UPDATE: It now appears that the Rosa Luxemburg House has also cancelled the lecture. For shame.
Raymond Deane, renowned composer and founding member and former chairperson of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, sent this open letter to the Heinrich Böll Foundation after they cancelled Norman Finkelstein’s scheduled lecture in Berlin under the pretense that Finkelstein is a “controversial” figure. PULSE is the first site to publish this letter in English. The letter is also being translated into German, and will be appearing on several German websites shortly. Finkelstein’s talk will still take place, but will be hosted by the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation.
Mr Helmut Adamaschek
Heinrich Böll Foundation
Dear Mr Adamaschek,
If Norman Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors, is a “controversial” figure, it is because his opponents have artificially created controversy by brutally caricaturing him as an anti-Semite. These opponents, let us be clear, are those who advocate unconditional support for the state of Israel, regardless of its crimes, and total suppression of views critical of that state, whether from Gentile or Jew.
Rolf Verleger, Chairman of the Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East (Jüdische Stimme für gerechten Frieden in Nahost e.V.), has described Norman Finkelstein as “a proud and conscious Jew, who defends himself against the appropriation of Jewish tradition by Jewish blood-and-soil nationalists” (“ein stolzer und bewusster Jude, der sich gegen die Vereinnahmung der jüdischen Tradition durch jüdischen Blut-und-Boden-Nationalismus wehrt.”).
Professor Verleger has justly compared the proponents of such views to McCarthyites.
You, Mr Damaschek, have allowed the name of Heinrich Böll to be sullied by associating it with such McCarthyism.
But there is worse. When a projected talk in Munich by the exiled Israeli historian Ilan Pappe in October 2009 was cancelled by order of that city’s Lord Mayor, Professor Pappe wrote that his father “was silenced in a similar way as a German Jew in the early 1930s”. Like himself, he wrote, his father and his friends were regarded as “‘humanists’ and ‘peacenik’ Jews whose voice had to be quashed and stopped.” Professor Pappe professed himself “worried, as any decent person should be, about the state of freedom of speech and democracy in present day Germany”, as instanced by the decision to censor his talk.
You, Mr Damaschek, have allowed the name of Heinrich Böll to be sullied by associating it with such censorship, and with the degradation of German democracy of which it is a symptom.
We have seen the mechanisms of defamation work smoothly in Germany when other Jews have “stepped out of line”, among them Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, Felicia Langer, Hajo Meyer, and the aforementioned Rolf Verleger. The fact that this defamation is often, in part, the work of other Jews in no way renders it more acceptable or less anti-democratic.
The creation of a culture of intimidation and (self-)censorship cannot be described as a positive contribution to German “coming-to-terms with the past” (“Vergangenheitsbewältigung”). On the contrary, it constitutes a regression that awakens suspicion about the degree to which German democracy truly encourages freedom of speech when it conflicts with perceived political expediency, and when political expediency conflicts with human and political rights – specifically, the long-denied rights of the Palestinian people, who have every reason to see Germany as one of their worst enemies. Germany will not have truly come to terms with its fascist past until it relinquishes its unconditional support for the genocidal and racist Israeli state, ceases to repress the free speech of those who criticise that state, and relinquishes the Der Stürmer-like defamation to which such critics are subjected.
In his fiction and journalism, Heinrich Böll sought to define a new German democratic consciousness productively informed by Vergangenheitsbewältigung. I believe that by participating in the defamation and censorship of Norman Finkelstein, the Foundation that you represent, Mr Adamaschek, has failed to advance this necessary process and has proved itself unworthy to bear the name of such a great writer and humanist as Heinrich Böll.
(Composer, founding member and former chairperson of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign)