The fifteenth Documenta in Kassel will probably not be remembered as a world art exhibition, but as the occasion for a renewed debate on anti-Semitism in Germany. When the documenta management realized that the matter was becoming more and more questionable for them, they called Meron Mendel for help as a mediator. However, the director of the Frankfurt educational institution Anne Frank, Professor of Social Work at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences and also a regular contributor to this feuilleton, soon realized that the artistic curators of the documenta, the Indonesian collective Ruangrupa, were not ready for a real discussion and withdrew from the action.
Mendel, who was born near Tel Aviv in 1976, was chosen because he had dealt with the topic of anti-Semitism as a victim, scientist and educator. His recently published book "Über Israel reden: Eine deutsche Debatte" (Talking about Israel: A German Debate) is an analytical foray through german-Israeli relations and also has a strong autobiographical impact.
Mendel is not only critical of Germany, but above all of his country of birth. In the prologue and epilogue of his book, he explains why: Israel is increasingly becoming a "defective democracy." And he bluntly names an important reason for this: the failure of all attempts to find a peace settlement and thus the perpetuation of the occupation of the West Bank. "The talk of the 'humane occupation' – so the rhetoric of the Israeli politicians of my youth – is still part of the great lie of many Israelis." His experiences as a young soldier in Ramallah or Hebron had shown him "that there can be no such thing, because every occupation regime only works through the violence of the occupiers and the fear of the local population."
More realpolitik background than moral significance
Mendel is involved in peace projects, has evaded renewed conscription into the military, belongs to the left and professes to be a member of the "Tel-Aviv state", named after the cosmopolitan, liberal, hedonistic Mediterranean city, which is the antithesis of the orthodox Jerusalem, characterized by devout believers and settlers. He regrets that Israel "took a wrong turn" after 1967. But even he does not have a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians – perhaps the big hit ("two-state solution") no longer exists, and one can only hope that smaller, mostly private peace projects will have an effect. The new Israeli government of Netanyahu's Likud with religious and political extremists considers Mendel dangerous and a national catastrophe.
Mendel has been living in Germany for more than two decades now; he follows the discussions about the relationship of the Germans to Israel as well as the anti-Semitic currents and upsurges in this country. He devotes a long chapter to the divisions and upheavals that exist on this topic among German leftists. There is no equivalent for this in Israel, since a clearly drawn line distinguishes the supporters of a somehow organized peace with the Palestinians from those Israelis who reject their homeland rights in the West Bank. In Germany, far-right anti-Semitism has now taken precedence over left-wing extremist anti-Semitism as the greater danger; but Mendel does mention interesting anecdotes, such as Jürgen Trittin's friendly swan song to the "communard" and anti-Semite Dieter Kunzelmann.
Mendel devotes another long chapter to the complex of BDS. The Bundestag has classified the loosely organized movement, which calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, as anti-Semitic in a resolution. Mendel does not come to a different conclusion. But he concedes to the Palestinians, for example, that they have the right to defend their interests combatively and harshly in public discourse (or in negotiations). Thus, the demand for the return of the expelled Palestinians is not anti-Semitic per se, even if it would seal the end of the "Jewish state" Israel.