Hebrew University
Hebrew University Academics Promote Achille Mbembe who Supports BDS, Espouses anti-Semitism and Delegitimizes Israel

Editorial Note

IAM reported in May on the philosopher Achille Mbembe who calls for the boycott of Israel, espouses anti-Semitic jibes by minimizing the Holocaust, and accuses Israel of executing Nazi-like atrocities.

Recently, the radical academic group Academia for Equality (A4E) posted an invitation to a symposium on the international academic platform, “PTEL: Political Theory Email List” which provides notices of events and news for and by political theorists.   The group organizes a symposium titled “Concerning Palestine/Israel: Thinking with Achille Mbembe.” The symposium will take place online on September 15, 2020. A4E invites researchers, artists, and activists who are “informed by the work of Achille Mbembe,” to send in abstracts.  The organizing committee hails from the Hebrew University:  Prof. Louise Bethlehem, former Chair of the Program in Cultural Studies; Revital Madar, Bethlehem’s Ph.D. student; Dr. Areej Sabbagh-Khoury, of the Sociology Department, whose expertise is Israel’s “War by Other Means Against the Palestinians in Israel“; and Dr. Matan Kaminer, a long-time political activist, currently a Buber fellow, whose expertise is Thai migrants in Israel. As the son of activist Noam Kaminer, he co-edited a book with Prof. Joel Beinin on the Israeli radical left.

The symposium seeks to revisit Mbembe’s “contributions to our understanding of Palestine/Israel” and wishes to explore how his work could be used to analyze “key occurrences and dynamics, with reference to the Nakba and its aftermath, the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territories, or pertaining to the Israeli regime in general.”  For this, the organizers propose analyzing Mbembe’s 2019 book “Necropolitics” and other interventions, as applicable within the context of Palestine/Israel.

Mbembe’s “Necropolitics” was published first in 2003 as a chapter in a book.  It exposes the theory of the walking dead, comparing the “contemporary forms of subjugation of life to the power of death.” By forcing some of the bodies to locate between life and death. Mbembe uses examples of slavery, apartheid, the colonization of Palestine and the figure of the suicide bomber, to show the different forms of necropower (statist, racialized, a state of exception, urgency, martyrdom) that reduce people to the precarious conditions of life.

More specifically, according to Mbembe, the “colonial occupation,” in Gaza and the West Bank, is “the most accomplished form of necropower.” The “colonial violence and occupation are profoundly underwritten by the sacred terror of truth and exclusivity (mass expulsions, resettlement of stateless people in refugee camps, settlement of new colonies). Lying beneath the terror of the sacred is the constant excavation of missing bones; the permanent remembrance of a torn body hewn in a thousand pieces and never self-same; the limits, or better, the impossibility of representing for oneself an original crime, an unspeakable death: the terror of the Holocaust.”

Mbembe represents the Palestinian suicide bomber, as “The besieged body becomes a piece of metal whose funct’ion is, through sacrifice, to bring eternal life into being. The body duplicates itself and, in death, literally and metaphorically escapes the state of siege and occupation.” According to Mbembe, “There is no doubt that in the case of the suicide bomber the sacrifice consists of the spectacular putting to death of the self, of becoming his or her own victim (self-sacrifice). The self-sacrificed proceeds to take power over his or her death and to approach it head-on. This power may be derived from the belief that the destruction of one’s own body does not affect the continuity of the being. The idea is that the being exists outside us.”

The organizers claim that the symposium was proposed “in the wake of the recent campaigns against the political philosopher Achille Mbembe in Germany and the denunciation of his work as anti-Semitic.”
However, as IAM indicated in its post in May, Mbembe is hardly a political scientist but rather an activist using the academic discourse to propagate anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli tropes.  Here are some examples:

Mbembe wrote in 2015, that the occupation “is not apartheid, South African style. It is far more lethal.” That the Jewish “victimhood, and a supremacist complex” are making the occupation “the biggest moral scandal of our times, one of the most dehumanizing ordeals.” Israelis are willing “to go all the way—carnage, destruction, incremental extermination.” Every “three years, an all-out, asymmetrical assault against a population entrapped in an open-air prison.” As Israel uses “the army, the police, the settlers, the pilots of bombing raids, the zealots, and the cohort of international Pharisees and their mandatory righteousness, starting with the United States of America.”  He accused Israel of trying to purge the “Palestinians from the land.”

In 2016, he wrote that Israel’s “desire for apartheid and the phantasy of extermination are not new phenomena.”  That Israel’s “fanatical policy of destruction aimed at transforming the life of Palestinians into a heap of ruins or a pile of garbage destined for cleansing… when required, transform itself into an instrument of strangulation.”

Mbembe is also a staunch supporter of BDS:

In 2010, Mbembe was a signatory to a petition urging the University of Johannesburg to sever its relations with Ben-Gurion University.

In Dec. 2015 Mbembe was among scholars from South African universities, who pledged, “we will not: accept invitations to visit Israeli academic institutions; act as referees in any of their processes; participate in conferences funded, organized or sponsored by them, or otherwise cooperate with them.”

IAM reported in November 2018 an international conference in South Africa, when Mbembe and a colleague first refused to participate because of several Israeli participants and later published a statement announcing that, “We were informed by the organizers that the Israeli speakers who were on the program have rescinded their participation at the conference and for this reason, we are open to participating in the conference.”

It should come as no surprise that Mbembe, like many of radical academic activists relies extensively on Israeli activists to promote his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  For instance, he quotes Eyal Weizman, professor of Spatial and Visual Culture and a British Israeli architect, in his discourse of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. Weizman himself was denied entry to the US in February, for refusing to disclose information to Homeland Security who found him a security risk. Weizman is a notoriously anti-Israel activist. His Forensic Architecture research agency, based at Goldsmiths, University of London, hasn’t found any fault with the Palestinians only with Israel.

A4E bills itself as “a members’ organization of academics fighting against the occupation and for the democratization of society in Israel.”   But as can be seen, the organizers promote Mbembe who supports BDS, produces anti-Israel and anti-Semitic scholarship, in addition to downplaying suicide bombing by glorifying it as a sacrifice. Hebrew University should take notice that several of its scholars embrace Mbembe who was barred by other academic and popular forums.


Madar Revital shared a post.

CFP: Concerning Palestine/Israel: Thinking with Achille Mbembe
September 15th, online

Madar Revital

Friends from around the globe, whose research, art, and activism is informed by the work of Achille Mbembe,
we are organising a conference entitled, “Concerning Palestine/Israel: Thinking with Achille Mbembe,” and we will be happy to receive abstracts from you and from your circles.

The conference will be held online, under the umbrella of @אקדמיה לשוויון Academia for Equality أكاديميون من أجل ألمساواة on September 15th 2020.

Link to the call’s PDF in the comments.

Feel free to distribute the call.

أ ا كدیم یون منأ جل ال مس او اة | Academia for Equality אקדמיה לשויון
Concerning Palestine/Israel: Thinking with Achille Mbembe
September 15th, 2020 – An Online Symposium
In the wake of the recent campaigns against the political philosopher Achille Mbembe in Germany and the denunciation of his work as anti-Semitic, we seek to revisit his contributions to our understanding of Palestine/Israel. We wish to explore how his work might be used to analyze key occurrences and dynamics with reference to the Nakba and its aftermath, the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territories, or pertaining to the Israeli regime in general. We hope that this event will open up the opportunity to introduce different aspects of his work to local scholars, whether based on the well-known text Necropolitics (2019) or other interventions.
We invite scholars, graduate students, writers, activists and artists whose work on Palestine and Israel has been informed by Mbembe’s scholarship to offer short commentaries interrogating the uses to which his thought has been put in understanding local phenomena, objects, theories, ideas, and situations. Inspired by the established methodology of the project Political Concepts: A Critical Lexicon and the journal Mafteakh: Lexical Review of Political Thought, we wish to explore how concepts originating from, or in dialogue with, Mbembe’s work find application within the context of Palestine/Israel. These might be considered key-words in an evolving scholarly conversation that is open to comparative and interdisciplinary methodologies.
Keeping in mind the limits of Zoom-based conferencing, each presentation will be limited to 10-12 minutes. The event is sponsored by Academia for Equality, a members’ organization of academics fighting against the occupation and for the democratization of society in Israel. Please submit short abstracts of 300-500 words outlining your proposed contribution to concerningpalestineisrael@gmail.com by August 1st, 2020, as well as a short biographical note of no more than 150 words.
The Organizing Committee: Louise Bethlehem, Revital Madar, Areej Sabbagh-Khoury, and Matan Kaminer