BERLIN – The German music and cultural festival Ruhrtriennale, which was slated to present a pro-BDS speaker, pulled the plug on its event on Tuesday due to the coronavirus crisis.
“The supervisory board of Kultur Ruhr GmbH today unanimously decided at an extraordinary supervisory board meeting that this year’s edition of the Ruhrtriennale should be canceled due to the corona pandemic,” said the cultural organization in a statement.
The event was plagued with allegations that it planned to give a stage to an academic who has stoked antisemitism and support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel. The South African-based academic Achille Mbembe signed a BDS petition to boycott Israeli academics from Ben Gurion University.
He has written that “the occupation of Palestine is the biggest moral scandal of our times, one of the most dehumanizing ordeals of the century we have just entered, and the biggest act of cowardice of the last half-century. And since all they are willing to offer is a fight to the finish, since what they are willing to do is to go all the way—carnage, destruction, incremental extermination—the time has come for global isolation.”
The director of the festival, Stefanie Carp told The Jerusalem Post that “linking Achille Mbembe to antisemitism is grotesque and a disgraceful allegation.”
Carp told the Post that Mbembe has not addressed Israel and the Palestinians in his works. However, the Post located a number of works, including his charge that Israel is worse than the former apartheid regime in South Africa.
Mbembe wrote that ”moreover, given its ‘hi-tech’ character, the effects of the Israeli project on the Palestinian body are much more formidable than the relatively primitive operations undertaken by the apartheid regime in South Africa between 1948 and the early 1980s.”
The German journalist Stefan Laurin first broke the story about Mbembe on the website Ruhrbarone. He wrote on Tuesday in connection with Mbembe’s academic credentials, Carp and the supervisory board that “whoever does not find a clear stance against antisemitism, whom post-modern, ideological spinning is more important than a clear stance against hatred of Jews, should go.”
Prior to the cancellation, Asaf Romirowsky, the Executive Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), told the Post that German Jewish NGO Values Initiative “is right to demand that pro-BDS South African academic Achille Mbembe be dis-invited from a cultural festival. Academic like Mbembe mask their antisemitism by saying that they are ‘only’ anti-Zionist in an attempt to intellectualize their prejudice.”
“All of this is extremely concerning especially his fallacious views equating Israel to Apartheid South Africa which couldn’t be further from the truth,” Romirowsky added. “Yet he is part of a large chorus of universities and academic departments lend their name to propagandists which give their talks in aura of credibility instead they should be promoting scholarship and research.”
Romirowsky went on to say that “all of this is part of the anti-normalization strategy, which plays out time and again as pro-BDS groups and individuals have exercised for example when they veto campus events organized by Jewish and Israeli organizations, including those that highlight Israeli-Palestinian co-operation. Without communication, and normalization, peace is impossible. And that’s precisely their goal.”
Elvira Groezinger, Secretary of Board of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and Deputy-President of the German SPME-Section, told the Post that “Something is rotten in the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia. It does not bother his supporters that Mbembe is known as one of the most biased and one-sided critics of Israel, being in his view a racist ‘apartheid state’ which according to him is supposed to be isolated in the world, i.e. destroyed. “
“Now the enemies of Israel, like Mbembe ,are listed among the guests of the University of Cologne,” she added. “There is no excuse for director Carp, to cause political scandals the third year in a row now. It is not acceptable that a festival financed by public taxes can host an antisemitic BDS scholar, counteracting both the anti-BDS resolutions by the State and the Federal Parliament. I therefore join in the criticism of the Antisemitism Commissioners Dr. Felix Klein, Uwe Becker and Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger who call for cancellation of the event.”
Groezinger , Becker and Values Initiative have called for the dismissal of Carp, who invited the pro-BDS band Scottish band Young Fathers to perform at the event in 2018.
When asked by the Post if he supported the isolation of Israel and about his support for boycotting Israeli academics, Mbembe declined to answer a new press query.