Germany: Cultural Managers Revive Discussion About Antisemitic BDS Movement

Dozens of managers of cultural venues in Germany signed a declaration earlier this month, in which they criticized an anti-BDS resolution adopted by the Bundestag. The resolution calls the BDS movement’s methods antisemitic. Of course, a national discussion is in full swing.

Berlin, December 21st, 2020 (The Berlin Spectator) — The signatories of a declaration about an anti-BDS resolution the Bundestag passed last year say the decision was a dangerous “counter boycott” that led to a “misuse” of accusations of antisemitism. It also pushed aside “important voices” and distorted “critical positions.” Needless to say, the declaration has restarted the national discussion about BDS in Germany.

What does the Bundestag’s BDS resolution say?

Adopted in May of 2019, the resolution condemns the BDS. It says the Bundestag reiterated its ‘no’ to hatred towards Jews, no matter what their nationality was. The BDS’ methods and patterns of argument were antisemitic, the resolution says. ‘Don’t buy’ stickers the BDS was placing on Israeli products in stores inevitably aroused associations with the Nazis’ slogan ‘Don’t buy from Jews’.

Countering all forms of antisemitism was necessary, the resolution reads. It condemns the BDS’ campaign to boycott Israeli products, Israeli scientists, Israeli artists and Israeli athletes. It says no rooms administered by the Bundestag should be given to the BDS or groups that had the same goals, and no financial support should be provided to organizations or projects that questioned Israel’s right to exist.

What is the deal with the declaration signed by 32 cultural managers?

Thirty-two persons, among them the directors of the ‘Berliner Festspiele’, Thomas Oberender, of ‘Kampnagel’ in Hamburg, Amelie Deuflhard, and the ‘Deutsches Theater’ in Berlin, Ulrich Khuon, as well as Johannes Ebert of the Goethe Institute and Bernd Scherer who heads Berlin’s ‘Haus der Kulturen der Welt’, signed. Cultural managers usually do not sign declarations with political content. But, in this case, they chose to criticize the Bundestag’s resolution that mainly says two things: Antisemitic organizations like BDS should be condemned and not supported.

“Germany’s historical responsibility should not lead to a general moral or political delegitimization of other historical experiences of violence and oppression”, the declaration says. Guessing what kind of “critical positions” they mean or who they blame for “experiences of violence and oppression” is relatively easy, because of the wording and the coherence.

What is unconventional, to say the least, is that the signatories seem to be worried about freedom of speech in Germany, even though the Bundestag’s resolution does not say anything about pushing aside or distorting anyone or any positions. It just says antisemitic organizations should not be supported in any way by the state or the government.

What are the reactions?

The Central Council of Jews in Germany slammed the signatories of the declaration. Antisemitism was not an opinion, the Council’s President Josef Schuster said in an interview with the ‘Bild’ daily. The Bundestag’s anti-BDS resolution had been “a useful step against antisemitism”. Freedom of speech was not restricted in Germany. Schuster stated, the signatories were “playing into the hands of politically radical circles”, even though they surely had not intended to do so.

In Berlin, Minister of State Monika Grütters and other politicians criticized the cultural managers for their declaration as well. Uwe Becker, the Coordinator for Jewish Life and Against Antisemitism in the federal state of Hesse, wrote an opinion piece on the matter for the ‘Jüdische Allgemeine’, in which he called the declaration published by the “managerial elite” in large cultural institutions “grotesque”.

The anti-BDS resolution was supported by the conservative CDU/CSU, the center-left SPD, the left-wing environmentalist Greens and the liberal-conservative FDP in 2019. Some nineteen months later, 32 cultural managers chose the beginning of the Jewish Hanukkah holiday to publish their declaration. The discussion continues.

In Berlin, the local BDS movement is usually very active. In the past two years, it staged protests against Israel’s participation in a travel trade fair, cultural events that had to do with Israel or Israelis in different ways, and against the resolution that calls the movement what it is. Even though BDS in Berlin has claimed it was against violence, it co-organized and supported events with the convicted Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh. Germany banned her from speaking at any events. Shortly before she was supposed to be deported from the Schengen area, she left voluntarily.