EASA letter regarding academic freedom and Prof. Ghassan Hage

To: Prof. Dr. Patrick Cramer, President, Max Planck Society
cc: Prof. Dr. Ursula Rao, Executive Director, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

14 February 2024

Dear Professor Dr. Patrick Cramer
The Executive Committee of the European Association of Social Anthropologists expresses its deep concern about the recent statement issued by the management of the Max Planck Society in Germany regarding Prof. Ghassan Hage.

Following the publication of an article in Die Welt that denigrated Professor Ghassan Hage, accusing him of antisemitism because of his public stance on Palestine, the MPS has decided to terminate Professor Ghassan Hage’s contract with the Max Planck Institute in Halle. The MPS stated: “Racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, discrimination, hatred, and agitation have no place in the Max Planck Society,” implying that it accuses Prof. Hage of racism.

Anyone familiar with the work of Prof. Hage knows this is far from being the case. In his crucial work on racism, white supremacy, nationalism, as well as on the Middle East, Prof. Hage consistently analysed and powerfully critiqued any form of racism. His scholarship is internationally recognised and foundational for much of the current work undertaken by social scientists on racism. Allegations of any form of racism (among which anti-semitism) in his work are misinformed and misplaced. Not only does the statement of the MPS not present any proof of racism and anti-semitism in the work of Prof. Hage; we know with certainty that such proof will be impossible to find in his work because of the deep commitment to anti-racism that pervades his writings. Indeed, as the recent letter by Israeli academics familiar with the work of Prof. Ghassan Hage explains, his writings demonstrate a knowledge of the region’s complexities that cannot, in good faith, be misconstrued as antisemitism.

We note with great concern that the rhetoric employed by the MPS undermines academic freedom precisely at the moment when nuanced and critical debate is more necessary than ever, with fascism and authoritarianism on the rise globally. Scholars in Germany who express views against the violence perpetrated by the far-right government in Israel have been subjected to practices of censorship, silencing, and intimidation that do not have a place in a democratic society, and much less in an academia that praises itself for being critical against authoritarianism. Amidst international calls for a nuanced and well-informed debate on Israel-Palestine that is hardly reducible to an issue of anti-semitism, the stance that the MPS has taken is likely to further isolate it from international academic networks.

We therefore urge the MPS to retract its statement and the misplaced accusations of racism and antisemitism directed at Prof. Ghassan Hage, and revoke the unjust and unfounded decision to terminate his working relationship with the Max Planck Institute in Halle. We support the statement issued by the Board of the German Association of Social and Cultural Anthropology (GASCA/ DGSKA) on Academic Freedom in Germany, urging "universities and research institutions to commit themselves to building and maintaining spaces for discussion and encounter, which welcome plurality and contradiction". We also reiterate the importance of academic freedom and of critique that all institutions, including the MPS, are responsible for upholding and protecting, and insist that concrete steps be undertaken to reverse the politics of censorship in which German institutions are engaging against critical scholars.

Dr. Ana Ivasiuc
President, EASA
On behalf of EASA's Executive Committee