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Ghassan Hage rebukes Max Planck Institute over Gaza backlash

Pro-Palestine Anthropologist Ghassan Hage hits back at Max Planck Institute for failing to defend him after 'smear campaign' in Germany
4 min read
07 February, 2024
​​​​​​​Ghassan Hage, one of Australia's most significant intellectuals, risks losing his role at Germany's Max Planck Institute over his pro-Palestine stance.
Israel's onslaught on the besieged Gaza Strip, which has killed over 27,500 Palestinians - mostly women and children [Getty]

A prominent Australian anthropologist who has been subject to a "smear campaign" in Germany for voicing support for Palestine has hit back at his former employer Max Planck Institute for failing to defend him against false accusations of anti-Semitism.

Professor Ghassan Hage, of Lebanese origins and known for his groundbreaking work on racism, politics, and environmental threats, was accused by several German right-wing dailies, including Welt, of "antisemitism" after he criticised Israel's brutal and relentless onslaught on the besieged Gaza Strip, which has killed over 10,000 Palestinian children.

Hage, author of 'White Nation', 'Is Racism an Environmental Threat', 'Diasporic Conditions', 'Aler Politics', and 'Decay', has also condemned war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel and Jewish settlers against Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

His stance has reportedly impacted a two-year visiting position he held at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany after the institute questioned him over a series of comments he had made on the issue, according to correspondence seen by The New Arab.

TNA contacted the Max Planck Institute for comment, who confirmed that no decision had been made regarding Hage's position at the institute.

In a statement on Friday, Hage confirmed MPI was moving to end its relationship with him, criticizing its administration for not standing by and defending him against the smear campaign.

"Needless to say, I stand by everything I say in my social media. I have a political ideal that I have always struggled for regarding Israel/Palestine. It is the ideal of a multi-religious society made from Christians, Muslims and Jews living together on that land. My academic writings on that matter, and they are considerable, attests to the way I have always struggled for this ideal. I have criticised both Israelis and Palestinians who work against such a goal. If Israel has copped and continues to cop the biggest criticism it is because its colonial ethno-nationalist project is by far the biggest obstacle towards achieving such aim...If some right-wing journalists who dislike my politics decide to pick from all what I have written my critiques of Israel and accuse me of antisemitism, I expect my employer to know or at least to investigate my record and defend me against such accusations." Hage wrote.

When the Max Planck President’s Office treated me as a liability that needs to be managed, and proposed that I go silently with a non-disclosure agreement, I refused and asked to be unilaterally sacked. I felt it was important that they produce a document where they state why they have chosen to sack me. (this is yet to be sent to me btw)", he added.

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Hage addressed the smear campaign he faced in a post on X on Sunday, saying: "Right-wing German journalists have published articles saying I am preaching antisemite hate from Max Planck", adding that he had left Germany and headed back to Australia.

He dismissed the reports against him as "full of half-truths, outright lies and slimy innuendo", adding: "Some have asked why I don't engage with the journalists who wrote the article about me being an antisemite.

"I would never dignify such people with a response: they are not intellectuals. They are ideological assassins. They don't write to seek truth. They write to engage in character assassination. They can go and have ‘conversations’ with people of their own type."

A petition was launched on Sunday in support of Hage, which said that the signatories were "deeply committed to the principles of human rights, freedom of expression, and scientific inquiry", adding that those values "led us to stand in solidarity with Professor Ghassan Hage, a distinguished anthropologist, public intellectual, and one of the most eloquent progressive academic voices".

"Professor Hage's commitment to deconstructing all forms of racism and domination through rigorous academic research is commendable," the petition said.

"His work as a scholar has always been marked by integrity. However, this smear campaign threatens not only his reputation but the very foundation of free speech upon which education is based."

It said that attempts to "besmirch his name" must fail as it worked as a "stark reminder of the ongoing challenges faced by scholars who dare to challenge entrenched power structures and speak truth to power".

Germany adopted the controversial definition by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance [IHRA], which many have said silenced criticism of Israel's most far-right wing government in its history and hindered Palestine advocacy in Europe. 

The IHRA definition - adopted by most Western countries - says that "anti-semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities".

An example of anti-semitism according to the definition, is targeting Israel, saying the state must be conceived as "a Jewish collectivity".

Israel's onslaught on the besieged Gaza Strip, which has killed over 27,500 Palestinians - mostly women and children - has brought to the forefront debates on freedom of expression in Germany, with several arts institutions cancelling exhibitions due to expressions made by featured artists - particularly on social media - that were deemed "anti-semitic".

Editor's note: This article was updated to include Dr. Hage's 9 February statement, which is available in full here.