Jeremy Issacharoff, Israel’s ambassador to Germany, complained to the head of the Jewish Museum in Berlin about an anti-Israel speaker, prompting the museum’s director to pull the plug on the academic’s scheduled July talk.
The slated talk was to be delivered by the US-based academic Sa’ed Ashtan, a Swarthmore college professor of Peace and Conflict Studies program in Pennsylvania, who said in 2014:“We all know Israel is an apartheid state and should be boycotted.”
Issacharoff told the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung that he welcomed the decision of the museum to cancel Ashtan’s talk. “Ashtan is very closely connected with BDS [Boycott, Divestment,Sanctions] ” and “he is not a person who wishes to build bridges of understanding with Israel.”
BDS is a campaign that advocates diplomatic, cultural, political and economic warfare against Israel. Ashtan, who was born in Ramallah, was scheduled to talk on “On Being Queer and Palestinian in East-Jerusalem” as part of the museum’s ongoing exhibit “Welcome to Jerusalem.”
Volker Beck, a Green Party politician and lecturer at the Center for Religious Studies, Ruhr University in Bochum, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that when items reported about Sa’ed Ashtan’s support for BDS, including calling Israel an apartheid state, are accurate, noting, “it was right to disinvite him.” Beck, who is a leading figure in the German LGBT movement, added that “[he] who himself belongs to a boycott movement, should not complain, when he is boycotted.” Beck said a speaker like Ashtan “has no place in a publicly funded institution and has nothing to do with a critical dealing with Israel’s policies and the fight for the rights of Palestinians.”
Dr. Elvira Groezinger, the chairwoman of the German branch of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told the Postthat
“The decision of the Jewish Museum in Berlin to cancel the talk by Saed Atshan is justified as the speaker is a renowned anti-Israel activist supporting the BDS groups aiming at the destruction of what Atshan regards as an apartheid state.” She added that “It is a good signal for the Museum which made the impression of an Anti-Jewish Museum in the past years, especially after the heavily criticized recent Jerusalem Exhibition there. Let us hope, the Museum’s anti-Zionist orientation has finally come to an end.”
The museum director Peter Schäfer’s decision to cancel Ashtan’s talk is a potent new setback for BDS in Berlin and anti-Israel employees at the museum. BDS has been viewed as adding to a growing hatred of Jews in the capital city.
Israel’s embassy complained previously in 2012 to the museum’s management for hosting a US academic, Judith Butler, who supports BDS and praised the US -classified Islamic terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah as “progressive.”
The embassy said at the time: “We regret that the Berlin Jewish Museum decided to hold a discussion event, which posed the question about the identity of the Jewish state. Similar discussions are not conducted about any other state on the planet.”
The Israeli Embassy continued that it was “astonished that exactly this museum would provide a stage to a person who called for an academic and cultural boycott against Israel… In the name of freedom of opinion the Jewish Museum offered a forum to a person who supports a boycott against Israel and therefore calls for Israelis to be boycotted because they are Israelis.”
The embassy added that it hoped that the museum, with a view toward the future, would invite speakers who show different views other than calls to boycott Israel. The museum took the complaints the embassy in 2018 seriously.
Writing last year in the Jewish Exponent, Asaf Romirowsky, the executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, termed Atshan “a well-known advocate for BDS” who “has also been active with SJP [Student for Justice in Palestine], whose parent organization, American Muslims for Palestine, was recently shown to be connected to the same American Muslim Brotherhood supporters who funded Hamas through the Holy Land Foundation, and which has trained its activists in ‘Countering Normalization of Israeli Oppression on Campus.”’
In September, 2017, Berlin’s mayor Michael Müller committed to “continue emphasizing my clear stance for Israel and against anti-Semitism and racism” and equated BDS tactics with “standing with anti-Semitic signs in front of Berlin shops” that recall the “the intolerable methods used in the Nazi era.” He added that “We will do everything in our power to prevent the use of our venues and funds for BDS’ anti-Israel incitements.”
Israel has stepped up its educational campaign to convince European banks, governments, and companies to not support and enable BDS. In February, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan demanded that the German Bank for Social Economy close an account that enables a BDS organization to raise funds to boycott the Jewish state and spread antisemitism.
“As minister of strategic affairs, I am leading an international campaign to defend Israel from the BDS movement’s hateful attacks against Israel’s right to exist. This stance against BDS has been adopted by our close friends in Germany, including the CDU [Christian Democratic Union] and municipalities such as Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich. I call on the Bank for Social Economy to join the many German institutions, leaders and citizens who are uniting to reject the discriminatory and antisemitic boycott movement against Israel,” Erdan told the Post at the time. The CEO of the bank Harald Schmitz has defended the BDS organizations that raised money with the accounts.