analyses and positions, as well as about the rightward shift of the society and the academy. The petition organized by students from my current seminar "Racism in Capitalism" and the countless solidarity emails and letters from all over the world, which I have received in recent days, show me that I do not stand alone in this attack. On the contrary, the defense of critical science and doctrine and the decisive criticism of any injustice remain important components of a critical consciousness.
Freiheitsliebe: We thank you for this interview.
PS For the statement of the management of the Otto-Suhr Institute (FU Berlin), through Prof. Dr. Bernd Ladwig, regarding the allegations made against lecturer Roldán Mendívil: click here (in German).
Voor het archief klik hier!
- *Omar KARMI: “Gaza in a vice” (The Electronic Intifada, Feb 13, 2018).
- Gideon LEVY & Alex LEVAC: “Like a Safari: Israeli Troops in Jeeps Hunt a Palestinian Teen and Shoot Him in the Head” (Haaretz, Feb 9, 2018, now freely available via: If Americans Knew).
- Amira HASS: "On the Margins of the Murder”, (Haaretz, Nov 12, 2017): click here!
- "Israeli forces detain 11 Palestinians, including 4 minors, in overnight raids" (Ma'an, March 29, 2017).
- Amira HASS: "Israeli Settlers Kill a Sheep in Latest Escalation in Jordan Valley, Palestinians Say" (Haaretz, Feb 18, 2017).
- "Israel aims to ‘Judaize’ historical Bethlehem village" (Middle East Monitor, Jan 13, 2017).
- Nasouh NAZZAL: "Israel’s pesticide war on Gazan farmers" (Gulf News Palestine, Dec 26, 2016).
- Emily MULDER: "Israeli guard: 'Go from this land or I will kill you'" (Al Jazeera, Dec 26, 2016).
- "A six-year-old Palestinian girl killed after being run over by Israeli settler" (Middle East Children Alliance, 2016).
- Gideon LEVY & Alex LEVAC: "In Some of the Israeli Army's Raids, Leaving Empty-handed Is Not an Option" (Haaretz, Aug 27, 2016).
- "Israeli settlers attack Palestinian girl in Ramallah, stab and kill her sheep" (Ma'an, Aug 5, 2016).
- "Un enfant palestinien [de 12 ans] tué par des soldats israéliens" (Libération, 19 juillet 2016).
- Kit O'CONNELL: "Israel Cutting Palestinians Off From Their Own Water Supply" (MintPress News, June 30, 2016).
- "Israeli Soldiers Kill A Palestinian Child Near Ramallah" (IMEMC, June 21, 2016).
- Edo KONRAD: "Tel Aviv mayor says the occupation is a cause of Palestinian terror" (+972, June 9, 2016).
- "After being shot three days ago by IOF, Palestinian youth dies from injuries" (Palestinian Information Center, June 6, 2016).
- Palestine PMO: Israel’s destruction of Palestinian water infrastructure is atrocious (Palestine News Network, May 26, 2016).
- Again, settlers burn Palestinian farms in West Bank (Days of Palestine, May 16, 2016).
- Michal ZAK: "Third intifada, terror wave, the 'situation': Just don't mention the 'O' word to Israelis" (Middle East Eye, March 13, 2016).
- Jon QUEALLY: "Brother and Sister, Children Aged 10 and 6, Killed by Israeli Bombing in Gaza" (Common Dreams, March 13, 2016).
- Jonathan COOK: "Aid subversion report makes for shocking reading" (The National, March 7, 2016).
- "Palestijns meisje van 13 geëxecuteerd" (alexandrina.nl, 23 jan, 2016).
- "UN decries Abu Nuwar demolitions, calls for immediate end to planned transfers" (Medical Aid for Palestinians, MAP, Jan 20, 2016).
- Julie PUTSEYS: "Palestijnse empowerment op Israëlische scholen." Geen gelijke kansen zonder evenwaardig onderwijs. Zo denkt de Arabisch-Israëlische professor Dalia Fadila er alleszins over. (MO*, 10 Jan 2016).
- Uri SAVIR: "Why solving Israel-Palestine conflict is still key for regional stability" (Al-Monitor, Jan 3, 2016).
- C.J.WERLEMAN: "The road to hell is paved with 'national security'". Israel is turning the West’s fixation on the Islamic State group into an opportunity to expand its apartheid laws and militarisation of the West Bank (Middle East Eye, Jan 1, 2016).
- Mazal MUALEM: "'Hate wedding' video offers glimpse at Jewish terror" (Al-Monitor, Dec 28, 2015).
- Maureen Clare MURPHY: "Catastrophe for Syrians and Palestinians alike in war-ravaged country" (The Electronic Intifada, Dec 23, 2015).
- Shlomi ELDAR: "Why the US is part of Middle East problem, not the solution". Interview with Ayman Odeh (Al-Monitor, Dec 14, 2015).
- Philip WEISS: "Obama’s ISIS czar says we can’t defeat extremism without resolving Palestinian issue" (Mondoweiss, Dec 14, 2015).
- Uri SAVIR: "How the Islamic State hurts Palestinian cause" (Al-Monitor, Dec 6, 2015).
- Al Jazeera: "Gaza's crumbling healthcare system" (Yahoo.com, Dec 8, 2015).
- Nurit CANETTI: "The radicalization of Israel" (Al-Monitor, Dec 2, 2015).
- Kate: "Prominent Israeli settler runs over 16-year-old girl, then shoots her dead" (Mondoweiss, Nov 23, 2015).
- Gideon LEVY: "So These Are Israel's New Heroes?" Israel's recent military operations in Palestinian hospitals are a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention, and make you wonder how low the country can sink (Haaretz, Nov 21, 2015).
- Philip WEISS: "The best way for Americans to defeat the Islamic state is to end support for Jewish nationalism" (Mondoweiss, Nov 15, 2015).
- Ahmed MOOR: "The Problem of Palestine is Zionism" (Fair Observer, Nov 11, 2015).
- Miko PELED: "Zionism is racism: Notes from Tel-Rumeida, Hebron, El-Khalil" (American Herald Tribune, Nov 13, 2015).
- Megan HANNA: "‘It Has Become A Prison’: The ghettoization of Hebron" (Mondoweiss, Nov 11, 2015).
- Avigail ABARBANEL: "Netanyahu’s craziness is calculated, to drive out Palestinians" (Mondoweiss, Nov 5, 2015).
- Michel WARSCHAWSKI: "La jeunesse palestinienne à couteaux tirés avec Israël" (Orient XXI, 15 Oct 2015).
- Kamel HAWWASH: "Palestinians have a problem with occupiers not (with) Jews" (MEMO, Oct 30, 2015).
- "Palestijnse baby vermoord met traangas" (Alexandrina, Oct 31, 2015).
- Ali ABUNIMAH: "Israel’s executions of Palestinian teens must end, Amnesty says" (The Electronic Intifada, Oct 28, 2015).
- Killian REDDEN: "Hebron at eye of the storm as death toll rises" (Ma'an News Agency, Oct 26, 2015).
- "Netanyahu Shamelessly Exploits the Shoah to Stoke Fear of Palestinians" (Jewish Voice for Peace, Oct 21, 2015).
- Amos GVIRTZ: "From Unilateral- to Bilateral War - or: How the Palestinians Fight to Prevent Being Expelled From the Country" (Occupation Magazine, Oct 20, 2015).
- Noam SHEIZAF: "Jerusalem, in context" (+972, October 19, 2015). "The current events in Jerusalem have a political history and context. Attempts to attribute the violence to some kind of Palestinian pathology while ignoring other factors is a recipe for making things worse."
- Meron RAPOPORT: "The paradox of Jerusalem" (Middle East Eye, October 17, 2015).