Deutsche Version untenstehend
We, the board and artistic directors of Anorak e. V., a curatorial collective, art association and independent art space in Berlin, share the fears of many cultural workers regarding the disturbing crackdown on artistic freedom and freedom of expression following the horrific violence in Israel and Palestine.
We condemn the brutal terrorist attacks on civilians and hostage-taking by Hamas in Israel on October 7, 2023. We condemn the genocidal violence against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank by the Israeli army, and join the calls for an immediate ceasefire.
Since the attacks of October 7, the German cultural sector has reacted with a rapid and systematic wave of censorship and cancellations of events and funding. Security concerns or explicit accusations of anti-Semitism are often used as justification, as in the case of the cultural center Oyoun, the award ceremony for the Palestinian author Adania Shibli at the Frankfurt Book Fair or the performance of the play “The Situation” by director Yael Ronen. These disinvitations, cancellations and de-platforming primarily affect voices that deviate from the official position of the German government on the violence in Israel/Palestine. The targets of such attacks are increasingly often Jews, Muslims and/or Arabs, Palestinians, people of colour, LGBTQIA+ communities and other migrant and marginalized cultural workers. We thus observe a harrowing cycle whereby the most marginalized voices face further marginalization for standing with the marginalized. The consequences of such pre-judgments, such as loss of income, job loss, stigmatization or the endangerment of residence permits, have generally occurred without any due process. They threaten the existence of those affected and represent a de facto loss of diversity of opinion. Moreover, many of these accusations of anti-Semitism are based on a myopically German understanding of Jewish identity, which, as Emilia Roig notes in an nd interview published in December, is itself linked to a continuation of deeply rooted German anti-Semitism, which encapsulates and attempts to control Jewish voices and denies and prevents the diversity and heterogeneity of Jewish identity in order to instrumentalize it for its own political and ideological purposes (1). This form of othering is culturally specific, but the mechanism of exclusion through the ascription of acceptable expressions of identity to others is fundamental to racism and other forms of discrimination.
In response to October 7, the Berlin Senate for Culture announced on Thursday, January 4, 2024 that recipients of public funding must commit to an anti-discrimination clause (2). The basis for this clause is the internationally criticized working definition of anti-Semitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which has been supplemented by the following paragraph: ‘In addition, the state of Israel, which is understood as a Jewish collective, can also be the target of such attacks.’
As a study by the European Legal Support Center (ELSC) published in June 2023 shows, the application or interpretation of the IHRA definition has led to far-reaching restrictions on the right of assembly and freedom of expression in Europe and the UK in the past (3). This mainly concerns cases in which criticism of the actions of the Israeli government was wrongly conflated* with anti-Semitism and punished accordingly (4).
It is therefore to be feared that the Berlin clause will be instrumentalized primarily against migrant and especially Palestinian artists, who are already held under general suspicion. Thus, the introduction of the anti-discrimination clause—the interpretation of which falls within the authority of the Cultural Senate—does not create security for migrant and marginalized groups, but rather exacerbates the climate of fear within the cultural sector, leading to further division and (self-)censorship.
We are convinced that the mandatory confession called for here does little in practice to protect Jews in Germany and combat anti-Semitism, the vast majority of which comes from right-wing groups. Figures published by the Ministry of the Interior in 2023 show that over 2,600 antisemitic crimes were committed in 2022, 84% of which were committed by right-wing extremists. Hate crime motivated by xenophobia or racism has also continued to rise with over 10,000 xenophobic crimes recorded in 2022. Current surveys indicate that hatred of minorities and right-wing anti-Semitism are still on the rise, and are not only tolerated but actively fuelled* by the far-right AfD in particular.
Against this background, the protection of Jews, but also of all other marginalized groups, as well as a clear commitment to discourse, democracy and plurality of opinion is more important than ever. The intention of the Senate Department for Culture and Social Cohesion of the State of Berlin to dedicate itself decidedly to anti-discrimination and combating anti-Semitism is as such a valuable concern. Nevertheless, we share the concerns expressed in a joint statement by Rat für die Künste, der Koalition der Freien Szene, bbk berlin, LAFT Berlin, inm berlin, festiwelt – Netzwerk Berliner Filmfestivals, ZMB, IG jazz Berlin, Pro Quote Bühne die Berliner Literaturkonferenz and Netzwerk freier Berliner Projekträume und – initiativen, ‘In practice, the narrow focus on the IHRA definition has a number of unintended effects: A threat to basic democratic values such as freedom of expression and artistic freedom, legal uncertainty and inadequate feasibility and, last but not least, a loss of significance for Berlin as a creative location. Democracy, freedom of expression, artistic freedom and the fight against discrimination, anti-Semitism and hatred towards minorities belong together.’ (5)
Here, too, we join our colleagues and resolutely oppose the (latent) demands for background checks, scanning and screening of social media posts, open letters or BDS signatures, pressure to confess and atmosphere of general suspicion, even if the worldviews of other artists and cultural workers are not always congruent with our own.
We call for a differentiated debate within the German cultural sector, in which associations, initiatives and cultural organizations are funded by the state, and we are aware that this debate must inevitably include a critical examination of our own position and agency as white cultural workers born and raised in Germany.
Against the intensifying climate of fear and mistrust, Anorak e. V. wishes to contribute to creating and maintaining acutely threatened spaces for dialog in which critical opinion-forming can take place and divergent voices can coexist.
Berlin, January 2024