La Chronique Scandaleuse or Something’s Rotten in the German Cultural Sector.

  • 0

In the last few years, several grave anti-Semitic incidents connected with BDS activities in Germany in the academia, but above all in the mainstream-media and the cultural sector, have taken place and aroused fervent public debates. Several years ago, the positions of Anti-Semitism Commissioners were established – starting from the Federal Commissioner nominated in 2018 by the German Government and followed by various Commissioners down to the local police authorities, but despite their activities, anti-Semitism has not diminished but on the contrary, considerably aggravated. In this paper, I shall tackle just some of the recent and most spectacular cases.

Let us bear some basic facts in mind:

The relation between Germany and Israel is officially declared to be special and unique. It stems from Germany’s responsibility for the Shoah. In 1965, full German-Israeli diplomatic relations were established. The Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) and the German Catholic Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) were determined to complete the process of reconciliation with “new Germany” which started as early as 1952 when the Reparations Agreement between Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany (Luxembourg Agreement) was signed. According to it, West Germany (while the Communist East Germany refused to pay any compensation to the State of Israel and to individual Jewish citizens for Nazi atrocities[1]) was to pay the State of Israel the costs of “resettling so great a number of uprooted and destitute Jewish refugees” after the war, and to compensate individual Jews, via the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, for losses in Jewish livelihood and property resulting from Nazi persecution.[2] For Germany to this day the Reparations Agreement with Israel has remained unique as the Federal Republic has granted formal reparations to no other country.[3]

The German Foreign Ministry informs regularly on its homepage about “Germany and Israel. Bilateral relations.” In an article of 03.02.2022, it summarizes the key points as follows: “The unique nature of German-Israeli relations is a cornerstone of German foreign policy. Germany is an advocate of the State of Israel’s right to exist.” “Right to exist” is in my opinion an inadequate term, to say the least, because it expresses a minimum of self-evidence that Israel has the right to exist as much as any other sovereign nation in its Homeland, all the more, as Israel’s enemies seek the annihilation of the country and its population, especially of its Jewish majority. But our Foreign Ministry is very careful in its wording, despite the professed bond with the Jewish state: “As an active partner in the EU, Germany supports peace efforts in the Middle East. In the United Nations, Germany is an advocate for fair treatment of the parties in the Middle East conflict”.

The problem of the professed advocacy for “both parties”, meaning the interest of the Palestinian Arabs and Israelis, has resulted in a long series of voting against Israel or in the best case abstaining from it in the UN, thus favouring the enemies of Israel. The German ambassador to the UN was often enough the opposite of an advocate of Israel’s interests and as he is a subject of directives by the Chancellor and the Foreign Minister, as well as the EU, the German raison d’état was too frequently contradicted.[4]

In the early 1950’s, after World War 2, the so-called Christian-Jewish dialogue and cooperation emerged in Germany, managed by a central Council which coordinated the work of local societies for Christian-Jewish Cooperation (GCJZ) in many cities. Mostly protestant and catholic clergymen and laymen engaged in an interfaith dialogue with Jewish personalities. As the number of Jews was at that time quite limited, the dialogue worked on a personal level, aiming at learning to treat each other with respect, putting an end to old enmity and Christian anti-Judaism. The Jewish members on the other hand, learned to live in a country of perpetrators gaining peu à peu trust in the good will of their dialogue partners.

Noah B. Strote wrote about “5 Sources of Christian-Jewish Cooperation in Early Cold War Germany” [5]:

“The language of ‘Christian-Jewish Cooperation’ and ‘Brotherhood,’ which emerged in the 1950s and forms the object of analysis in this chapter, has served a number of functions in the postwar world. Of course, a new emphasis on partnership and inclusion helped restore the reputation of discredited individuals and institutions, indeed, the reputation of a discredited nation. It also helped pluralize German culture and clear the path for the inclusion of other religious groups in society, such as Muslims, even though – as recent debates have clearly shown – the role
of Islam in the public celebration of German cultural ‘cooperation’ is anything but uncontroversial.”

And Strote goes even further, claiming that this new attempted rapprochement had an additional side to it:

“moral legitimacy it bestowed on the young Federal Republic (West Germany)
during the early Cold War, and in particular, on the neo-liberal form of economy developed there during the so-called ‘economic miracle’ of the 1950s. There is already a large literature on reconciliation, memory, and interfaith dialogue in this period of German history, as well as substantied scholarship on the economic policies of the Federal Republic’s government, but the nexus between these two has never been explored.”[6]

In the 70 years of their existence, the members of these GCJZs – more than 80 local societies – got older, their numbers diminished, there is no new blood and these days the press reported on the closing of one of the societies. The Churches in Germany are also losing attractivity and members. Moreover, there is a German-Israeli Society existing since 1966 which focusses on bilateral relations with Israel and serves as advocate of Israel in Germany with many young active people as members, and one of their common issues is the fight against anti-Semitism, now pursued officially and by different agents. Thus the GCJZ has become much less attractive, especially as on the other hand, the Christian-Muslim-dialogue gains popularity. This is the background on which the recent anti-Semitic developments have taken place and affect seriously Jewish life in Germany where 2021-2022 a national celebration year took place to mark the 1,700th anniversary of a Roman imperial edict representing the first historical evidence of Jewish presence in the territory of today’s Germany. Country-wide celebrations of Jewish life and history in all kinds of events, exhibitions, lectures, performances etc.[7], made the impression of bucolic circumstances which the German Jewish community is supposedly enjoying. However, this impression is not quite correct.

“Since reunification in 1990, the German government has taken numerous steps to counter anti-Semitism and improve its relations with the Jewish community more broadly. Its approach has consisted primarily of two parts: anti-radicalization legal measures and public diplomacy. In terms of legal measures, Germany has banned hate speech and incitement, adjusted immigration policy for Jews, and granted Judaism full legal status. In terms of public diplomacy, Germany has created a network of both governmental and non-governmental organizations to counter anti-Semitic attitudes within domestic society and to demonstrate progress abroad”,

writes Thomas Just in a recent article.[8] The daily anti-Semitic occurrences are troublesome: AFP and other international press agencies, even the Emirate’s AlArabiya,[9] reported that the network for tracking anti-Semitism in Germany “documented more than 2,700 incidents in the country last year, including 63 attacks and six cases of extreme violence. The report of the Department for Research and Information on anti-Semitism, or RIAS,[10] documented that the coronavirus pandemic with its anti-Jewish conspiracy narratives and the Middle East conflict with anti-Semitic criticism of Israel were the main drivers of the 2,738 incidents. The incidents include both criminal and non-criminal incidents, the group said. The German government’s commissioner to combat anti-Semitism, Dr. Felix Klein, called the number of incidents — more than seven per day — frightening, but also said that ‘at the same time, each of the reported incidents is also a step toward reducing the dark figures.’” Right-wing extremists were responsible for 17% of the incidents, but more than half of all the anti-Semitic incidents could not be assigned to a specific political view, the report said.” [11] This is a new insight, as for years, the majority of anti-Semitic deeds were attributed by the police and authorities to right-wing perpetrators only while the cases of Israel-oriented anti-Semitism of the imported Muslim and the indigenous Left were not taken into consideration.

But let us take a look at just a few exemplary incidents in the academic and cultural fields of the last few years in which both incitement and hate speech played an important role, and therefore considerably shook the confidence of Jews in Germany in the political will to further promote and protect Jewish life in this country.

The case of Roger Waters

In 2017, three German non-private broadcasting stations gave in to protests and terminated their cooperation with Waters’ tour organizers. In 2018, the British musician and singer, Roger Waters, the now 79 years old founder member of Pink Floyd, was on tour in Germany and had been accused of spreading anti-Semitic sentiment. He – in his own words “loves the Palestinians” – and blindly repeats all the accusation which Israel-haters utter, is calling the Jewish state “an apartheid state”, quoting Desmond Tutu, and accusing it of brutally oppressing the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as well as of ethnic cleansing. During his concerts, he let for instance balloons in form of pigs and with the star of David on them fly.[12] At the same time, in a typical way, he disclaims from being an anti-Semite. He is, however, known for donating high sums of money for cultural and humanitarian projects in Gaza for many years and since 2006 supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, in which activists have called on politicians, companies, artists, scientists, and athletes to cancel or discontinue any appearances, investments, or cooperation with Israel. As a BDS activist, Waters has discouraged other artists from performing in the country which he denies. He puts the activities of BDS in an exclusively favourite light, defends the head of the BDS National Committee BNC, his friend Omar Barghouti who rejects the two-state-solution and supports a one-state solution only, encompassing of what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories. In an interview with the journalist Alexander Gorkow, Waters explained his view of things and Barghouti’s political credo, „It is impossible to accept Israel as a Jewish state on our land“:

“What he actually said was that a Jewish State in Palestine, no matter what form and composition, goes against the fundamental rights of the native Palestinian population and creates a system of racial discrimination which must be resisted categorically – just like we would resist a ,Muslim state, a ‘Christian state’ or any other exclusionary state.“[13]

Waters’ blatant and unequivocally distorted sight on the conflict in the Middle East, and his hateful biased view of the Jewish State made it difficult for Israel’s friends in Germany to accept him and his hate-speech. Waters argued:

“What are you talking about? BDS does not use any oppressive methods. Boycotts have a long and honourable tradition around the world, not least in the fights against apartheid in South Africa and the struggle for civil rights in the United States in the 1960s. The State of Israel maintains a powerful army of occupation in Palestine that has brutally oppressed the population for the last half century […] BDS does not deny Israel’s right to exist. The BDS movement has three goals: the end of military rule over the Palestinians in the occupied territories that started in 1967. Complete equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who form around 20% of the population and are systematically discriminated against because they are not Jewish – and, as you know, Benjamin Netanyahu’s new nation-state law means that this discrimination is now regulated by law. Third, the BDS insists on the implementation of the internationally recognised right of return for Palestinian refugees, who were driven out of their homes when Israel was founded and afterwards. The only state being denied the right to exist is Palestine.”[14]

Roger Waters who will turn 80 in 2023, plans to go on his last tour through Europe “This is Not a Drill”, and comes to Germany again before he retires in order “to read all what Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian Arab poet (1942-2008) has written”. There are calls to cancel the Waters concerts planned for 2023 in Munich and Hesse. But there will be hardly a way to prevent him from performing here.

Anti-Semitism and BDS among musicians in Germany:

Not just guest-anti-Semites are a problem, also the local artists are a reason for concern, especially some of the rappers who seem to have a problem with the Jews. One most spectacular case was the following one. In spring 2018, the Gangsta-rappers Kollegah (his real name is Felix Blume, born 1984 as a son of a German mother and a Canadian father) and Farid Bang (born in 1986 as Farid Hamed El Abdellaoui in Germany of Moroccan and Spanish origin) were accused of anti-Semitism for lyrics such as “My body is more defined than those of Auschwitz inmates” and “Create another Holocaust” in a song called “0815” (pejorative term meaning plain, ordinary, “run-of-the mine”). The controversy over the lyrics had peaked when their album Jung, Brutal, Gutaussehend 3, (Young, brutal, good looking 3) won despite massive protests the most prestigious German annual music award Echo. Due to international outrage at the choice, the prize has been entirely scrapped and it was decided on rolling out a new prize with a new name. Since the announcement that the duo had won, several prominent German musicians, including the influential rocker Marius Müller-Westernhagen and even the famous classical conductor Daniel Barenboim, a honorary citizen of Gaza since 2008, have returned their awards in protest. Barenboim released a statement saying the rappers’ lyrics are “clearly anti-Semitic, misogynist, homophobic and contemptuous of human dignity.” A number of sponsors ceased to support the event. Germany’s BVMI music industry association apologized “The events surrounding this year’s Echo, for which the board apologized, cannot be reversed, but we can ensure that such a mistake does not happen again in the future.” The duo has since apologized as well, and their record label has put up €100,000 ($125,000) for a campaign to combat anti-Semitism.[15] A wave of solidarity with the Jewish community swept throughout the country. And the International Auschwitz Committee had invited them to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial at the peak of the controversy. Kollegah declared that after visiting Auschwitz, he saw how offensive some of his most recent lyrics are to Jews. “I will never use words like those again,” he said in an interview, and “I stand for tolerance and am opposed to racist and religious prejudice,” the then 34-year-old musician told the journal Stern, adding that perhaps provocation is a thing of the past for him. His visit has made him think twice before just simply rapping something. Farid Bang also apologized for the lyrics, saying he and Kollegah distanced themselves from “any and all forms of anti-Semitism and hate against minorities.”

In 2021, the Superior Court in Germany confirmed that another black Soul singer who denied the Holocaust and spread extreme right conspiration theories about Jews and particularly the Rothschilds, is allowed to be called an antisemite. The very controversial artist, Xavier Naidoo, a Roman Catholic, born in 1971 in Germany as a child of South African immigrants, has even performed at the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv in 2005 upon invitation of the German Embassy in Israel. But his utterances and theories about Jews make us think of Richard Wagner’s Essay Das Judenthum in der Musik (Jews in Music, first printed in1850, enlarged in1869) which is considered as one of the most important landmarks in the history of German anti-Semitism and made him become one Hitler’s favourite composers. There, although he had Jewish friends, supporters and promotors, Wagner attacked the supposed “Jewishness” and claimed that Jews had too much influence on German culture, they were only capable of producing shallow music, that Germany always felt repelled by them, and so forth. The today’s anti-Semitic musicians seem to be Wagner’s heirs.

But not merely in Germany, we witness this moral decline in the artists’ circles – in France, there was the case of the comedian Dieudonné (originally Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, whose mother is French and the father from Cameroon) spreading hatred, incitement, Holocaust denial and making fun of it – open anti-Semitism for which he was convicted several times. In 2014, mayors of three French cities have cancelled his shows.[16] In 2019, the Court confirmed his three-year prison sentence and a fine of 200.000 EUR as he is also guilty of fraud and financial irregularities.

The newest scandal outside Germany is connected to the black US-Hip-Hop-rapper Kanye West whose anti-Semitic Podcast-tirade on October 16, 2022 made his sponsor, the German sport label Adidas, terminate the cooperation with him after a big wave of protest also from the Central Coucil of Jews in Germany. Adidas was the last to take this step after Balenciaga, Gap, and JP Morgan had already separated from the ex-idol of the Afro-American underdogs and the so-far billionaire. Let’s hope that the loss of sponsors and money might make some of these men rethink and change their attitude.

Anti-Semitism in Institutions:

One of the institutions which is financed by the State is the non-Jewish institution Jewish Museum Berlin and its academy where conferences and talks take place.[17] In 2019, the situation there became unbearable for Jewish visitors from Germany and abroad due to the openly anti-Zionist policy pursued by the director and some of his staff.  The Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) initiated a petition which was signed by over 500 intellectuals and urged the Berlin Jewish Museum to return to its original mission of education about German-Jewish history and back off from promoting the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) campaign targeting Israel. The petition underlined that for the past decade and during the last five years under the leadership of its now ex-director, this was exactly taking place at the museum. For example, the recent exhibition entitled ‘Welcome to Jerusalem’ (2018-19) was a display of anti-Israel propaganda minimizing the importance and Jewish connection to Jerusalem while only underscoring the Arab-Muslim connection.
Consequently, the exhibition was heavily criticized by experts, visitors, and even by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the Catholic director defended it repeatedly, declaring that Jerusalem is a ‘place of longing for Jews, Christians and Muslims.’ There was a pattern in the program of the Jewish Museum Berlin which for example hosted Judith Butler in 2012, it was a meeting place for Israel critics. In 2019, the then-director even received an Iranian official and made plans for cooperation with the country which calls daily for the destruction of the Jewish state. The German organization Stop the Bomb which is monitoring Iranian policy protested against it. The third and final incident took place when the director openly supported the boycott movement against Israel, which the German Parliament defines as an anti-Semitic movement. All of this resulted in the unanimous condemnation of the museum by the General Council of Jews in Germany, calling for the removal of the director. Finally, as a result of the pressure, the director resigned after he turned this institution into a no-go-area for Israel’s friends.

There are quite a few academic and cultural institutes financed by the State which deal with Judaism and pursue similar paths – like the Einstein Forum in Potsdam whose Jewish director is a BDS-supporter and organizes conferences with enemies of Israel. She has a large group of like-minded academics and artists on her side who initiate petitions against Israel and pro-Israel’s enemies or, as they call themselves, critics. One of the latter is Professor Achille Mbembe, like Judith Butler a hero of the Leftist German academics and cultural activists. The political scientist, philosopher, political scientist, was born in Cameroon in 1957, studied in France, and teaches history and political science in Johannesburg at the Witwatersrand University of South Africa. One of his special fields are postcolonial studies and must have learned from his forgetful South African colleagues like the Bishop Desmond Tutu, who in their combat against the apartheid were aided by many Jews, that Israel is an apartheid state and oppresses the Palestinian Arabs, further, he relativized the Holocaust and supported the BDS. He is internationally renowned, has received several prizes in Germany and has been invited as frequent speaker. But it seems, like Thomas Schmid in the daily paper WELT wrote[18], that he was not really read by his admirers. When he was invited to give the opening speech at the Ruhrtriennale Festival 2020 by its then-director Stephanie Carp, the Federal Commissioner Against Anti-Semitism, Jewish organizations, various politicians and public intellectuals criticized the invitation sharply and demanded the cancellation of the invitation. On the other hand, the Jewish Director of the Einstein Forum and other BDS-sympathizers, Jews and non-Jews, defended Mbembe and signed a declaration of solidarity with him. Carp’s time as festival director from 2018 to 2020 stood under a bad star because she repeatedly invited BDS-fans and caused political irritations. In 2020, the festival was cancelled because of the Covid-epidemic anyway so that Mbembe had to stay out, but at the same time her contract ended and was not prolonged.

The newest scandals at the “Documenta 2022” and “Haus der Kulturen der Welt” (House of World Cultures)

In September 2021, a new government was elected in Germany. Three parties form a coalition since: The Social Democrats with the Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the Green Party with the State Minister of Culture, Claudia Roth, and the Liberal Free Democrats. Roth is a very disputed figure. During her official visit to Iran, she wore a scarf on her head – a thing that Chancellor Merkel and the then-Minister, now President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen refused to do. Roth was reproached for this by the Iranian opposition and by exile Iranians. Now, German culture is in her portfolio and causes uproar since.

In the summer of 2022, the first scandal shocked the German republic and caused broad echo across the world. It was connected to the best-known German art exhibition, Documenta, which takes place in the city of Kassel every five years.[19] It is funded by the City of Kassel and the federal State of Hesse, as well as by the German Federal Cultural Foundation. It claims to be a “forum for distancing Germany from its Nazi past” but has a very problematic past itself. In the summer of 2021, an amazing exhibition on the history of the Documenta revealed the Nazi ties of its first curators and the political networks around it in the first ten editions!! It was far from just a neutral celebration of contemporary art, and it was a signal in the Cold War,[20] as the reporter Kate Brown writes in this article:

“The show had a fledgling start in Kassel in 1955, which was still in ruin after the war. The small city was an ideal location, not because it was a bustling art hub from prewar times, but rather because it was close the East German border. Establishing a star-powered art show that championed Western art and ideals was of clear political value, perhaps especially when the East-West border was still somewhat permeable. ‘You can’t make culture with politics, but maybe you can make politics with culture,’ former West German president Theodor Heuss said in the years preceding the show’s establishment. Unwittingly, Heuss’s words signal to darker truths about the show. What art was championed, and what was left out? Women and artists of color were largely excluded until about a decade ago. What’s more, recent research reveals that 10 of its 31 original organizers were either Nazi party members, in the SS, or the SA, Hitler’s original paramilitary wing. The second show involved six former Nazis; the third, 15. […]  The presence of former National Socialists in positions of power had definitive and sometimes disturbing effects on what art was shown. One part of the exhibition looks at Documenta co-founder Werner Haftmann, a Nazi party member who obfuscated his history after the war. In Italy, he was a wanted war criminal, known to have hunted, tortured, and executed resistance party members. As a Documenta founder, he was involved in its first three editions, between 1955 and 1964 […] He excluded artists from the exhibition who may have spoken about or experienced the Holocaust, and Jewish artists that were included in early editions largely lived in exile. Among the works in the show are a still life of flowers and a self-portrait by the German Jewish painter Rudolph Levy […] who was arrested in December 1943 and died on the way to Auschwitz. He was not included in the show. Nor was another German Jewish artist, Otto Freundlich, who was also murdered by the Nazis. A preparatory document shows his name proposed, and then crossed out.” [21]

But according to the self-definition all sounds perfect:

“each documenta takes its character from the ideas and concept of its Artistic Director, and is therefore not only a forum for current trends in contemporary art, but a place where innovative and standards-setting exhibition concepts are trialed. In each edition, documenta has played a leading role in taking the international discourse about art in new directions. Over the past decades, documenta has established itself as an institution that goes far beyond a survey of what is currently happening, inviting the attention of the international art world every five years for this “museum of 100 days.” The discourse and the dynamics of the discussion surrounding each documenta reflects and challenges the expectations of society about art.”[22]

It is important to bear this in mind in order to understand what took place at the Documenta 15 because last summer it again reached a peak of anti-Ssemitism, not merely “allegations” of it, a term used by many media. In an article titled “Documenta’s Anti-Semitism Controversy, Explained: How a German Art Show Became the Year’s Most Contentious Exhibition”, Alex Greenberger described the show and its conflicts. The originally greeted show, curated by the Indonesian artist collective Ruangrupa and subgroups, including a Palestinian Arab collective, has turned into a nightmare as it contained a number of antisemitic exhibits with mean   caricatures of Jews. As a result, one exhibiting artist even withdrew her work. The controversy began immediately after Documenta’s opening over a large-scale, outdoor mural that featured antisemitic caricatures of Jews. The mural of the Indonesian collective Taring Padi, People’s Justice (2002), which was created for South Australian Art Festival in Adelaide, therefore not newly commissioned work,

“depicts Indonesian history of 1965, in which hundreds of thousands of Communists, leftists, Gerwani women, Chinese people, Javanese Abangan people, and more were murdered by state-operated forces and alluding to some historians’ claims that Israeli intelligence helped the regime of Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president, conduct the genocide. In one area, there is an image of a Mossad soldier who is depicted with a pig’s head and wearing a Star of David on his scarf. There is also a Jew who is shown with sidelocks, a hat with SS symbols, and a cigar, evoking a fusion of Nazism and anti-Semitic stereotypes. Though the mural was first swiftly covered up and then removed by Documenta, the scandal surrounding it has lingered on at the exhibition. German politicians have dug into Documenta, questioning how the work made it on view, and the show could potentially receive less state funding for future iterations as a result.” [23]

There were warnings about the character of the exhibits long before its opening but Roth and the board of the show did not react. Only after the disclosure of the conspicuous maliciousness of the agitation and almost as soon as the piece went up, pictures of the anti-Semitic imagery made their way around social media inside the country and abroad, and a wide-scale outcry ensued, as Greenberger and international observers wrote. Claudia Roth, Germany’s culture minister, began to call for the removal of the imagery, writing, ‘I’ll say it again: human dignity, protection against anti-Semitism, racism and misanthropy are the foundations of our coexistence and this is where artistic freedom finds its limits.’ The Israeli embassy in Germany called the piece ‘Goebbels-style propaganda’, a reference to the Nazi Party’s chief propagandist. Protests from different sides like the General Council of Jews in Germany, the Federal Anti-Semitism-Commissioner, the President of the German-Israeli Society, the Jewish Werteinitiative, as well as the Prime Minister of Hesse, criticized the responsible staff which kept denying the antisemitic character of the exhibits, like the Chief Mayor of Kassel Christian Geselle, and demanded the dismissal of the exhibition’s general director, Sabine Schormann who eventually resigned.

But the mural was not the only piece of “art” which aroused wrath and a wave of protests. Greenberger mentioned also the Alliance Against Anti-Semitism Kassel which focused on both the collective and the Ramallah-based Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, which had been involved in Ruangrupa’s initial curating stages and accused them of supporting the pro-Palestine movement Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, which calls for action against Israel and has been particularly controversial in Germany. Later on, other groups would claim it was also anti-Semitic that there were Palestinian artists in Documenta 15 but no Israeli ones. The final artist list ran to 1,500 participants, and Ruangrupa said that among them were Israeli artists, though it did not identify them. On July 28, 2022, the German international news channel Deutsche Welle reported on “New antisemitism scandal hits documenta”.[24] More anti-Semitic images have been discovered while documenta’s board of directors criticized “flawed actions regarding images criticized as antisemitic.” The board said it expected documenta’s curatorial team to remove the works until they could be presented in an appropriate context. Documenta organizers had removed the works when they were reported three weeks ago. But they later returned them to the show.

When the exhibition ended, the bitter conclusion remained: the postulated freedom of arts does not mean freedom of hatred and incitement, but despite all, the shadows of these events are still haunting the country’s cultural sector. Two of the Indonesian artists from the collective which curated the “show of shame”, as Documenta 15 is called, have received guest professorships at the University of Arts in Hamburg albeit their open support for BDS and their attacks on Israel as an “apartheid state”. Again, there are protests from different sides which are being overheard or ignored. But individual protests are now starting at the academy.[25] The expert on extremism from the oppositional Christian-Democratic Party in the Hamburg Senate criticizes their appointment. And Hamburg’s Senator of Science (Green Party) claims not to have any influence on the University of Arts’ appointment policy and refrains from taking action.[26]

And the very last controversy related to BDS in cultural sector and this time again directly connected to the State Minister of Culture, Roth, is happening while I’m writing this article. The designated artistic director of the Berlin Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of the World’s Cultures) is Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, coming from Cameroon, author of anti-Israeli posting on Facebook in 2014, and who signed petitions pro-BDS in the past which he now denies to have done. As BDS is defined as anti-Semitic also by the non-legally binding IHRA Working definition first agreed upon in 2016, and now adopted by 35 countries and supplemented,[27] the Federal Antisemitism Commissioner, Jewish and pro-Israel organizations as well as Israel’s new ambassador to Germany, Ron Prosor, protested in vain against his appointment by the Culture Minister Claudia Roth who sticks to this personnel issue.

The House of World’s Cultures is an institution dedicated to diversity and multiculturality, presents international contemporary arts – dance, theatre performances and academic conferences – with a special focus on non-European cultures and societies. It receives funding from the federal government as so-called “lighthouses of culture”, from the Federal Minister of State for Culture and the Media as well as from the Federal Foreign Office. Since 2013, its interdisciplinary elaboration on the Anthropocene discourse has included conferences, exhibitions, and other artistic formats performed together with philosophers, scientists, and artists. One of the recent international conferences which took place in June 2022 and was titled “Hijacking Memory”, targeted right-wing appropriation of Holocaust memory, leaving out for instance the frequent misuse of Holocaust by its denier Mahmoud Abbas as internationally witnessed during his last visit to Germany in August 2022.[28] The conference, widely criticized as well, was organized by three persons known for their support of BDS, as first signatories of the declaration “Initiative GG5.3 Weltoffenheit”, which protested against the above mentioned German Parlament’s decision against BDS[29] and became a meeting-place for many Jewish “who-is-who” in BDS, among them. The future director, protected by the Minister of Culture, does not seem to change things for better there.

The present German government unfortunately does not make the impression of being very keen on fighting Israel-oriented antisemitism and protecting its Jewish citizens according to its verbally professed raison d’état while they are under attack by enemies from within and from outside. There has been, however, a faint light of hope on the horizon. The British playwright Caryl Churchill, 84, was nominated for the European Drama Award 2022 for her complete works. The € 75,000 prize is awarded every two years by the Schauspiel (Theatre) Stuttgart in Southern Germany. The award is the largest dramatic award in Europe, highly endowed award funded by the Ministry of Science, Research and Education Art of the federal state Baden-Wuerttemberg. The first winner in 2020 was the French playwright, director, actor and theatre director Wajdi Mouawad. The award ceremony was scheduled for November 2022. But after allegations of anti-Semitism, as her pro-BDS-play A Play for Gaza (2009) and her play Seven Jewish Children have been considered to be anti-Semitic. The Antisemitism Commissioner of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Dr. Michael Blume, has also intervened and the Jury decided after all to “withdraw its decision” and not to award the prize to her as it apparently only found out after the nomination. But they should have known better – the playwright, a declared supporter of the BDS, and the author was accused of anti-Semitism in 2009 already. Because of their proximity to the anti-Israel boycott movement BDS” – are also recently the French writer and this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature Annie Ernaux – enthusiastically praised by Minister Roth, and the above-mentioned British musician Roger Waters faced criticism.[30]

Germany is not the only country with a problematic attitude towards Israel and anti-Semitism, but here the “raison d’état” and the reality diverge widely. The list of the enumerated incidents and affairs in this “Chronique scandaleuse” will therefore probably be continued.

[1] Gareth Winrow, “East Germany, Israel and the Reparation Issue”, in Soviet Jewish Affairs, vol. 20, no.1, 1990 (



[4] Alex Feuerherdt, Florian Markl, Vereinte Nationen gegen Israel: Wie die UNO den jüdischen Staat delegitimiert, Berlin 2018; Here is one of the explanations of the German Foreign Ministry regarding is voting in the UN:, E.g. „Germany’s objectives on Middle East resolutions at the United Nations“, on 12.01.2022; See also: – “Germany’s ‘shameful’ two years on the UN Security Council” by Soeren Kern, Gatestone Institute, January 1, 2021.

[5] DOI 10.1515/9783110416596-006, © 2018 Noah B. Strote, published by De Gruyter.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License.

[6] For some of the recent studies as Strote enumerates: Steven Schroeder, To Forget It All and Begin Anew: Reconciliation in Occupied Germany, 1944–1954 (Toronto: University of Toronto, 2013); Esther Braunwarth, Interkulturelle Kooperation in Deutschland am Beispiel der Gesellschaften für Christlich-Jüdische Zusammenarbeit (Munich: Herbert Utz, 2011); Norbert Frei, Adenauer’s Germany and the Nazi Past, trans. Joel Golb (New York: Columbia, 2002); Jeffrey Herf, Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997); Frank Stern, The Whitewashing of the Yellow Badge: Antisemitism and Philosemitism in Postwar Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). None of these works, however, treats the “Jewish problem” in postwar German in context with the economic problem.


[8] Thomas Just, “Germany’s Approach to Countering Antisemitism since Reunification”;




[12] 27.11.2017

[13]SZ Magazin 37/2018.

[14] Ibid., John Blistein in: Rolling Stone, has written about Water’s call for boycott of Israel already in March 20,2013; Since, many international media have tackled this issue.


[16] 10/05/2018October 5, 2018; 08.02.2019 M. Fritzsche, L. Jacobs, M. Schwarz-Friesel antisemitismus-im-deutschsprachigen-rap-und-pop/; Elliot-Harvey, C., „Considering Ethnic Group Tensions: The Symptomatic Case of French Comedian Dieudonné“, in: Open Library of Humanities,, etc., etc.


[18] 28.08.2020


[20] Kate Brown, June 25, 2021: “A startling Exhibition on the History of Documenta Reveals the Political Moves – and Nazi Ties – of its First Curators, in:,

[21] Ibid.


[23] July 22, 2022,


[25] Cf. Honestly Concerned. e.V., 06. November 2022.



[28] E.g. in Le Monde on 17.08.2022

[29] Andreas Kilb, “Das Geraune von der Zensur”, in: FAZ 11.12.2020, Quite a few of the signatories are identical with those activists teaching also at German universities who signed a letter published in EUobserver on November 3, 2022, “Don’t trap the United Nations in a vague and weaponised definition of antisemitism”, aiming against the IHRA Working Definition used by 35 countries, including the US and most EU states.



La Chronique Scandaleuse or Something’s Rotten in the German Cultural Sector.

  • 0

Elvira Grözinger

Born 1947 in Poland as child of Holocaust survivors, grew up in Israel. Received a B. A. from the Hebrew University Jerusalem (English and French Literatures, Jewish History, History of Arts). Since 1967 in Germany –  Translators’ Diploma from the University of Heidelberg, studied then German Literature and Jewish Studies in Frankfurt on the Main. Doctorate in General and Comparative Literature from the Freie Universitaet Berlin. Worked as Lecturer in Literature and Scientific Researcher at Universities and academic Institutes in Frankfurt, Darmstadt, Potsdam and Berlin, now retired. As a long time WIZO-member she was for many years on the boards in Frankfurt and Berlin, and on the German Presidential Board. In 2007 she co-founded the German Section of SPME, and had been elected as its Vice President. Since February 2017 she is the President of the SPME-Germany. As publicist she gives lectures and publishes scientific and press articles. Author of 9 books, mainly on Jewish culture and literature and of over 200 scholarly articles and reviews.

Elvira Groezinger is married to Prof. em. of Religious and Jewish Studies, Karl E. Groezinger, affiliated Professor of the University of Haifa, has one married daughter who is a dermatologist, and two grandsons.

Read all stories by Elvira Grözinger