Habermas on Israel: a Principle of Solidarity

This letter follows the increase of the anti-Semite attacks in Germany and around the world after the beginning of the last Hamas-Israel war. It was published by the Research Center “Normative Orders” at the Goethe University Frankfurt. This letter has been signed by Nicole Deitelhoff, Chair for International Relations and Theories of Global Order; Rainer Forst, Professor of Political Theory and Philosophy; Klaus Günther, Professor of Legal Theory, Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure Law and by the philosopher Jürgen Habermas.


The current situation created by Hamas‘ extreme atrocity and Israel’s response to it has led to a cascade of moral and political statements and protests. We believe that amidst all the conflicting views being expressed, there are some principles that should not be disputed. They are the basis of a rightly understood solidarity with Israel and Jews in Germany.

The Hamas massacre with the declared intention of eliminating Jewish life in general has prompted Israel to strike back. How this retaliation, which is justified in principle, is carried out is the subject of controversial debate; principles of proportionality, the prevention of civilian casualties and the waging of a war with the prospect of future peace must be the guiding principles. Despite all the concern for the fate of the Palestinian population, however, the standards of judgement slip completely when genocidal intentions are attributed to Israel’s actions.

In particular, Israel’s actions in no way justify anti-Semitic reactions, especially not in Germany. It is intolerable that Jews in Germany are once again exposed to threats to life and limb and have to fear physical violence on the streets. The democratic ethos of the Federal Republic of Germany, which is orientated towards the obligation to respect human dignity, is linked to a political culture for which Jewish life and Israel’s right to exist are central elements worthy of special protection in light of the mass crimes of the Nazi era. The commitment to this is fundamental to our political life. The elementary rights to freedom and physical integrity as well as to protection from racist defamation are indivisible and apply equally to all. All those in our country who have cultivated anti-Semitic sentiments and convictions behind all kinds of pretexts and now see a welcome opportunity to express them uninhibitedly must also abide by this.


Nicole Deitelhoff, Rainer Forst, Klaus Günther and Jürgen Habermas




Hisham Omer Elnour, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Al Neelain University (Sudan), replied to this letter on November 19, 2023, as follows.


The statement issued by Nicole Deitelhoff, Rainer Forst, Klaus Günther and Jürgen Habermas in defense of Israel without distinction between the Israeli authority and its people also suffered a lack of distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people. This disability of distinction resulted in victims being turned into criminals, and criminals into victims. We, who work in philosophy in our countries, who were inspired particularly by the writings of Habermas and Forst in critical theory and their new promises for the project of human emancipation, have been disappointed and frustrated by this statement. Your statement lacked justice and solidarity regarding the Palestinian people. It missed the principles of solidarity which are the title of the statement. You have defended the right of Jews to defend themselves, their right to freedom and physical integrity, and to enjoy human dignity, and you declared that political life in Germany is linked to a political culture that considers Jewish life and Israel’s right to exist as fundamental elements that deserve special protection in light of the mass crimes committed against Israel in the Nazi period. But disappointingly you neglected the same principles and rights for the Palestinian people. What is worse is that you did not condemn Israel’s brutal retaliation, but rather argued that this brutal retaliation is justified in principle and that it is the subject of controversial discussion, to evade condemning it. For you, the killing of 15,271 Palestinians, including 6,403 children and 3,561 women (until the date of November 18, 2023), is an act that cannot be condemned as it is a controversial topic of discussion. It actually seems that the colonization of the life world by instrumental rationality has caused a defect in moral standards that your critical writings in this regard have not eliminated. We know your sensitivity as German people towards everything Jewish under the weight of a complex of guilt for what the Nazis committed against the Jews. But this sensitivity must make you sensitive to human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, or you will find yourself under the weight of a new guilt 2 complex for siding with Jewish criminals. Your intellectual projects, in which you have made an effort to inspire us, stand and bear witness against this statement of yours. We could have titled our statement “Habermas vs. Habermas,” as Habermas did in his book “Heidegger vs. Heidegger,” so that we would be loyal to what we have been inspired by your philosophical projects. In your statement, you condemned Hamas’ intention to eliminate the Jews, but you did not condemn the statements of Israeli ministers who express the extreme right that describe the Palestinians as wild animals, nor those that call for their extermination with a nuclear bomb. There are parties in Israel whose slogan is Israel from the River to the Sea, which is an explicit call for the annihilation and displacement of the Palestinian people. The statement did not mention a single word about the occupation, its crimes, and the right of the Palestinians to their state, as if this conflict had only begun on October the 7th. The statement did not address the settlements being established in the Palestinian territories and the settlers’ ongoing violations and murder against the Palestinians, which are still continuing. Let us be noticeably clear: if Israel has the right to defend itself, then the Palestinians have the right to resist the occupation, which is recognized by international law. With the same clarity, we condemn the killing of civilians on both sides, and that crimes committed against civilians must stop immediately. If solidarity campaigns are to be real, they must demand an immediate ceasefire and a political process based on the adoption of a two-state solution.

8 thoughts on “Habermas on Israel: a Principle of Solidarity

  1. Raymond Deane says:

    Some years ago in Ha’aretz you claimed that Germans of your generation should be silent about Israel’s crimes – a disgraceful assertion that put everything else you had written in question. Now you write the above, once again linking “Jewish life and Israel’s right to exist” (the latter a meaningless Floskel, given that no state has a “right to exist” – or is Israel to be treated as an exception, contrary to the IHRA definition of antisemitism?!). In thus expressing yourself, you ignore the fact that increasing numbers of Jews and Jewish organisations worldwide dissociate themselves from Israel and stress support for Palestinian rights, and – even more shamefully – you ignore the fact that the most flagrant violation of Jewish life in Germany today is again – for the first time since the 1930s – the silencing of progressive Jews. Ultimately this is all about Germany and Germans in a sordid narcissistic sense, and contributes nothing positive to a resolution of the Palestine/Israel issue.

    • I did not like this. If Habermas is wrong on the topic, then that would not discount the rest of his marvellous corpus of work. But he is not wrong. Jewish life indeed must be protected, and Jewish people needed and deserved a national refuge after the Holocaust. If making them vulnerable to pogroms again is your idea of ‘progress’, you can keep it!

    • This is an accurate take. Habermas might have well as not said anything. His statement is a shallow defection of collective German guilt and denial of the same erasures of the “wrong” kind of Jew (those in solidarity with Palestine).

  2. I was lecturing on the public sphere earlier today, and it is very interesting to read this short letter signed by Jurgen Habermas, for me the greatest living thinker and a model of the scholar trying to assist in the public sphere, on the war in the Gaza Strip. Some are not happy that he has not gone along with the anti-Israel protests. He accepts Israel’s right to exist; not suprisingly, since he grew up in Nazi Germany, where occurred, of course, surely the most atrocious crime in history, the herding of 6 million innocent men, women and children into gas chambers. He understands, as did much of the international community after World War 2, including even Stalin, that the Jewish people clearly needed and deserved a national home, a refuge, where they would be tormented no more. However, where I beg to differ from Habermas and the other signatories is in believing that, despite the bestial Hamas outrage of 7/10 (which has been more than avenged), the bombing of civilians, even if they are embedded with militants, should be immediately ended; the return of hostages prioritized; and a cease-fire sought. (It is on this last clause that I think we differ.) Then should begin what Habermas himself has his whole life championed in his definitive and inspiring account of the public sphere: ‘rational-critical’ dialogue aiming at ‘mutual understanding’, where only ‘the force of the better argument’ prevails.

    • Edgar Schmidt says:

      This statement is a clear indication of how Habermas’s “philosophical pragmatism,” which can justify the killing of 6000 Palestinian children in Gaza based on the “principle” of retaliation for the greater good (?), differs from the Kantian “deontology,” according to which a categorical imperative such as “do not massacre newborn babies who do not have the freedom of choice” overrides any act of retaliation as such even if you believe that your enemy has a similar intention. Or, in less philosophical terms, you cannot exonerate yourself from the historical guilt of antisemitism (a distinctly Western idea) by transporting it to a people who have suffered decades of racism and apartheid by a state that was born on their forced displacement.

  3. Damien Chazou says:

    The German complex and the humiliation that was imposed on them because of the memory of the “Holocaust” made them lose their usual sense and objectivity in everything related to Israel and we can see it clearly with such fameus philosophers and intellectuals as Habermas.
    Habermas “was” known (and I put in the past) as one of the greatest advocates of modernity and enlightenment and in communication and ethics etc.; He has plenty of books in this domain; but when the experience came, he fell into the field of communication and ethics and he forget the apply his principles and theories to other people than white man. It’s really a big disappointment and t is descriditing.

  4. M. Jalal Hashim says:

    The signatories of the above letter have uncritically dissected history into completely separate spheres, with each sphere standing by its own. The history-long Jews are apparently treaded as a synonym to the relatively newborn state of Israel and vice versa, which is a total fallacy. Also antisemitism, which is truly and historically a Western vice, is being being attributed to the Palestinians in particular and the Arabs/Muslims at large. This is what I call ‘Neo-anti-Semitism’ in its own right, with the state of Israel serving as its spearhead. This, in fact, is the very anti-Semitism reproduced all-over again, with one difference: the Jews are replaced by the Palestinians particularly and Arab/Muslims in general.
    To have such thinkers and philosophers signing such a letter proves once again how ideolog can stupidly mar intelligence, thought and philosophy.

    • There is some truth in what you have written. However, I think you need to think harder about the Holocaust, just as some Israelis need to think harder about the Nakba. You should also read more Habermas – for example, his The Inclusion of the Other – before you write him off as possessed by ideology.

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