CounterPunch Diary

World-Famous Philosopher Honderich Hit with "Anti-Semite" Slur in Germany

Habermas and Suhrkamp Cut and Run

August 13, 2003



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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