About “The Elephant in the Room” petition: Dan Diner’s response

Nearly 2,800 public figures, most of them Israeli and American (including a very large number of academics), have signed an open letter, The Elephant in the Room, calling on them to speak out against the “ultimate goal” of the judicial reform proposed by the current Israeli government: the maintenance of the “apartheid regime”. This last qualification is debatable – and even contested by some of the petition’s signatories. So why did they sign it? This is Dan Diner’s answer.

>>>About the open letter The Elephant in the room, read: “Apartheid: an elephant painted red”.



I don’t sign petitions. I write for myself. So why did I sign a petition whose content and tone I don’t really approve of?

Let’s say it straight away: for me, the real text of the petition is the long series of signatures that preceded mine. Friends, colleagues – Israelis and other Jews. It was a long list, and that’s not counting the names of people I wouldn’t otherwise have liked to have around me.

How can I explain that the real text of the petition, the delicate one composed by the ocean of signatures and not the gaudy one that precedes all these names, prompted me to add my name? It’s because the petition is a collective cry – a cry that should reawaken the invisible elephant that is the Arab population, the Palestinians, to a political life within the current protest movement in Israel. We must not forget that the so-called “judicial reform” was essentially launched to eliminate the last legal obstacles standing in the way of the transformation of the State of Israel into a place where Jewish fundamentalism can flourish. In the final analysis, this reform is as much about the Arab population of Israel within the 1948 borders as it is about the desire to have a free hand for the colonisation, annexation and, in the event of conflict, expulsion of the Palestinians from the territories occupied since 1967.

There will come a time when this fact will inevitably raise questions for Israeli Jews about the nature of their collective, which will go far beyond the content of “judicial reform” and the protest against it, namely questions about their own legitimacy. This radical questioning cannot be avoided. As it is radical, a petition full of semantic ambiguities can neither answer it nor put an end to it before it has even begun. And yet, I signed it because it attests to the cry that accompanies a change of era for the Jews.

Dan Diner

Dan Diner is a German-Israeli historian. Professor Emeritus of Modern History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. From 1999 to 2014, he directed the Simon-Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture and was a professor at the University of Leipzig. Between 2011 and 2017, he edited the seven-volume Encyclopedia of Jewish History and Culture. Dan Diner is the author of ‘Über Geltung und Wirkung des Holocaust’ [On the validity and impact of the Holocaust], Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 2007 and ‘Rituelle Distanz. Israels deutsche Frage’ [Ritual distance. The German question of Israel, not translated into French], Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, Munich 2015. He recently published, with Norbert Frei, Saul Friedländer and Sybille Steinbacher: ‘Ein Verbrechen ohne Namen. Anmerkung zum neuen Streit über den Holocaust’. [A crime without a name. Remarks on the new controversy about the Holocaust] C.H. Beck Verlag, München 2022.



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