Image Credit: Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, October 1914/UAF Abt. 850 Nr. 40

On November 13, the online publication of the Normative Orders research center at Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main posted a statement outlining “Principles of solidarity” with Israel and Jews in Germany. This statement—and particularly a key paragraph—caught the attention of a great many philosophers and friends of critical theory around the world, coming as it did from the Frankfurt School, the home of critical theory, and signed as it was by Jürgen Habermas, long regarded as Europe’s leading public intellectual, as well as by Nicole Deitelhoff, Rainer Forst, and Klaus Günther, all currently affiliated with the Frankfurt School:

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. [Emphasis added.]

A number of philosophers were also concerned about an absence: while key principles of international law are alluded to in this paragraph, the authority of international law—so often contested—is not explicitly affirmed.  

Because the resulting open letter is a significant intervention in a fraught public debate, prominently involving members of the philosophy department at The New School, we have decided to bring it to the attention of our readers, and publish as well the full list of signatories. 

As executive editor of Public Seminar, I also think it crucial to facilitate an informed debate over the very complex questions surrounding how to interpret, and uphold, international laws that both prohibit war crimes and genocide—but also entitle nations to act in self-defense when they are attacked.  

November 22, 2023

Read the open letter to the Principles of Solidarity statement, signed by over 100 academics from around the world.

James Miller is Professor of Politics and Liberal Studies and Faculty Director of the MA in Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism at The New School for Social Research.