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Every form of discrimination is reprehensible: this is also true of anti-Semitism, that is, discrimination against Jews. This is also the assumption behind the resolution "No place for anti-Semitism" (1) adopted by the German Rectors' Conference (HRK) of 19 November 2019.
This is precisely why we object to two of the four paragraphs of this resolution. There, the adoption of the "IHRA definition" of anti-Semitism is demanded, a definition propagated for clearly political purposes and which is highly controversial. Approved by the German Bundestag and Federal Government, this definition should now be "established in all places of higher learning", in other words, this definition should now become the compulsory basis for our speech, thought and research in all such institutions.
Our objection to this HRK resolution is based on two grounds, one being more formal in nature while the other is a question of substance. To begin with, we contest the HRK's assumption that it can impose any sort of binding rules of speech upon institutions of higher education and further we protest against any concrete restrictions (e.g. bans on public demonstrations) associated with this "IHRA definition" which are already being applied to hinder public reflection upon Israel's policy of occupation, a policy which has been in place now for more than 50 years. This reflection being restricted is one which is oriented toward international law and universal human rights.
In both of these respects we see our fundamental freedoms of speech, teaching and research threatened. And that this threat emanates from the HRK, which calls itself "the voice of the universities" and which, quite rightly regards universities as the "centers of democratic culture, locus of dialogue and places of diversity" is particularly troubling. We see in this decision a blatant contradiction, one which has evidently escaped the attention of the last HRK General Assembly.
We therefore appeal to the President of the HRK and to all members of the HRK - i.e. to all rectors of the 268 institutions of higher education in Germany - to revise this resolution so as not to include any parts which go beyond the general condemnation of anti-Semitism and further not to allow the kinds of restrictions of speech prescribed above, restrictions which moreover are clearly inadequate as regulative and compulsory norms for the use of language at our universities.
We would therefore like to ask all those who are directly affected by this HRK resolution - our academic colleagues from all disciplines at German institutions of higher education - to support us in this effort. Support our OBJECTION with your signature to this petition addressed to the HRK leadership!
In the "Comment" field ("Why is the petition important to you?"), please enter your subject area and your (former) university.
Do our fundamental freedoms of freedom of speech, freedom of opinion and freedom of research and teaching also apply to our universities?
Whoever agrees with this statement needs no further justification in order to support the request outlined above. We ourselves have already explained our own motivation for this action in publicly published objections directed toward the HRK, giving both personal and more general arguments. The restrictions we mentioned concerning public reflection on the Israel/Palestine conflict which center on international law and human rights are not only a source of fear for the future but are already in our time a matter of increasingly prevalent practice, one which now could claim legitimacy through this HRK resolution.
See letters to the German Rectors' Conference chair by the initiators of this petition:
Dear signatories of our petition to the HRK,
A foretaste of what is to come at our universities if the HRK Resolution on Anti-Semitism is complied with is given by this recent event:
At this year's Ruhrtrienniale 2020 (cultural festival in the Ruhr region), Achille Mbembe, a Cameroonian historian and political scientist who has taught for many years in the USA and now in South Africa, is to deliver the opening speech. Among other awards, he has received the Geschwister Scholl Prize of the City of Munich in 2015 and both a prize from Gerda Henkel Foundation and the Ernst Bloch Prize of the City of Ludwigshafen in 2018.
Now Lorenz Deutsch, the FDP's [liberal democrats] cultural policy spokesman in the state parliament or Nordrhein Westfalen... further
on 30 Mar 2020
Dear signatories of our petition
At this moment, our petition seems a little out of time: We campaign for particular lectures and events to be allowed to take place, at a time when there are no lectures and events at all.
But we may and should have a positive look at this: We are shaping the future here.
I am writing you to notify that, since my last letter (March 14) we were joined by further prominent signatories. Accordingly, I would like to express my thanks for their recent support for freedom of teaching and speech at German universities, among others of you (to whom I sincerely apologize for not being named here)
- to the courageous Israelis teaching in England: linguist Hagit Borer, political scientist Neve Gordon and historian Ilan... further
Resolution of the HRK General Assembly of 19.11.2019
[Cf. my previous message for the reason why I send this message]
No place for anti-Semitism
The HRK [Hochschulrektorenkonferenz = academies’ rectors’ conference] General Assembly is appalled by the terrorist attack in Halle/Saale on 9 October 2019, the day of the Jewish Day of Atonement, and by the increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents in Germany (at least 1799 in 2018 alone). The HRK opposes anti-Semitism in any form.
There is no place for anti-Semitism at German universities. The HRK General Assembly supports the resolution "Against BDS and all forms of anti-Semitism" adopted by the Young Forum of the German-Israeli Society, the Jewish Students' Union Germany, the free association... further