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Are litmus tests on culture spreading from Israel to Berlin?

Pro-Israel journalists and politicians in Germany target a Palestinian arts and culture festival, its curators and the venue hosting it.

By Inna Michaeli

Director Miraz Bezar (L) and festival curator Mary el-Qalqili (C) speak with Ismail Khalidi (on screen), playwright of ‘Tennis in Nablus.’ (Photo by Anna-Esther Younes)

Director Miraz Bezar (L) and festival curator Mary el-Qalqili (C) speak with Ismail Khalidi (on screen), playwright of ‘Tennis in Nablus.’ (Photo by Anna-Esther Younes)

A celebration of Palestinian arts and culture in the city of Berlin has sent a few German journalists and local politicians over the edge. “After the Last Sky,” a first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary and international festival of contemporary Palestinian artists. Over the course of September and October, the festival sought to “transgress the boundaries of Palestinian life and identity,” and to do so through theater, cinema, performance, literature, spoken word, music, dance, visual art, panel discussions, and more.

In a particularly vile article in the Tagesspiegel daily newspaper, journalist Johannes Bockenheimer accused the Palestinian and Jewish presenters of incitement, that is, being too critical of Israel. Showing no interest in the artistic program, his article attacks the curator Anna-Esther Younes and other organizers and presenters personally, for what he assumes to be their “proximity” to non-violent struggles for Palestinian rights.

Furthermore, Bockenheimer accused the Berlin Senate of supporting “anti-Israeli” activities, in an attempt to compromise the festival and its venue’s funding. Repeatedly referring to Israel as “Judenstaat,” the Jewish state, he equates Israel with Jews and manipulates any critique of Israel to appear essentially anti-Jewish.

Accusations of anti-Semitism are familiar to every person in Germany who is supportive of Palestinian rights. Being Jewish doesn’t help much, and in fully absurd situations, Jews like me are accused of anti-Semitism by Germans if we are not patriotic enough for their taste.

In the same spirit, Klaus Lederer, the head of the Left Party in Berlin, claimed that using terms like apartheid and colonialism should disqualify cultural events from public funding. He argued that such negative depictions of Israel would feed anti-Semitism.

People like Bockenheimer and Lederer don’t like words like apartheid and colonialism. I don’t like them either. People living under the weight of their violence every day, like them even less. We use these words because we believe they describe the harsh reality in Palestine/Israel most accurately.

Clearly, this is not just about money, but about legitimacy and power. The threat to withdraw cultural funding is a threat to strip people of the power to describe their past and present, to attribute meaning to it, and to explore it by artistic means. Nonetheless, the sovereignty to define Palestinian past, present, and future belongs to the Palestinians. It does not belong to German politicians and journalists, and cannot be held hostage by their “issues” with us, namely the Jews.

These men are not isolated examples; they represent a very real segment of German society. It is tragic that some Germans’ self-described “love affair” with Israel translates into a need to silence, delegitimize and erase Palestinian narratives and identities. That type of twisted logic locks Jews and Palestinians in an eternal zero-sum game, advancing nothing but oppression, violence and injustice in the Middle East.

The curators of “After the Last Sky” understand the depth of this problem all too well, asking in their opening statement: What can we understand about our universal human condition through the example of Palestine and Palestinian narratives?

A performance by Raafat Hatab at the 'After the Last Sky' festival in Berlin.

A performance by Raafat Hatab at the ‘After the Last Sky’ festival in Berlin. (Wagner Carvalho)

They identify the destructive logics and racist fantasies underlying the anti-Muslim racism in Europe:

the figure of the Palestinian became a vessel for several racist fantasies about the Other: the stateless sponger, the criminal foreigner, the potential terrorist, the sexist Arab, the homophobic hyper-masculine Oriental, the eternal Anti-Semite.” These modes of representation, they recognize, exceed the Palestinian experience. “Indeed, this racist image potentially includes everybody who is mis-/recognized as “Arab”, “Muslim”, or even every other subject that is in solidarity with Palestinians due to similar experiences or opinions. [opening statement]

Through its diversity of contents and voices (see full program here, and the art exhibitions), the festival has offered a critical engagement and transgression of these modes of representation, towards emancipatory visions of the future. It presents visions co-created by an array of artists across identities, encompassing Palestinians, black people and people of color, Jews, and many others.

That a representative of the German Left would support the anti-democratic, right-wing infringement on the free expression in this festival will likely come as no surprise to anyone even distantly familiar with the public discourse in Germany. Whereas everywhere in the world social movements and the Left align in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for decolonization and liberation, Germany is the stubborn exception.

Here, automatic support for Israel is a simple and convenient way to deal with the Nazi past. No need to interrogate your family history. No need to draw universal lessons. No need to resist modern forms of racism in one’s own society. Keep calm and support Israel. Even if this means sending subsidized nuclear submarines, and supporting a half-century military occupation and wars that kill thousands of Palestinians and dozens of Israelis.

Israeli Minister of Culture Miri Regev recently made headlines by attempting to withdraw funding from cultural activities and institutions she deems to be insufficiently nationalistic and patriotic. This correlates well with her earlier career as the Israeli army’s chief military censor. According to her worldview, which has made her one of Israel’s most popular politicians, the very existence of Palestinian identity and culture is anti-Israel. It is alarming, frightening and depressing to see those dangerous trends echoed in Berlin.

The personal and political attack against the curators of the festival is an attack on all of us, on all who wish to speak out freely about the reality in Israel and Palestine — whatever terminology we use — in order to change it for the better.

Inna Michaeli is a feminist activist, a PhD student of Sociology at the Humboldt University of Berlin, and a blogger at Local Call.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Lewis from Afula

      Re: “…need to silence, delegitimize and erase Palestinian narratives and identities”

      No need to silence these. Like Syrian identities, Yemenite identities, Iraqi and Libyan identities et al., all these phantom peoplehoods have already disappeared. In actuality, these criminal fake nations never actually existed but were mythed up in the mind of some evil arab dictator.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Carmen

      “all these phantom peoplehoods have already disappeared. In actuality, these criminal fake nations never actually existed but were mythed up in the mind of some evil arab dictator.”

      The hatred you express toward so-called nonexistent entities is quite spectacular; a culmination of lifelong programming starting from birth.

      Hatred is hideous whenever, wherever and by whomever expresses it. Your constant need to disavow the existence of Palestinians and ‘fake nations’ is criminal. If it were jews you were talking about like this, it would be a hate crime.

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        You ARE talking like that about Jews when you deny the right of the Jewish people to have a Jewish state, Carmen.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Günter Schenk

      “…In the same spirit, Klaus Lederer, the head of the Left Party in Berlin, claimed that using terms like apartheid and colonialism should disqualify cultural events from public funding. He argued that such negative depictions of Israel would feed anti-Semitism.”

      It must be said that German Left Party’s Klaus Lederer tries to prevent, as the french say, “to call a cat a cat, a dog a dog”. By this he won’t succeed, whereas Israel Ambassador Hades-Handelsman’s letter to the governing Lordmayor of Berlin is most deplorable, as the Ambassador lacks the simplest basic rules of nor using media reports, without solid investigation, particularly when it’s about a case in the guest state of the Ambassador… Which degradation in diplomatic manners!

      Thanks to Ms. Michaeli from Humboldt-University, for her 972mag.com comment

      Reply to Comment
    4. Carmen

      Gustav – this is a mind on ziocaine. Put the pipe down for a minute. Have you been removed from your home? Was it destroyed by the heavily u.s. funded palestinian army? Were you give 30 minutes to get your belongings together first? Are you and your family homeless now? No, no, no and no of course not because today is no different than yesterday or the day before or the week before, or month before or the previous 7 decades. Don’t give me this crybaby whining about ‘denying the right of the jewish people to have a jewish state’. I have no power and remember, according to you I’m an ‘ignorant person’ and a ‘primitive bitch’ and all jews are zionists and you’re going to outlive us all, etc., etc. Don’t start more stupid shit with me.

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        “Don’t start more stupid shit with me.”

        I wouldn’t dream of it. We jews have such a provilidged history and you Arabs wouldn’t hurt a fly. You never ever did and still don’t. You treat all minorities fairly and all you do is fight the occupation which happened without any act of aggression on your part. Poor you!

        Oh and I nearly forgot to mention. Us Zionists are pure evil. We cause volcanoes to erupt, tzunamis and we caused the black plague.

        Reply to Comment
        • Carmen

          Unlike some jews, i’m able to speak for myself. That’s quite a persecution complex you’re carrying around. Yes, jews have suffered, muslims have suffered, christians have suffered, africans and african americans have suffered (and continue to, more than anyone), native americans suffered and continue to suffer, iow, ALL God’s children suffer. What makes jewish suffering, past, present, real or imagined, more profound and deserving more attention and consideration than others? some rabbis claim that jewish blood is more precious than ‘the other’. do you believe that? jewish lives matter, but not at the expense of others. Obviously, this is not a fact that is widely accepted in some circles.

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “some rabbis claim that jewish blood is more precious than ‘the other”

            Whoa there lady. You are going down the slippery slope. I can easily turn this around on you.

            some mullahs claim that Arab/Muslim blood is more precious than ‘the other.

            So your point was……?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that her point was “jewish lives matter, but not at the expense of others.”

            Hey come to think of it, do you yourself believe Jewish blood is more precious than ‘the other’, AJew? Yes or no? Because as you know many settlers do believe that and believe it zealously, and justify what they do to occupied Palestinians on that basis. (And to clarify, I’m not asking if you care about Jewish people more than other people, or if Jewish people are more precious to you, I’m asking exactly what I asked.)

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            No. I believe that my life matters less than the lives of others.

            Now Ben, tell us: what do you believe about your life?

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            I am sorry Ben, I’ll quote Carmen’s words directly again:

            “some rabbis claim that jewish blood is more precious than ‘the other”

            It means exactly what it sounds like. It means that she thinks that Jewish Rabbis (some at least) are blood sucking vampires who only have regards for Jews. Draw your own conclusions. I take her at face value. But if I am wrong, let Carmen explain what she meant. She does not need you as a mouth piece. Let her speak for herself and clarify.

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            My 2nd post to you isn’t up for some reason and it was pretty good too. Oh well.
            “It means exactly what it sounds like. It means that she thinks that Jewish Rabbis (some at least) are blood sucking vampires who only have regards for Jews. Draw your own conclusions. I take her at face value. But if I am wrong, let Carmen explain what she meant. She does not need you as a mouth piece. Let her speak for herself and clarify.”

            You said you wouldn’t dream of starting stupid shit with me but when you’ve got nothing else, this is exactly what you do. It’s not only stupid, it is kinda nuts. What I said means exactly that, some rabbis believe jewish blood is more precious than the other’. There’s nothing between the lines, it’s been well-documented; I said some rabbis, not all (i had a very good rabbi in the u.s. so I know the difference between a spiritual leader and a snakeoil salesman); the times of israel printed a laundry list of ovadia’s racism.

            You claim that what I really meant, instead of what I really said, is something quite different and sinister. Distraction and just weird. You say “it means exactly what it sounds like. It means that she thinks that Jewish Rabbis (some at least) are blood sucking vampires who only have regards for Jews. Draw your own conclusions. I take her at face value. But if I am wrong, let Carmen explain what she meant. She does not need you as a mouth piece. Let her speak for herself and clarify.”

            I don’t need to clarify something that was clear as a bell. How can i clarify a lie from the recesses of your imagination? You lie about what i wrote, added in nothing but the shit you’d never dream of doing. Again. i believe you lie with such ease for distraction and because that’s the way you roll when you’re scared; Ben added his 2 cents so you’re threatened and now are in full bullshit mode which means every ridiculous libel you throw at me, I’m supposed to prove wrong. You’re a very foolish man. I’ve been on this site for a couple years now and see the pattern.

            Please explain if you can, this ‘vampire’ thing, because it’s so fascinating. I wasn’t born in europe, which apparently is chock full of libels against jews. i grew up in the u.s. which is chockfull of libels about black folk and native americans. Anyway, you claim i think (some) rabbis are blood sucking vampires. Whose blood do they feast on? Surely not the impure, tainted blood of ‘the other’. You really get off on this don’t you? And you seem to believe that the world revolves around jews. It doesn’t. Why do you do this Gustav? Do you really believe this is helpful, or is it mere distraction and if so, could you try a little harder, you know, for the team?

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            “I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that her point was “jewish lives matter, but not at the expense of others.”

            Wow that is exactly what I wrote! Amazing! I was beginning to think that quoting someone correctly was becoming a lost art. It’s really refreshing when someone is able to quote word for word and not just make things up, adding their own leaven for dramatic effect or change the words one said in an effort to make their point. Thanks.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “I was beginning to think that quoting someone correctly was becoming a lost art.”

            Thank you Carmen for setting me straight. Obviously when I wrote the following, I didn’t quote you directly:

            “some rabbis claim that jewish blood is more precious than ‘the other”

            Ah but Ben clarified what you meant and you agree with him. This is what Ben says you meant:

            “jewish lives matter, but not at the expense of others.”

            So, since I don’t want to be accused by you again that I am putting words in your mouth. Can you please explain what point were you trying to make? In what way are we Jews living life at the expense of others?

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            I assume Ben was trying to be helpful. A word – I don’t want anyone to try to clarify what I say, even with good intent (Ben) or something else (you know who you are). I’ll do the same. Thanks.

            “So, since I don’t want to be accused by you again that I am putting words in your mouth. Can you please explain what point were you trying to make? In what way are we Jews living life at the expense of others?”

            First off, ‘we jews’ isn’t correct because this doesn’t involve all jews, obviously. So, here’s my explanation – jews living on settlements in the occupied territories are living at the expense of: american taxpayers, the jewish israelis who don’t live in the occupied territories, jews all over the world who are against the settlement enterprise but who suffer from israeli policies and practices at the hands of some people who are unable to distinguish the difference between jew and zionist – in no small part due to netanyahoo and some jews who continually conflate judaism with zionism, but most importantly, the palestinians who were driven off their land for this small minority of jews.

            There’s nothing to find between the lines. This is as straight and as plain as I can get. If you don’t understand, i’d venture it’s because you don’t want to.

            Would you explain what you meant with this: “It means exactly what it sounds like. It means that she thinks that Jewish Rabbis (some at least) are blood sucking vampires who only have regards for Jews. Draw your own conclusions. I take her at face value. But if I am wrong, let Carmen explain what she meant. She does not need you as a mouth piece. Let her speak for herself and clarify.”

            And maybe you can answer the questions i asked in my previous post to you: You really get off on this don’t you? And you seem to believe that the world revolves around jews. It doesn’t. Why do you do this Gustav? Do you really believe this is helpful, or is it mere distraction and if so, could you try a little harder, you know, for the team?

            Reply to Comment
    5. carmen

      “Ah but Ben clarified what you meant and you agree with him. This is what Ben says you meant:

      “jewish lives matter, but not at the expense of others.”

      Ben didn’t clarify jack, he merely quoted me CORRECTLY, and got a compliment.

      You convolute everything, from the sublime to the ridiculous. That’s either an unfortunate handicap or unfortunate skill. either way, you have my sympathy.

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        “And you seem to believe that the world revolves around jews. It doesn’t. Why do you do this Gustav?”

        Do I? I thought you were the one who started with the Jews Carmen (at least some Jews). Let me quote what you said:

        “some rabbis claim that jewish blood is more precious than ‘the other”

        I get it though. You didn’t really mean Jews. You meant Rabbis. How ignorant of me.

        Reality check:

        I altered what Carmen said slightly to illustrate how hateful her sentence sounds when applied to Arabs/Muslims and this is how it came out:

        “some mullahs claim that Arab/Muslim blood is more precious than ‘the other.”

        Ben then came along and realised Carmen’s mistake and he applied his usual obfuscatory tactics as a distraction.

        That’s it from me. I am getting bored by both of them.

        Reply to Comment
        • carmen

          I’ll try this again. My post where I stated that there are numerous so-called spiritual leaders, be they rabbis, imams, priests, ministers, etc., who preach nothing but hate. That doesn’t make it okay for some rabbi to do it just because ‘they do it to’. I had written a very good reply to you early but the geniuses who moderate didn’t post it and I made a point of noting that in another post as below “My 2nd post to you isn’t up for some reason and it was pretty good too. Oh well.”

          Criticism of some rabbis or zionists isn’t condemning all jews. You choose to see it that way. that’s very convenient.

          You can’t explain, like i asked, the meaning of this post to ben: “It means exactly what it sounds like. It means that she thinks that Jewish Rabbis (some at least) are blood sucking vampires who only have regards for Jews. Draw your own conclusions. I take her at face value. But if I am wrong, let Carmen explain what she meant. She does not need you as a mouth piece. Let her speak for herself and clarify.”

          and instead of explaining the above, you announce ‘that’s it for me. I’m getting bored by both of them’. maybe after shabbat you’ll figure out how to answer my questions about the above paragraph.

          (BTW – i don’t need you as a mouthpiece either.)

          Reply to Comment
        • carmen

          As I surmised, there are no answers to the questions because there are no answers, not in the world outside horror fiction. So this was the usual distraction, deflection and disingenous diatribe otherwise known was throwing mud on the wall to see what sticks, no matter how crazy and ridiculous. Seems like everyone is tRUMP these days.

          Reply to Comment

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