The following is an edited version of a speech delivered by Palestinian analyst and scholar Tareq Baconi at a conference entitled “Hijacking Memory: The Holocaust and the New Right,” hosted by Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin in June 2022. The day after delivering the speech, two fellow speakers, Jan Grabowski and Konstanty Gebert, publicly read a joint statement that misrepresented Baconi’s talk and condemned his very presence at the conference. In the days that followed, Grabowski continued to denounce Baconi in the right-leaning German newspaper Die Welt.
Three years ago, U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Hanukkah candle lighting at the Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. Turning to the assembled reporters, Netanyahu was pressed to address a breakthrough that Palestinians had been celebrating that day.
Hours earlier, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Fatou Bensouda, had announced that there were sufficient grounds to launch an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by all parties involved in the occupied territories, including by Israel. The decision, Netanyahu told the crowd, amounted to “Antisemitic decrees of the International Court telling us, the Jews standing by this wall, by this mountain, in this city, in this land, that we have no right to live here, and that if we live here we commit war crimes. Blatant antisemitism.”
Almost exactly a year prior, in November 2018, a gunman — a white American male named Robert Gregory Bowers — stormed into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 Jewish worshippers, wounding six others. It was described as the worst antisemitic attack in U.S. history. Although President Donald Trump and Israeli leaders flew to Pittsburgh to offer their condolences, the Pittsburgh Rabbi, Jeffrey Myers, blamed Trump and other politicians directly. “Mr. President,” said Rabbi Myers, “hate speech leads to hateful actions. Hate speech leads to what happened in my sanctuary.”
When both the ICC and armed white supremacists are seen as equally peddling antisemitism, definitions are perhaps needed to explain what antisemitism is and how it can be combatted. But what happens when those definitions themselves become co-opted?