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War on Gaza: German research institute sacks professor over criticism of Israel

Lebanese-Australian anthropologist Ghassan Hage says dismissal not surprising amid anti-Palestinian landscape in Germany
Ghassan Hage was a visiting professor at the Max Planck Society (X)

Lebanese-Australian professor of anthropology has been sacked by a leading German research institution after criticising Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza.

In a statement published on 7 February, the Max Planck Society said they had severed their relationship with "highly acclaimed" academic Ghassan Hage over a set of social media posts that they said were "incompatible" with the society's values.

The statement added that "racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism, discrimination, hatred, and agitation have no place in the Max Planck Society".

In response, Hage said he could not accept being characterised as racist over his views.

He said on Thursday that he was informed of his dismissal following a query made to the institute by right-wing newspaper, Welt am Sonntag, alleging that a series of his social media posts criticising Israel were antisemitic.

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Hage said the newspaper on 31 January emailed him saying they noticed him making "increasingly drastic statements towards the state of Israel".

The paper also alleged that Hage has been “an activist for the [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS)] movement for years,” which he refuted, saying that “I take my job as an academic too seriously to have time to be an activist”.

Shortly after, Hage’s institute received a similar query and informed him that the president of the Max Planck Society in Munich had forwarded it to the society’s lawyers.

“No one in Munich, lawyer or otherwise, contacted me or sought my opinion about [the allegations],” he said.

The following day, the institute’s directors notified him of the termination of his two-year post as a visiting professor.

“The decision was based on the way antisemitism has come to be defined and institutionalised in Germany which has been analysed and critiqued by many,” Hage said in his statement.

“For anyone who knows the German landscape at the moment, there is nothing surprising about this happening to me. Many people other than me have copped a variation on this same treatment.”

On 20 December, the Max Planck Society announced it would provide “additional funding for German-Israeli collaborations".

Citing the Hamas-led attack on 7 October, the society pledged an initial payment of 1m euros to Israeli research institutions.

Pro-Palestine voices silenced

Since the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip began on 7 October, Germany has seen an escalating crackdown on pro-Palestinian advocacy, with rallies and Palestinian flags banned in many parts of the country.

Pro-Palestinian speech and the traditional keffiyeh scarfs have also been banned in schools, while Samidoun, a group that advocates for Palestinian prisoners, was banned in the immediate aftermath of the 7 October attack.

In the cultural sector, pro-Palestinian voices have also been widely silenced with cultural institutions reporting pressure to cancel events featuring groups critical of Israel.

In October, the Frankfurt Book Fair cancelled a planned award ceremony for the Palestinian author, Adania Shibli.

In November, Oyoun, a cultural institution, lost its state funding following its hosting of an event for a Jewish-led organisation that supported the BDS movement against Israel, a movement that Germany’s Bundestag classified as antisemitic in 2019.

On 31 October, British playwright Caryl Churchill was stripped of the European Drama Prize she had been given in April in recognition of her life’s work, over her support for Palestine.

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