Open Letter to the Hannah-Arendt-Preis für politisches Denken e.V., the Senate of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Bremen and the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Berlin

Ladies and Gentlemen,

next Friday, the association "Hannah Prize for Political Thought", together with the prize donors, the Böll Foundations Berlin and Bremen and the Senate of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, will award the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought 2023 to the historian Masha Gessen.

The Deutsch-Israelische Gesellschaft Bremen/Unterweser e.V. (German-Israeli Society) calls on those responsible to suspend this decision. The recent statements by Masha Gessen in an essay in the "New Yorker" have made it clear that this would honor a person whose thinking is in clear contrast to that of Hannah Arendt. Such an honor would stand in the way of the necessary determined stand against growing anti-Semitism. In this essay, Masha Gessen trivializes the organizations that call for a political, economic and cultural boycott of Israel because Israel is – in their view – a "colonial state"; but this boycott movement has paved the way for the Hamas terrorists of October 7 to be trivialized or even celebrated as "liberation fighters" in many places.

As the German-Israeli Society, we are particularly alienated by Masha Gessen's statement that Gaza was "like a Jewish ghetto in an Eastern European country occupied by Nazi Germany". Gaza has been governed by the Palestinians themselves since 2005, since the violent takeover under the dictatorial rule of Hamas. The country has received billions of dollars and euros in international aid, which Hamas has spent not on the welfare of the growing population, but on massive, aggressive armament against Israel (and the luxury life of their leadership). The border controls by Israel (and Egypt!) were intended to prevent this armament. The Nazi ghettos in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic States were facilities under total control of Nazi
Germany, created to systematically kill the Jews through starvation, disease and exploitation. The Jews
were deported from the ghettos to their deaths from bullets and gas.

It is incomprehensible to us how a scholar as experienced as Masha Gessen, who has made such a great contribution to the critical analysis of Russian imperialism, can seriously equate Gaza with the Nazi extermination ghettos. For us, there is only one explanation: a deep-seated and fundamental negative prejudice against the Jewish state. This has nothing to do with political judgment in the sense of Hannah Arendt.

Masha Gessen is free to hold such views, we have such discussions on many occasions these days; just as the critical assessment of Israeli politics is also a permanent part of our work as the DIG. But Masha Gessen's views should not be honored with an award that is intended to commemorate the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt.

Hermann Kuhn
(Chairman of the DIG Bremen/Unterweser e.V.)