Felix Klein sees no reason to apologise to Achille Mbembe

The German Federal commissioner on combatting antisemitism, Dr. Felix Klein, has declared that he sees no reason to apologise to academic Achille Mbembe, a supporter of BDS, after he called for him to be barred from giving the opening speech at a major international cultural festival held every year in the city of Bochum.

Mbembe’s arguments fulfilled the criteria of Israel-related antisemitism, and he should not be surprised that he is challenged when he uses antisemitic cliches, Felix Klein told the German weekly Die Zeit, adding that his criticism of Mbembe did not encroach on scientific freedom.

“My job is to coordinate state actors in the fight against antisemitism and to initiate debate,” Klein stated, emphasising that he sees “no reason” for an apology.

Mbembe, a Cameroon-born political scientist based in South Africa was accused of relativising the Holocaust and is a supporter of the BDS movement, which was declared antisemitic “in its motives and actions” by the German Bundestag in a resolution in 2019.

Klein also addressed an international petition from academics calling for his “resignation”, and expressed concerns about the relationship between postcolonial studies and antisemitism. “Some of these theories are in direct confrontation with the German culture of remembrance (Erinnerungskultur), which I see as an achievement.”

“It’s possible that people in other countries are less sensitised to this issue, but when something is wrong from the perspective of German society, it does not become right just because it comes from outside,” Klein added.

Numerous scientists and civil society organisations, such as the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the country’s EJC affiliate, have expressed support for Felix Klein.

“A commissioner on combatting antisemitism should be able to promote meaningful discussion,” Klein concluded, adding that Mbembe has distanced himself from a blanket boycott of Israel as a result of his criticism.

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