New revelations about support for the anti-Israel BDS campaign put pressure on the besieged German arts festival

A banner of the Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi is wrapped at the Documenta arts festival in Kassel, Germany, June 20, 2022. Photo: IMAGO/Hartenfelser via Reuters Connect

Germany’s flagship contemporary art festival, Documenta, is facing the withdrawal of federal funding after fresh allegations of anti-Semitism among its curators and exhibiting artists surfaced on Wednesday.

Controversy over anti-Semitism at the festival, which takes place every five years in the city of Kassel and features some of the world’s leading figures in modern art, has been raging since January, when the first concerns about the participation of artist groups supporting the campaign were raised by the state Isolate Israel through a full-scale boycott. Shortly after the festival opened last month, another scandal unfolded, centered on a mural that contained ugly anti-Semitic stereotypes – including depicting an Israeli soldier as a pig wearing a helmet with the letters “SS” for the paramilitary on it organization of the Nazis. and a caricature of a hook-nosed Orthodox Jew. Although the mural was removed from the exhibition, Chancellor Olaf Scholz canceled a visit to the festival in protest at the “disgusting” images it contained.

During the dispute, politicians from several parties and the top federal government official responsible for combating anti-Semitism, Felix Klein, called for the federal funding of the festival to be reviewed and the German organizers and Indonesian curators to be held accountable.

Those calls are likely to intensify after the news outlet revelations wheal This shows that dozens of the exhibiting artists at Documenta have expressed their support for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The Bundestag passed a motion in May 2019 condemning the BDS campaign as anti-Semitic and asking the government to deem organizations that advocate for the elimination of Israel or a boycott of Israel ineligible for government funding.

Based on a review of how many of the more than 2,000 artists exhibiting at this year’s show had signed calls to boycott Israel, wheal reported that at least 84 participants did so, including 17 members of the festival’s organizing team.

Supported BDS initiatives included a 2021 “Artists Against Apartheid” call that accused Israel of “having long used culture and art to cover up its atrocities against the Palestinian people.” A separate letter sent to New York’s Museum of Modern Art that same year described Israel as a “settler-colonial” and “apartheid” regime.

Helge Lindh, cultural policy spokesman for the SPD government, called for Documenta funding to be stopped until the allegations of anti-Semitism were clarified.

“The public financing of the Documenta through federal funds must be stopped until the anti-Semitism scandal has been fully clarified and fundamental, structural and personnel reforms have been completed,” said Lindh. “The Documenta management must give complete account of how it can be that, in addition to several collectives, a large number of members of the organization team have signed in this way [pro-BDS] Calls.” She emphasized that festival officials found responsible in this regard would have to reckon with “personal consequences”.

The centre-right FDP party meanwhile called on Documenta boss Sabine Schormann to give up her post.

“Schormann should resign,” said Linda Teuteberg, the party’s spokeswoman for Jewish affairs. “The shocking silence and the lack of cooperation on the part of the Documenta management do not show a serious will to deal with the situation and bear the consequences.”

Schormann’s demand for resignation was taken up by Dorothee Bär, deputy chairwoman of the CDU-CSU parliamentary group. “There seems to be a concentration of BDS supporters in the governing bodies and in the artistic center of the documenta,” she noted. “The scale of the anti-Israel connections is both shameful and appalling.”

However, Schormann has resisted such calls, issuing a statement on Wednesday in an attempt to bolster the festival’s tarnished reputation.

She defended the festival’s Indonesian curators’ resistance to consultations with outside experts on anti-Semitism, claiming that they “feared censorship”. One of the experts addressed, Prof. Meron Mendel from the Anne Frank educational institution, had previously accused the Documenta organizers of not taking the allegations seriously and “playing for time”.

Schormann: “They felt under general suspicion and defamed and sometimes threatened because of their origin, their skin color, their religion or their sexual orientation.”

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