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Greta Thunberg vs. the German Verdrängungsgesellschaft: who's being anti-Semitic?

Foto: Carl Court/Getty Images

Dear friends,

Greta Thunberg probably didn't intend for a post (Öffnet in neuem Fenster) on Twitter/X about Gaza to occupy the German commentariat almost exclusively for several days. The icon of the Fridays for Future movement expressed solidarity with the civilians in Gaza, and in no time at all became "persona non greta" in German editorials and columns. The consensus was that she had single-handedly buried the climate movement. But it's worth taking a closer look at the whole thing.

Because amidst all the excitement, amidst the debates that immediately erupted as to whether Greta's statements were actually anti-Semitic or represented a kind of original sin of the climate movement, whether German climate activists should distance themselves from Greta, Fridays for Future or even the entire climate movement, an audible sigh of relief went through Germany.. A "Look, the climate movement is morally corrupt, its leader is an anti-Semite, which means we don't have to listen to her any more. No more climate BS, no more climate shaming. And an end to the gnawing guilt that we feel so diffusely because we know that we are making the problem worse every day..."

What actually happened?

So what actually happened? Greta Thunberg expressed clear solidarity with Palestine on social media and later at several demonstrations, harshly criticised the actions of the IDF and the right-wing extremist Israeli government in the Gaza Strip, and posted links to several accounts where people were pointed if they wanted to find out more. Large sections of the German media branded her statements and posts as, at best, carelessly anti-Semitic, at worst, part of a broad, anti-Semitic mood in the climate movement and the global left.

"How Greta Thunberg is poisoning the climate", wrote Der Spiegel in a headline piece (Öffnet in neuem Fenster), and under the not at all suggestive headline "Anti-Semitism in the climate movement", it was stated that, rather than asked whether, "in large parts of the climate movement there (seems to exist) an inability to recognise Israeli and Jewish suffering and the significance of the existence of a Jewish state (Öffnet in neuem Fenster)". In turn, the majority of the international progressive debate accepted Greta's positioning as relatively uncontroversial, as Palestine solidarity statements (not "From the River to the Sea", but "Free Gaza", or "Free Palestine") are quite mainstream in the international field - and no, the autism octopus was not an anti-Semitic dogwhistle.

So: did Greta really betray the climate movement with her statements (what would that even mean?), were they anti-Semitic, and should Fridays for Future really change its name, as several people have demanded? No, no, and no. Because, as is so often the case, the German debate about Greta and Gaza was neither about Greta nor about Gaza, but actually about Gillamoos (the location of a Bavarian beer festival, less cosmopolitan than the Oktoberfest, much more flyover country/rednecks with money-style). It was, sotto voce, about the Germans' desire to suppress (as in the German “Verdrängung”, psychological repression) how badly they themselves are doing in the fight against anti-Semitism, both historically and in the present. So you project onto Greta what you know only too well in Bavaria, where just recently, Hubert Aiwanger, an erstwhile teenage Hitlerite and distributor of antisemitic leaflets, was returned to his position as vice governor and powerful economy minister.

German ignorance, not German angst

And a second desire to displace, to actively repress knowledge a subject already has, also played a role: how much we are failing when it comes to delivering even a modicum of climate justice. So Germany does away with Greta, pushes her from the pedestal the German public themselves placed her on, and hopes that this will also somehow do away the climate crisis. It's clear by now that Germany, like most other rich countries, has just had it with all this climate stuff (Öffnet in neuem Fenster), i.e. with the omnipresent climate collapse, the everyday ignorance (as in: active ignorance, as in: I chose not to know) of which is leading to the climate debate becoming ever more stupid, just as the attacks on the climate movement are becoming ever harsher and more brutal. Climate? We'd rather not. Germany simply feels ashamed and guilty and is aware that is behaving neither ethically and rationally. Better to suppress the whole issue then.

Another thing that's becoming pretty clear by now is the fact that Germany is also quite done, thank you very much, with reflecting on its own autochthonous anti-Semitism, at least since the debates about the abovementioned Gillamoos, or the multiethnic and strongly turkish-influenced Berlin neighbourhood of Kreuzberg constituted the core of Deutschland. Since Aiwanger (Öffnet in neuem Fenster) was returned to power in one of the most powerful federal states in the republic; since a clearly right-wing extremist party, the “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) became either the strongest or the second strongest party in polls across the country. And as I write this, I read in a tweet by Seda Başay-Yıldız, the Hessian lawyer first threatened by the terrorist threats of the self-styled NSU 2.0,, that an 18-year-old with confirmed far-right, anti-Semitic views was arrested shortly before he could commit a terrorist attack.

The real Antisemitism was inside you all along”...

So, firstly, Germany has a massive climate injustice problem, but few people outside the climate movement seem to give much of a fuck about it, and no one really feels in charge of, or responsible for it. And secondly, it has a massive fascism problem - the most powerful leader within the AfD, after all the second strongest party in the country, is a strategically acting fascist with a decidely "long game". The AfD's participation in government is within reach. We like to talk about this even less than the climate issue, which can be denied for the sake of simplicity (The conservative leader of the opposition recently raved about "CO2 as an opportunity") because "never again" has supposedly become the German raison d'état.

Now, were that true, it would be pretty cool. However, the actual German raison d'état is first and foremost the Germans', let's say, comfort, both in a material, and a psychological sense. And since this sense of well-being in a country with our past and our present can only be achieved through active ignorance (again: Verdrängung),, one could argue that Verdrängung is in fact Germany's raison d'état: that the “society of repression”, the Verdrängungsgesellschaft began here.

It seems a bit as if Germany's Verdrängungsgesellschaft is using the fact that Greta Thunberg takes positions that, while far from the mainstream of progressive debates in this country, are exactly smack in the mainstream of progressive international debates, as a vehicle to dissolve the emotional attachment to Fridays for Future built up between 2019-2021, when FFF were cast as "the good guys who should be listened to", in order to then be allowed to ignore not only the “climate radicals”, but the entire climate movement.

Spoiler: dismissing Greta doesn't solve the climate issue

Allowing yourself to ignore the climate movement means allowing yourself to ignore the climate issue. Der Spiegel writes here about an "impending split in the climate movement", in what is really more a political speech act than analysis, more an attempt to create rather than describe reality.

In the end, both discourses, the German Gaza discourse and the discourse on the climate movement in the Gaza issue, are about the same thing: that Germans can feel good about themselves. Despite their historical responsibility. Despite their daily failures. We can actually be grateful to Greta for interfering with this.

Yours in frustrated Germanytude: Tadzio.

Kategorie English

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