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Post-Colonialism, Antisemitism, and the Holocaust: The Achille Mbembe Case in Germany

November 20, 2020 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

This virtual event is organized by the NC German Studies Seminar and Workshop Series. For the most updated details and information on joining the event, please visit the NCGSWS website.


This spring has witnessed heated debate in Germany about the campaign to disinvite Achille Mbembe, the South African-based Cameroonian theorist, as the keynote speaker at a music festival. In late March, some politicians and critics accused Mbembe of relativizing the Holocaust, trading in anti-Israel antisemitism for linking Israel to colonialism and Apartheid, and for supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). In response, German and foreign academics signed public letters supporting Mbembe, who addressed his critics as well. Many of the contentious issues are familiar, but this time the debate extends beyond the self-referential European Cold War coordinates of the old Historikerstreit. For not only does Mbembe introduce a voice from Africa, Germany is also wrestling with its colonial past. Whereas Holocaust memory has been intended to promote political liberalization, now it seems that Holocaust memory, at least as currently mobilized, is wielded against other historical victims of the German state. We ask: what does “relativizing the Holocaust” mean today? How does this debate relate to the global moment of anti-racism and coming to terms with colonial pasts? Why does a postcolonial understanding of Zionism lead to accusations of antisemitism in Germany? In this session, we pose these and other questions raised by the Mbembe debate.


A. DIRK MOSES (UNC-Chapel Hill, Department of History)
A. DIRK MOSES is the recently appointed Frank Porter Graham Distinguished Professor of Global Human Rights History at the UNC Chapel Hill, Department of History. Before coming to Chapel Hill, Moses taught at the University of Sydney for twenty years and was Professor of Global and Colonial History at the European University Institute in Florence. His first monograph, German Intellectuals and the Nazi Past was published in 2007 and his second monograph, entitled The Problems of Genocide: Permanent Security and the Language of Transgression, will arrive in 2021.

JOSEPH BEN PRESTEL (FU Berlin, Friedrich-Meinecke-Institut, Global History)
JOSEPH BEN PRESTEL is Assistant Professor (wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter) of History at the Freie Universität Berlin. He is the author of Emotional Cities: Debates on Urban Change in Berlin and Cairo, 1860-1910 (2017) and is currently working on a book about the connections between Palestinians and the radical left in West Germany from the 1950s to the 1980s.

PRISCILLA LAYNE (UNC-Chapel Hill, Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages & Literatures)
PRISCILLA LAYNE is Associate Professor of German and Adjunct Associate Professor of African, African American and Diaspora Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research and teaching draws on postcolonial studies, gender studies and critical race theory to address topics like representations of blackness in literature and film, rebellion, and the concept of the Other in science fiction/fantasy. She is author of White Rebels in Black: German Appropriation of African American Culture and her current book project is on Afro-German Afrofuturism.

Moderation: KAREN HAGEMANN (UNC-Chapel Hill, Department of History)

For more information: on the debate, see:

Long Read | The Metamorphosis of Achille Mbembe”, New Frame, 10 June 2020.
Why Achille Mbembe was accused of anti-Semitism,” Deutsche Welle, 30 April 2020.
German politician urges festival to disinvite BDS academic,” The Jerusalem Post, 13 April 2020.
Co-Convener: UNC-Chapel Hill, Department of History


November 20, 2020
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Event Category:
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