Scholars for Peace in the Middle East announced on Wednesday that over 500 intellectuals signed a petition urging 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.
According to the SPME petition, “The pro-BDS policies of the Jewish Museum in Berlin resulted in the resignation of its director Peter Schaefer. For the first time, the position is now been publicly advertised which gives hope that the appropriate individual will fill the role.”
In June, Schaefer, the museum’s director, resigned after his spokeswoman sent a tweet urging the museum’s followers to read a pro-BDS article about a petition in which 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars criticized the German parliament’s May resolution classifying BDS as antisemitic.
Katharina Schmidt-Narischkin, the museum’s former spokeswoman, tagged the pro-BDS tweet article as “#mustread.”SPME said in its petition: “The Jewish Museum in Berlin is not a Jewish institution; it was founded by the German government and the Berlin municipality, with the goal of informing and educating visitors about the 1800 years of German-Jewish history. It was not created to serve as forum for discussion regarding issues pertaining to the Middle East and definitely not as a vehicle of indoctrination against Israel.”
The petition continued that, “Unfortunately, however, for the past decade and during the last five years under the leadership of its now outgoing director, that has been exactly what the museum has been doing. 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.”
SPME wrote that “Consequently, the exhibition was heavily criticized by experts, visitors, and even by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the director defended it repeatedly, declaring that Jerusalem is a ‘place of longing for Jews, Christians and Muslims.”’
The petition noted that Schaefer provided “a cordial reception of the Iranian cultural attaché, ignoring the fact that Iran calls daily for the destruction of the Jewish state. The third and final incident took place when the director openly supported the boycott movement against Israel, which the German Parliament defines as an antisemitic 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.”
Elvira Groezinger, deputy director of the German section of SPME, told The Jerusalem Post that, “despite the summer break” the more than 500 signatures came within three weeks from a mixed group of academics, cultural employees, journalists, artists, teachers, rabbis and those interested in the museum.
SPME wrote that, “While a group of pro-BDS scholars protested against this resignation, we at Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, representing 40,000 academics and friends, support the termination given the damage caused to the Museum at large. As such, we appeal to Prof. Monika Gruetters and the appointment committee to seize this opportunity and re-establish the Jewish Museum of Berlin as a dependable and serious source of information regarding German-Jewish history and culture, for which it was created.”
The Post sent numerous press queries to the museum but they went unanswered. The newspaper first reported on a pro-BDS talk held by the US academic Judith Butler at the museum in 2012. In an apparent defense of Hezbollah’s 2006 war against Israel, Butler said in 2016: “Understanding Hamas/Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important.”
At the time, Professor Gerald Steinberg, who heads the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, called the cultural institution “the Berlin anti-Jewish Museum.”