Issue 2022:1

Brecht-Tage 2022 (Photo credit: @lfbrecht)


Conference Reports

  1. Panel at MLA 2022: Brecht and the Police (Marc Silberman)
  2. Brecht-Tage 2022 (Falk Strehlow)

Open Letters (17th IBS Symposium Israel)

  1. Don’t Destroy Brecht’s Name! (Finn Iunker)
  2. A Response to Finn Iunker (Stephen Brockmann)

Brecht and the Police

IBS (virtual) panel at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association

January 8, 2022 (5:15 – 6:30 pm)

By Marc Silberman

Glenn Ligon's installation "Live"

Glenn Ligon’s installation “Live”

Moderator: Marc Silberman (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

This panel used Brecht’s theories as an entry point for considering artistic practices that engage the police and their activities directly. The presenters sought to suggest a critical dialogue between Brecht’s own concerns with the emergence of the fascist police state in the 1930s and concerns with the increasingly authoritarian function that the police in western societies have assumed. The underlying question that this panel addresses is: what role does artistic practice play vis-à-vis the police in the politics of “Brechtian” theater.

1) Ela Gezen, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Gezen’s 2018 book Brecht, Turkish Theater, and Turkish-German Literature: Reception, Adaptation, and Innovation after 1960 studies Brecht’s significance for Turkish and Turkish German literature. Her current book project, Cultures in Migration: Turkish Artistic Practices and Cultural-Political Interventions in West Berlin, examines cultural practices by Turkish artists, academics, and intellectuals during the late 1970s and early 1980s as a key part of the formation of a Turkish public sphere in West Berlin.

Vasıf Öngören, Brechtian Dialectics, and Antifascism in Theater

Vasıf Öngören (1938­–1984) was the leading dramatist in the implementation and adaptation of Brechtian dramaturgical practices in the Turkish context. His career in theater began in 1959, when he joined the Gençlik Tiyatrosu ensemble of which he was a member until 1962. As one of its members, he participated in the student theater festival in Erlangen, West Germany in the early 1960s, strengthening his interest in Brecht and resulting in his move to West Berlin to study Brechtian theater. Between 1962 and 1966, he regularly attended stage rehearsals in East Berlin at the Berliner Ensemble and conducted research in its archive, while simultaneously enrolled in the Free University’s theater department in West Berlin. He returned to Turkey in 1966 for his mandatory military service and in 1969, he co-founded Ankara Birliği Sahnesi, which advocated epic theater and an antifascist agenda. Öngören contributed his own play Zengin Mutfağı (The Kitchen of the Rich, 1977), which he contextualized by tying it to the rise of ultra-nationalists and neo-fascists in parliament, and Turkey’s transformation into a police state under martial law. It was staged during the 1976–1977 season and received the play of the year award from the theater journal Tiyatro in 1977. In the face of growing oppression and persecution of the left, and after the bombing of his theater by fascists in the late 1970s, Öngören left Turkey for West Berlin in 1980, where he re-established his ensemble as Kollektiv Theater. The Kitchen of the Rich premiered in West Berlin in October 1981, which Öngören perceived as providing insights into the recent developments in Turkey to both a German audience and a Turkish audience that had left the country earlier. This paper specifically focused on the bilingual production and performance contexts in West Berlin, while also engaging with continuities and transformations in the ensemble’s orientation and self-understanding as it moved from Turkish to West German society. A central question in this discussion is how its political revolutionary orientation was modified to communicate Turkish political realities through theater in West Germany.

2) Christina Banalopoulou, Independent Researcher

Banalopulou completed her PhD at the University of Maryland in the Dept. of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies. Her publications include “Nietzsche, Deleuze, Guattari: Performative Constitution of Unpayable Debt in Finance Capitalism” in the Journal of Philosophical Economics; the co-authored article “Biopolitics of the Coronavirus Pandemic: Herd Immunity, Thanatopolitics and Acts of Heroism” in Rethinking Marxism; and “The Tragedy of the Greek Debt Crisis: To Be Done with Judgment” in Performance Philosophy.

V-Effect, Police Brutality and the George Floyd Solidarity Protests in Athens

The focus of capitalism on financialization broadly and on debt-driven economies more particularly destroys collective solidarity. Finance capital creates the illusion that solidarity is redundant since “friction-free capitalism” is supposed to “democratize capital” and to “effortlessly” take care of us all. The current rapid increase in the number of military-geared police personnel in Greece and the law recently passed by the Greek parliament that criminalizes protests and demonstrations destroy that illusion. However, if the withdrawal of solidarity is a so-called “natural” and “expected” outcome of financialization, since it is “economic growth” and not solidarity that protects our well-being, then why do police and laws impose the dismantling of solidarity by force? In my presentation I focused on police brutality during the Greek solidarity protests for George Floyd that took place in Athens in early June 2012. I discussed how, if understood as Brechtian V-effects (Verfremdung), police brutality during the George Floyd solidarity protests destroyed the illusions of finance-driven capitalism. I asked whether, when deployed by police, the V-effect empowers the police by re-establishing the illusion of a hard boundary between the people and the police. Finally, I examined how a Brechtian approach to the strategies practiced by the police can offer greater insight into finance capitalism’s complicated practices of governing that blur the boundaries between “governmentality” (the internalization of self-discipline and its diffusion into lived everyday practices) and “governance” (local and direct exertions of power that (re)produce international inequalities).

3) James Harding, University of Maryland

Harding is the author of Performance, Transparency and the Cultures of Surveillance (2018); The Ghosts of the Avant- Garde(s): Exorcising Experimental Theater and Performance (2013); Cutting Performances: Collage Events, Feminist Artists, and the American Avant-Garde (2011); and, Adorno and a Writing of the Ruins (1997). His coedited anthologies include: The Sixties, Center Stage: Mainstream and Popular Performances in a Turbulent Decade (2017); The Rise of Performance Studies: Rethinking Richard Schechner’s Broad Spectrum (2011); and Restaging the Sixties: Radical Theaters and Their Legacies (2006) with Cindy Rosenthal. He is currently finishing a new monograph tentatively entitled Performance Beyond the Pale: Creative Activism and Bodies in Extremis.

On the Right to Reinterpret Silence: Richard Pryor, Police Violence, and Brechtian Technique in Glenn Ligon’s 2014 installation “Live”

As its point of departure this paper looks back to the poem “To Those Born Later” [“An die Nachgeborenen”] that Brecht penned in 1939 while in exile in Denmark. He concludes the opening stanza of that poem with the line: “He who laughs / Has not yet received / The terrible news.” While not the poem’s most famous line, its ominous reference to news that can silence laughter provides the conceptual foundation for my discussion of a 2014 installation piece by the African American artist Glenn Ligon. That piece, which bears the deceptively simple title “Live,” was constructed out of edited footage from the 1982 film Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip. Aside from Ligon’s dismantling and reconstruction of Pryor’s performance onto six separate screens, each of which zooms in on different parts of Pryor’s body and each of which is positioned in a circle facing the other screens, perhaps the most striking aspect of Ligon’s installation is that he silences the soundtrack and hence the voice of Pryor delivering his monologue. The only remaining fragment of that monologue is a single line from it printed in the program for the installation: Pryor’s assertion in his Sunset Strip performance that “the madder I get, the quieter I get.” I set this single fragment from Pryor’s routine in a critical dialogue with the above-mentioned line from Brecht’s 1939 poem, both of which, I readily admit, are stripped out of their immediate historical contexts as a calculated a rhetorical strategy for teasing out the “terrible news” that provides the social and political context to Ligon’s silencing of the laughter provoked by Pryor’s performance. This, then, grounds my concern with Ligon’s use of aesthetic strategies that bear amazing resemblance to Brechtian techniques, particularly with respect to the attitudes that those techniques seek to cultivate among spectators. My primary points of reference here are the theoretical debates that Brecht formulated in The Messingkauf Dialogues. But the larger issue is with the particular historical resonance that Ligon is able to achieve as a result of use of these strategies, a resonance that in no uncertain terms, I argued, brings Pryor’s profound sense of anger about police brutality into the present historical moment.


Brecht-Tage 2022

von Falk Strehlow

Brecht und Klasse und Traum
„Stärkende Träume brauchen Bodenhaftung“



Der Klassen-Begriff befindet sich seit einigen Jahrzehnten in einem Zweifrontenkrieg: mit der Postmoderne und dem Neoliberalismus. Die Kollaboration dieser beiden Formationen kam für die Linke überraschend; das Resultat ihrer Allianz besteht in der Dekonstruktion der „Klasse“, in dem Verschwinden der Sichtbarkeit von Klassen und ihren Konturierungen. Während sich die realen Klassenwidersprüche – sowohl innerhalb der Nationalstaaten und ihrer Bündnisse als auch international und geopolitisch – immer mehr verschärfen, lassen sich Klassen und ihre Widersprüche zunehmend schwieriger fassen, beschreiben, wahrnehmen, bekämpfen.

Mit dem Traum verhält es sich nun anders. Der Umgang mit den heutigen Formen des Träumens zeichnet sich durch eine Gegenläufigkeit aus: Einerseits besteht ein Imperativ unserer heutigen Zeit darin, sich in Traumwelten zu verorten, die von den materiellen, weltpolitischen, sozialen Gegebenheiten entkoppelt sind; eine Beteiligung an dieser (oftmals virtuell getriggerten) Invasion der abgespaltenen Träume, an einer erträumten Fragmentierung von Welt und Selbst schafft Dynamiken von klassenbezogener Zugehörigkeit und ist für den Einzelnen geradezu überlebenswichtig. Andererseits gelten Träume mit Realitäts- und Geschichtsanspruch (als eine einstige Voraussetzung von linkem Denken und Handeln) durch das momentan waltende Diktat der Geschichtslosigkeit als weltfremd und nicht zeitgemäß; Ideen im Sinne einer Überwindung der totalen Besetzung mit Gegenwart werden an den Rand gedrängt, ihre Traum-Arbeiter aus den Strukturen der Autopoiesis einer allgegenwärtigen Welt des Privatkapitals exkludiert.

Das Verhältnis zwischen der Unsichtbarkeit von sich verschärfenden Klassenwidersprüchen und dem beschriebenen Traum-Imperativ+Traum-Ausschluss führt zu Kulturtechniken, die den Formen einer Dissensfähigkeit, eines Ver-Stehens, einer dialektischen Handlungsbereitschaft zuwiderlaufen und somit ein in die bestehenden Verhältnisse „eingreifendes Denken“ verunmöglichen. Diese Auslöschung von eingreifendem Denken und Träumen vollzieht sich sowohl auf der Ebene der mikrostrukturellen Umgangsformen zwischenmenschlicher Beziehungen eines alltäglichen Mit- und Gegeneinanders als auch auf der Ebene des makrostrukturellen Weltgeschehens.

Was tun? Ein Gespräch führen. Über Brecht. Mit Brecht. Gegen Brecht. Ein Werkstattgespräch: mit Klassismus-kritischen Aktivistinnen, Historikern, Psychoanalytikerinnen, Theatermachern, Feministinnen, Philosophen, Künstlerinnen, Autorinnen, Traumdeutern und -tänzern. Unterschiedliche Brecht-Lektüren in Form von Vorträgen, Gelesenem und Gesungenem, Diskussionen auf dem Podium und mit dem Publikum: das waren die Brecht-Tage 2022.


Vom 7. bis 11. Februar 2022 fanden im Literaturforum im Brecht-Haus Berlin die Brecht-Tage statt. Daran teilgenommen haben: Tanja Abou, Bettina Andrae, Manfred Bauschulte, Micha Braun, Daniela Dröscher, Insa Härtel, Sabine Kebir, Ana Kugli, Robert Pfaller, Anja Quickert, Hans-Joachim Schott, Ingo Schulze, Francis Seeck, Ingar Solty, Peter Staatsmann, Gerta Stecher, Falk Strehlow und Andreas Wolter: Mitwirkende | Literaturforum im Brecht-Haus (

Anlässlich seines Geburtstages am 10. Februar verhandelten wir gemeinsam eine Woche lang Brechts Ansichten zu dem Verhältnis zwischen sozioökonomischen Gegebenheiten und Traum-Geschehen, sein träumerisches Verhältnis zur Welt, Brechts Klassenfragen und -antworten, Brechts Theater, Film, Ideologie und Lyrik, Brechts Theorie und Handeln, Leben und Werk – Denk-, Frag- und Traumwürdiges von Brecht: Programm | Literaturforum im Brecht-Haus (











Die konzeptuelle Grundlage für diese Woche erarbeitete der Projektleiter Falk Strehlow: Startseite | Literaturforum im Brecht-Haus (

Pünktlich zu Brechts 125. Geburtstag erscheint beim Verbrecher Verlag Berlin: Brecht und Klasse und Traum. „Stärkende Träume brauchen Bodenhaftung“, hrsg. v. Falk Strehlow


Don’t destroy Brecht’s name!

by Finn Iunker


Wenn wir zu dir kommen
Werden uns unsere Lumpen abgerissen
Und du horchst herum an unserm nackten Körper.
Über die Ursache unserer Krankheit
Würde dir ein Blick auf unsere Lumpen
Mehr sagen. Dieselbe Ursache zerschleißt
Unsere Körper und unsere Kleider.

Bertolt Brecht, “Rede eines Arbeiters an einen Arzt”[1]


The International Brecht Society (IBS) has decided to have its next conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, in December 2022. A Call for Papers (CfP) on its webpage[2] describes the thematic framework for the conference, which is entitled “Bertolt Brecht in Dark Times. Racism, Political Oppression, and Dictatorship.” The conference is hosted by Tel Aviv University in collaboration with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Haifa University. There will be speeches and panels, workshops and readings, as well as excursions and an artistic program, including a performance of Antigone. Other topics are inequality, injustice, the deprivation of the freedom of speech, protest, resistance and revolt. I thank the IBS President and the editors of e-cibs for the opportunity to present my comments on the conference (as reflected in the CfP).

The IBS has around 220 members from all around the world. I have been a member since 2010. I have had the pleasure of attending IBS conferences in Honolulu (2010), Oxford (2016) and Leipzig (2019). I have met Brecht scholars who have become good colleagues and friends. I write this letter to you, dear colleagues:

Don’t take part in this Brecht-washing of racism, oppression, inequality, injustice and deprivation of the freedom of speech. In present-day Israel, those who protest oppression are shot. Those who resist military occupation are shot. Even those who don’t resist are abused, humiliated, beaten, kidnapped, tortured, killed, their bodies then confiscated; their land is stolen, their water is stolen, their heritage is bombed:[3] they are Palestinians. The CfP does not mention them even once. The CfP does not contain the word “Palestinian.” Please don’t take part in a conference on oppression where the oppressed have already been erased.

It should by now be clear to all of us that the Israeli system of domination and control is apartheid, as defined in the Apartheid Convention,[4] and as reported by, among many others, B’Tselem (2021),[5] Human Rights Watch (2021)[6] and Amnesty International (2022).[7] The former Attorney General of Israel, Michael Benyair, agrees: “You simply cannot be a liberal democracy if you operate apartheid over another people. It is a contradiction in terms because Israel’s entire society is complicit in this unjust reality.”[8] The latest report that I have seen comes from the UN Special Rapporteur.[9] Let me give you a few examples from it.

The report consists of 62 sections. Let’s call them Lehrstücke. In Lehrstück 44, you will learn that “the 2.7 million Palestinians living in the West Bank enjoy none of the rights, protections and privileges possessed by the Israeli Jewish settlers living among them,” and that “The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has estimated that Israeli closures, the confiscation of land and resources, rapacious settlement growth and military operations have cost the Palestinian economy $57.7 billion (US) in arrested development since 2000.”

In Lehrstück 45, you will learn that “the lives of the Palestinians in the West Bank are governed by more than 1800 military orders issued since 1967 by the Commander of the Israeli Defence Forces, covering such issues as security, taxation, transportation, land planning and zoning, natural resources, travel and the administration of justice.” Justice? The conviction rate of Palestinians in the military court system is over 99 percent. “Even more draconian, there are, at any one time, hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned indefinitely through administrative detention, where they are incarcerated without the façade of a formal proceeding, that is: without charges, evidence, a trial or a conviction, and whose detention can be extended indefinitely.” Say you didn’t know.

In Learnstück 46, you will learn that “a central strategy of Israeli rule has been the strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian territory into separate areas of population control, with Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem physically divided from one another,” and that “the West Bank itself is further splintered into 165 disconnected enclaves.” Israel also “closely monitors Palestinian society through advanced cyber-surveillance.” Say you didn’t know.

In Lehrstück 47, you will learn that “since 1967, Israel has confiscated more than two million dunams [2,000 square kilometers] of Palestinian land in the West Bank, which have been used to build settlements, Israeli-only highways and roads, recreational parks, industrial centres and military bases and firing zones, all for the purpose of cementing a permanent and immovable demographic presence.” They steal land and they destroy homes: “the number of [Palestinian] structures demolished in 2020 and 2021 are the second and third highest annual rates since these figures were first recorded in 2009.”

In Lehrstück 57, you will learn that “this system of alien rule has been established with the intent to maintain the domination of one racial-national-ethnic group over another,” that “Israeli political leaders, past and present, have repeatedly stated that they intend to retain control over all the occupied territory in order to enlarge blocs of land for present and future Jewish settlement while confining the Palestinians to barricaded population reserves,” and that “Israel’s plans for more Jewish settlers and larger Jewish settlements on greater tracts of occupied land cannot be accomplished without the expropriation of more Palestinian property together with harsher and more sophisticated methods of population control to manage the inevitable resistance.” Say you didn’t know.

In Lehrstück 58, you will learn that “the imposition of this system of institutional discrimination with the intent of permanent domination has been built upon the regular practice of inhuman(e) acts. Arbitrary and extrajudicial killings. Torture. The violent deaths of children. The denial of fundamental human rights. A fundamentally flawed military court system and the lack of criminal due process. Arbitrary detention. Collective punishment. The repetition of these acts over long periods of time, and their endorsement by the Knesset and the Israeli judicial system, indicates that they are not the result of random and isolated acts but integral to Israel’s system of rule.” Now you know.

Just to give you a glimpse of the legal system. Regarding confiscation of dead Palestinians, which appears to have been Israeli policy since 1967 (adopted from a British emergency regulation from around 1945), B’Tselem writes that the refusal to return bodies “causes immense suffering to the families, as they are unable to bury their loved ones and perform the mourning rituals.”[10] In 2017, the relatives of six Palestinians went to court to have the bodies of their loved ones returned. The case finally landed in the Israeli Supreme Court, where President Justice Esther Hayut made some remarkable comments. Although she admits that the law “is intended to uphold human rights,” since the dead Palestinians had carried out attacks on Israel, or were suspected of having done so, “this reality forces not only security forces, but also jurists, to rethink these laws in order to reshape them and adjust them to the new reality” (emphasis added). This is not a legal system to be proud of. President Justice Hayut seems to agree that her opinion may not be in accordance with international law, but “so long as international law has not adjusted itself to this new reality,” existing provisions should be interpreted “in a dynamic manner that is sensitive to the changing times” (emphasis added).[11]

And just to give you some context: Ahmed Erekat was killed on 23 June 2020, on his sister’s wedding day, while doing errands for her.[12] His car crashed into a booth at one of the 149 (or more) check-points on the Occupied West Bank. They shot him six times. An ambulance arrived 20 minutes later, but was denied access. He was left to bleed to death. An hour and a half later he was still lying on the ground, now completely naked. His body was finally removed from the scene by an Israeli ambulance. Ahmed’s family tried for months to have his body released so that they could give him a proper burial. A petition says that “the Israeli government is refusing to return him to his family unless they promise not to bring a legal case against the Israeli soldier who murdered their boy.”[13] The London-based human rights group Forensic Architecture has tried to reconstruct what happened.[14]

Since, dear colleagues, Tel Aviv University will be your host, it’s worth noting that confiscated dead Palestinians are held at the Greenberg National Institute of Forensic Medicine (also known as Abu Kabir Forensic Institute), which, according to Israel’s Ministry of Health, is “affiliated with the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University.”[15] If you plan to attend the Brecht conference, you may first want to ask yourselves if you believe that you will find any apartheid-free or oppression-free zone. Please don’t go. Tel Aviv University is partly built on top of the destroyed and ethnically cleansed village Al-Shaykh Muwannis.[16]

The forensic institute, by the way, was involved in a scandal when, in 2009, a former head of the institute admitted that the institute, as reported by The Guardian, had “harvested skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from the bodies of Israeli soldiers, Israeli citizens, Palestinians and foreign workers, often without permission from relatives.”[17] Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor of anthropology at the University of California-Berkeley, pointed out, according to The Guardian, that even if this was not only done to Palestinians, “the symbolism, you know, of taking skin of the population considered to be the enemy, [is] something, just in terms of its symbolic weight, that has to be reconsidered.”[18]

As already mentioned, Ahmed Erekat was killed on his sister’s wedding day. I don’t know his sister’s name, but I find it particularly grotesque that the IBS conference in Israel will include a performance of Antigone while her brother is denied burial. As you know, Antigone’s brother shall not be given a proper funeral; his body shall instead lie outside the city walls and be eaten by the dogs and the birds. Given the scandal mentioned above, one can easily imagine a Palestinian performance of Antigone in which Ahmed’s unburied body lies naked in front of the hungry birds of science at the Forensic Institute, and see those birds devour Ahmed’s body, pluck his eyes, tear off his skin, eat his heart and suck his bones. Indeed a “Süß’ Mahl den Vögeln,” a sweet meal for the birds, as Brecht writes in his version of the play.[19]

Do you, dear colleagues, know enough about the universities you plan to visit? What are your thoughts on academic freedom, for instance, when you know – or should know – that students on the campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem can be arrested for merely singing a song?[20] Does this bother you? Did you know that there is a law that prohibits institutions from commemorating the Nakba?[21] Aren’t you curious about how Palestinian students are treated at the Haifa University?[22]

Say you have never heard about the Nakba. Unlike natural and agent-free catastrophes (storms, earthquakes), the Nakba was the planned ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 in which Zionist militias killed thousands and expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland. Take a look at, say, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006). Around 400 destroyed villages.[23] Around 40 massacres. Ask yourselves what lies beneath the parking lot of what was once the village of Tantura.[24] No one really knows how many they are. I think they deserve to be remembered. I think these dead souls are restless because they haven’t yet been properly buried. They haven’t even been counted. Ask yourselves how worthless these dead souls are when they cannot even be counted. Ask yourselves:

Was sind das für Zeiten, wo
Ein Gespräch über Bäume fast ein Verbrechen ist
Weil es ein Schweigen über so viele Untaten einschließt!

What kind of times do we live in, when a conversation about trees is almost a crime because it implies being silent about so many misdeeds? Wirklich, Brecht writes, ich lebe in finsteren Zeiten! (Really, I live in dark times.) We live in dark times when it is almost a crime to present some of the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur, as I did above, because the rapporteur only discusses apartheid in the Occupied West Bank, not the oppression of Palestinians inside Israel, nor the suffering of the people in Gaza, nor Palestinians in refugee camps who just want to go home. That’s why we shouldn’t be silent about the Nakba, even if a conversation about the Nakba in 1948 is almost a crime because it implies being silent about the fact that the Nakba never ended. The Nakba continues.[26] Palestinians breathe the Nakba every day when they are attacked with tear gas. Have a look at the report from the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley School of Law, “No Safe Space. Health Consequences of Tear Gas Exposure Among Palestine Refugees.”[27]

It’s complicated only in its immensity. A legal discourse on crimes against humanity is almost a crime because it implies that we miss how they bulldozed Rachel Corrie to death.[28] It is almost a crime to mention Rachel Corrie if it implies being silent about all those without a Western name. They shot 19-year-old Mahdi Rajabi in the face with a rubber-coated steel bullet.[29] They shot Majid Shqairat in the face with a rubber-coated steel bullet while he was praying.[30] They shot Husam Sedir, a guard at Al Aqsa mosque, in the head.[31] They beat photo-journalist Rami Al Khatib with batons, aiming for his knees.[32] “They were beating everyone,” he told Al Jazeera, “even the paramedics.”[33] His hand was fractured. Husam Sedir’s skull was fractured. Who is he, you ask? He is the guard I just mentioned. (Have you forgotten him already?) Yet a conversation on Husam’s skull is almost a crime if it overlooks the structural element, how the ongoing ethnic cleansing (a crime against humanity) and the apartheid (another crime against humanity) work together as “settler colonialism and the elimination of the native,” to quote the title of an essay by Australian historian and anthropologist Patrick Wolfe, published in the Journal of Genocide Research.[34] Notatallsurprisingly, the journal has been accused of being antisemitic. Do read the attack[35] as well as the response.[36] Say no to all forms of racism, antisemitism as well as anti-Arabism. But don’t let them bully you into being silent. And in case you haven’t heard, Palestinian human rights organizations are accused of having ties to terrorists. The oppressor need not produce any evidence, just the “T” word.[37] To get in the way of settler colonialism, all the native has to do is stay at home.[38]

Brecht-washing oppression is something that I hope you will not take part in. Brecht actually has a meaning to oppressed people – all over the world. It makes sense for Palestinians to cherish Brecht, and he appears with a quote in a recent article on health in the Journal of Palestine Studies: “We know what makes us ill. Bertolt Brecht.”[39] I don’t know what made the author quote this particular line – which, by the way, is from the same poem that I use as motto for this essay, “Rede eines Arbeiters an einen Arzt” –, but my impression is that Brecht has good standing in medical research milieus where health includes “the social determinants of health (SDOH) – factors like structural inequality, poverty, homelessness.”[40] Don’t destroy his name.


Oslo, 29 April 2022

Finn Iunker (b. 1969) is a Norwegian playwright and scholar with a PhD in German literature on Bertolt Brecht’s and Kurt Weill’s school opera “Der Jasager” (1930).



[1] “When we visit you, our rags are torn off, and you listen all over our naked bodies. To know the cause of our illness, a glance at our rags would tell you more. The same cause tears apart our bodies and our clothes.” From Bertolt Brecht, “Rede eines Arbeiters an einen Arzt,” in Svendborger Gedichte (1939); in Werke. Große kommentierte Berliner und Frankfurter Ausgabe, ed. by Werner Hecht et al. (Berlin and Frankfurt am Main, 1988), vol. 12, pp. 7–92; here p. 53 (in this essay abbr. as GBA 12, 53).

[2]; accessed 25 April 2022.

[3] See, for instance, “Living Archeology in Gaza,” report and video by Forensic Architecture (London), published on on 23 February 2022 – here; accessed 26 April 2022. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, they also robbed Palestinians of their history; see, for instance, an article in The New York Times on 1 October 1982: “Before they withdrew from West Beirut this week, Israeli troops looted the research center of the Palestine Liberation Organization, its director said today. Several Israeli soldiers also reportedly broke into the offices of the Institute for Palestine Studies, a private establishment, but removed only a few items. | Dr. Sabry Jiryes, director of the P.L.O. research center, said the troops took away its entire library of 25,000 volumes in Arabic, English and Hebrew, a printing press, microfilms, manuscripts and archives. He said they smashed filing cabinets, desks and other furniture and made off with telephones, heating equipment and electric fans. | He also said they spent a week in the seven-story building, which is in a residential quarter of the mainly Moslem West Beirut, and left the place ‘a mess.’ | ‘More seriously,’ he added, ‘they have plundered our Palestinian cultural heritage.’” Available here; accessed 26 April 2022.

[4] United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) – here; accessed 29 April 2022.

[5] B’Tselem (Jerusalem), “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is

apartheid,” published on on 12 January 2021 – here; accessed 25 April 2022.

[6] Human Rights Watch (New York), “A Threshold Crossed. Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,” published on on 27 April 2021 – report here; accessed 25 April 2022.

[7] Amnesty International (London), “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians. Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity,” published on on 1 February 2022 – report here; accessed 25 April 2022.

[8] Michael Benyair, “Former AG of Israel: With great sadness I conclude that my country is now an apartheid regime,” (Dublin), 10 February 2022 – here; accessed 29 April 2022.

[9] United Nations Human Rights Council (Geneva), “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967,” published on on 21 March 2022 – report here; accessed 25 April 2022.

[10] B’Tselem, “Israeli High Court greenlights holding Palestinian bodies as bargaining chips,” published on on 22 October 2019 – here; accessed 25 April 2022.

[11] Opinion quoted from B’Tselem, “Israeli High Court greenlights” (above).

[12] Middle East Eye (London), “Israeli forces kill young Palestinian en route to his sister’s wedding,” published on on 23 June 2020 – here; accessed 25 April 2022.

[13] “Boycott and cut all ties with Tel Aviv University and the Greenberg Institute until Ahmed and other detained Palestinian bodies are free, without stipulation, to their families and loved ones for burial,” posted 27 June 2020 (updated 1 July 2020) on – here; accessed 25 April 2022.

[14] Forensic Architecture (London), “The Extrajudicial Execution of Ahmad Erekat,” published on on 23 February 2021 – here; accessed 25 April 2022.

[15] State of Israel, Ministry of Health, information about National Center of Forensic Medicine – here; accessed 25 April 2022.

[16] “Al-Shaykh Muwannis,” article on English Wikipedia – here; accessed 25 April 2022.

[17] Ian Black, “Doctor admits Israeli pathologists harvested organs without consent,” The Guardian (London), 21 December 2009, published on – here.

[18] Ibid.

[19] “ANTIGONE. […] Von Polyneikes’ Leib heißt’s jetzt, man hab | Es in der Stadt verkündet, dass ihn man | Berg mit keinem Grab und nicht betraure. | Ihn soll man lassen unbeweint, grablos | Süß’ Mahl den Vögeln. Wer aber | Etwas tut dabei, der soll gesteinigt werden.” GBA 8, 201. See also Budour Hassan, The Warmth of Our Sons. Necropolitics, Memory and the Palestinian Quest for Closure, Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center 2019, available here; accessed 25 April 2022.

[20] “Two Palestinian Students Detained for Listening to Arabic Music in Jersusalem,” blogpost from 29 March 2022 on – here (Palestine Chronicle is a non-profit organization based in Mountlake Terrace, Washington); accessed 25 April 2022. See also: “Israel’s Universities Are for Students, Not Cops or Soldiers,” editorial in Haaretz (Tel Aviv), 3 April 2022 – here; accessed 25 April 2022.

[21] “Nakba Law,” article on English Wikipedia – here; see also (regarding a case at Tel Aviv University) Shira Kadari-Ovadia, “Israeli University Cancels Event Marking Nakba Day, Citing Violation of Law,” Haaretz, 16 May 2019 – here; accessed 25 April 2022.

[22] See, for instance, “Survey concerning Haifa University and its treatment of the Palestinian Students: A chronicle of discrimination and racism,” admin post from the Right to Education Campagn at Birzeit University (Birzeit, Occupied West Bank), 15 August 2010 – here; accessed 25 April 2022.

[23] I’m not sure if there exist definitive numbers, but see, for instance, Ilan Pappe, Ten Myths About Israel (London 2017), p. 64: “In a matter of seven months, 531 villages were destroyed and eleven urban neighborhoods emptied. The mass expulsion was accompanied by massacres, rape, and the imprisonment of males over the age of ten in labor camps for periods of over a year.” Afterwards followed “the expulsion of more villagers between 1948 and 1956 from Israel proper; the forced transfer of 300,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the 1967 war; and a very measured, but constant, cleansing of Palestinians from the Greater Jerusalem area, calculated as more than 250,000 by the year 2000.”

[24] See, for instance, Palestinian researcher Hashem Abushama, “‘According to Whose Archives?’ The Tantura Massacre and Revisionist Israeli Historiography,” published on on 30 January 2022, available here; accessed 26 April 2022. See also Ilan Pappe, “The Tantura case in Israel. The Katz research and trial,” in Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 30, no. 3 (Spring 2001), pp. 19–39, available here; accessed 26 April 2022.

[25] “What kind of times are these, when a conversation about trees is almost a crime because it implies being silent about so many misdeeds.” Bertolt Brecht, “An die Nachgeborenen” (1939); GBA 12, 85.

[26] See, for instance, Elias Khoury, “Finding a New Idiom: Language, Moral Decay and the Ongoing Nakba,” in Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 51 (2022), no. 1, pp. 50–57. Khoury’s essay includes a transcription of a dialogue, caught on camera, between Muna al-Kurd, a resident in the Jerusalem neighbourhood Sheikh Jarrah, and Yakov, a Jewish settler, the latter with a distinct American accent, in front of the former’s house: “MUNA. Yakov, you know this is not your house. | YAKOV. Yes, but if I go, you don’t go back … so what’s the problem? … I didn’t do this. It’s easy to yell at me but I didn’t do this. | MUNA. You are stealing my house. | YAKOV. If I don’t steal it, someone else is gonna steal it. | MUNA. No. No one … no one is allowed to steal it. | YAKOV. This is not mine to give back” (p. 51).

[27] “No Safe Space. Health Consequences of Tear Gas Exposure Among Palestine Refugees,” UC Berkeley School of Law, published on on 28 December 2017 – here; accessed 26 April 2022.

[28] Sandra Jordan, “Making of a martyr,” in The Guardian, 23 March 2003 – here; accessed 26 April 2022.

[29] Post by eye.on.palestine on Instagram on 15 April 2022 – here; accessed 26 April 2022.

[30] Post by Eye on Palestine on Facebook on 15 April 2022 – here; accessed 26 April 2022.

[31] Post by eye.on.palestine on Instagram on 15 April 2022 – here; accessed 26 April 2022.

[32] Video posted on on 16 April 2022 – here; accessed 26 April 2022.

[33] “Israeli forces raid Al-Aqsa Mosque, over 150 Palestinians injured,” article on from 15 April 2022 (updated 16 April) 2022 – here; accessed 26 April 2022.

[34] Patrick Wolfe, “Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native,” in Journal of Genocide Research, vol. 8, no. 4 (December 2006), pp. 387–409.

[35] Israel W. Charny, “Holocaust Minimization, Anti-Israel Themes, and Antisemitism: Bias at the Journal of Genocide Research,” in Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, vol. 7 (2016), pp. 1–28; available here; accessed 26 April 2022.

[36] Amos Goldberg (et al.), “Israel Charny’s Attack on the Journal of Genocide Research and its Authors: A Response,” in Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, vol. 10, no. 2 (2016), pp. 3–22; available here; accessed 26 April 2022.

[37] Diana Buttu, “How to Crush Palestinian NGOs: Just Use the ‘T’ Word,” in Journal of Palestine Studies, published online on 13 April 2022; DOI: 10.1080/0377919X.2022.2040880.

[38] I don’t know if this is a quote from Deborah Bird Rose or if Patrick Wolfe is paraphrasing something she has written. The latter writes: “As Deborah Bird Rose has pointed out, to get in the way of settler colonialism, all the native has to do is stay at home.” Wolfe, “Settler colonialism” (above), p. 388. Deborah Bird Rose (1946–2018) was an Australian-based ethnographer.

[39] Danya M. Qato, “Introduction: Public Health and the Promise of Palestine,” in Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 49, no. 4 (2020), pp. 8–26. Health should, for all of us, be more than mere survival: important factors “include the environmental, economic, and social contexts within which people work, play, eat, love, struggle, and live;” p. 9; see also the above-mentioned Berkeley Law School report on the health consequences from tear gas.

[40] See, for instance, Colleen Farrell, “We know what makes us ill,” post on – here; accessed 27 April 2022. The post seems to be an advertisement for what is called a “MedHumChat.” The interdisciplinary field of medicine and one or several branches of the humanities, often referred to as medical humanities, is fairly new (at least to me) and includes, inter alia, such fascinating topics as narratology and psychiatry, which in tandem can help patients with their “broken stories”; see, for instance, Rita Charon, Narrative Medicine. Honoring the Stories of Illness (2008), or Elisabeth Gold, “From Narrative Wreckage to islands of clarity”, in Can Fam Physician (Official Publication of The College of Family Physicians of Canada), vol. 53, no. 8 (August 2007), pp. 1271–1275 – here; accessed 27 April 2022. That is why it is almost a crime to mention Israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006) at the expense of Palestinian historian Walid Kahilid’s The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine. A History of Settler Colonial Conquest and Resistance (2020); see Abushama, “According to whose archives” (above). That is why the Palestinian narrative is more than just a point of view. Narration creates continuity and coherence. Nakba-denial is detrimental to good health – for all of us. That is why it is so upsetting to read a CfP that highlights oppression yet has already eliminated the oppressed, all in the name of Bertolt Brecht.



A Response to Finn Iunker

By Stephen Brockmann

I want to thank Finn Iunker for his thoughtful and detailed reaction to plans for the organization’s seventeenth symposium, scheduled for Israel in December of this year under the all-too-appropriate heading “Brecht in Dark Times.” I share some of his concerns with Israel’s policies but consider respectful, thoughtful, and lively discussion to be a key aspect of the organization.

As a general principle, when the IBS decides to hold a symposium in a particular venue, that decision in no way implies support for the venue’s politics. The IBS has sponsored symposia in the United States, and yet many of our members are and have been in deep disagreement with the US government on a variety of historical and current issues. We held a symposium in the UK in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit decision, but I am certain that the vast majority in attendance at the Oxford meeting was against Brexit. We had a symposium in Brazil in 2013, in spite of the fact that many IBS members are concerned about the shrinking of the Amazon rainforest and the plight of indigenous people there. And decades ago, in 1986, we met in Hong Kong, although not all symposium participants would have subscribed to the policies of the British colonial administration there. The same is true for the seventeenth symposium: we are planning to meet in Israel, although many members are deeply concerned about official Israeli policies, particularly with respect to Palestinians. I know that some of us—myself included—hope to enter into dialog, either officially or unofficially, with Palestinian intellectuals and cultural figures before, after, and perhaps even during the symposium.

There is nothing mysterious about the IBS’s procedures for choosing a symposium venue. In general, local organizers suggest a venue and a topic, and the IBS enters into dialog with those local organizers. In 2016 IBS members in Israel asked about submitting a proposal for a future symposium, and I invited them to do so. The proposal was heatedly discussed at the IBS general meeting in Leipzig in June of 2019, at which Finn Iunker, along with a number of other people, spoke eloquently against the proposal. Others spoke, equally eloquently, in favor. At the IBS business meeting in Portland, Oregon in October of 2019, two proposals for future symposia were discussed and voted on: the Israeli proposal for 2022 and another proposal for British Columbia in 2024. After a good deal of discussion, both proposals were approved by overwhelming—and indeed unanimous—majorities. In other words, at the Portland meeting not a single IBS member spoke out against either proposal, even though, as president, I warned those present that there had been a somewhat contentious meeting in Leipzig only a few months earlier, and that the IBS could expect negative blow-back about a decision to hold a symposium in Israel.

I should also point out that from 2016 to 2018 I served on the Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association (MLA, the major professional organization of North American teachers of language and literature in higher education), and each year the question of boycotting Israel came up: BDS, i.e., the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Some members strongly supported an MLA boycott of Israel, and the Delegate Assembly, during my tenure, addressed this issue extensively and often. In 2017 the entire MLA membership voted against boycotting Israel, ratifying the following language: “Whereas endorsing the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel contradicts the MLA’s purpose to promote teaching and research on language and literature…be it resolved that the MLA refrain from endorsing the boycott.” The vote was 1,954 to 885. I am therefore familiar with the arguments on both sides of this issue, as are many U.S. academics. Similarly, in 2020, the American Historical Association (AHA) also voted down a resolution in favor of boycotting Israel. It is safe to say that many U.S. academics, as well as many academics elsewhere in the western world, are familiar with arguments for and against the BDS movement. As IBS president let me stress that a primary goal of scholarly organizations is to encourage dialog and discussion, especially at an international level, and this goal is not well served with boycotts and ostracism.

I write the foregoing in my official capacity as IBS President. As a scholar of German Studies, I personally engage with the cultural history of a country responsible for the worst crime against Jews in history, the Holocaust genocide. That history involves vicious antisemitism and the boycotting of Jews and their businesses. For me this horrific history implies a determination to fight against antisemitism, and it also involves support for the existence of the state of Israel—although I hasten to add, not necessarily support for all of that state’s policies. As a practical matter, I also believe that BDS plays into the hands of the Israeli Right and further isolates those on the Israeli Left who are critical of government policies with respect to Palestinians.

The last years have seen a disturbing rise in antisemitism in the western world. My own city, Pittsburgh, was the site of a synagogue massacre in 2018, when a vicious anti-Semite murdered eleven people on a seemingly ordinary Saturday morning. Prior to that event I would never have believed that was possible in my city with its thriving Jewish community. Now I suspect that if it can happen in Pittsburgh, it can probably happen almost anywhere else in the western world.

Where would Brecht stand today vis-à-vis Finn Iunker’s appeal to the IBS members? “Don’t take part in this Brecht-washing of racism, oppression, inequality, injustice and deprivation of the freedom of speech.” Brecht was a pragmatist interested in real results in the actual world, not in a sense of being abstractly in the right: “Mit wem säße der Rechtliche nicht zusammen/ Dem Recht zu helfen?” Brecht lived in a world where it was difficult to know what was right and to maintain the high moral ground. We still live in such a world. This means that we must make choices, and no matter what choice we make, we could be wrong. We live in a world of problems and contradictions. But, as Brecht also knew, “Die Widersprüche sind die Hoffnungen!” [GBA 21: 448]