UPDATE 2021: Boycott Pop-Kultur Festival campaign - 31 August 2021
We welcome the absence of the embassy of apartheid Israel in Pop-Kultur Berlin 2021’s list of festival partners. Indeed, it appears there was no official partnership between the festival and Israel this year. We consider this a partial victory in the long-running campaign to boycott the festival over its anti-Palestinian racism and blatant complicity in Israel’s brutal regime of apartheid, occupation and settler-colonialism against the Palestinian people.
If Pop-Kultur Berlin partnered with apartheid Israel this year, it chose to completely conceal it, denying Israel’s far-right regime a desperately-needed boost to its toxic brand. This follows a campaign to boycott the festival that began in 2017, when eight artists including headliners Young Fathers withdrew in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
The following year, a further six artists withdrew after appeals from Palestinians, internationals, anti-apartheid Israelis, and German-based progressive Jewish and queer groups. Rather than end the festival’s partnership with apartheid Israel, the Pop-Kultur Berlin festival director instead responded by criticising the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement in racist, anti-Palestinian terms and insisting on continuing the complicit partnership in future editions.
By 2019, the festival was failing to attract the diverse range of progressive artists to which its PR aspires. It was screening all potential artists for support for Palestinian rights and the cultural boycott of Israel, severely restricting its programme and prefiguring the McCarthyite move by German cultural institutions more broadly towards parochialism and systematic censorship.
The BDS movement for Palestinian rights is inspired by the historic boycotts of the apartheid regime in South Africa and those during the US civil rights movement. Its aims, anchored in international law, are the end of Israel’s occupation of the besieged Gaza Strip and the West Bank including East Jerusalem; full equality for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship living under apartheid; and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. BDS rejects on principle any form of discrimination and racism, including antisemitism, Islamophobia or anti-Black racism.
This partial victory comes in a rapidly-shifting German context. In December last year, dozens of leaders of German cultural institutions, including the director of the Goethe Institute, launched Initiative GG 5.3 Weltoffenheit (“world-openness”), criticising the Bundestag’s anti-BDS resolution that had already been condemned by Jewish and Israeli scholars. The initiative correctly argued that “accusations of antisemitism are being misused to push aside important voices and to distort critical positions”.
The initiative was supported by more than 1400 leading German-based and international artists and cultural workers, who cited Black American author James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced”. We agree.
Last month, more than 10,000 people demonstrated in Berlin for the city’s “first Internationalist, anti-racist, anti-colonial, anti-capitalist Pride march”. Thousands chanted “Free, free Palestine!” and protesters demanded that Germany expand its curriculum to encompass its colonial past.
Berlin techno club ://about blank has lost several parties from its programme, including the long-running Buttons queer party, as a result of its own anti-Palestinian racism, censorship and McCarthyism against principled international artists who support Palestinian rights and the cultural boycott of Israel’s complicit cultural sector. The BDS movement had called to boycott ://about blank, Golden Pudel in Hamburg and Conne Island in Leipzig for these reasons.
This turning tide follows several years of worsening anti-Palestinian repression among Germany’s cultural, academic and political elite and heartening international solidarity with Palestinians and advocates of the BDS movement in response.
The shift is reflective of international trends, too. Following Israel’s latest massacres against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip that killed more than 240 people including 66 children, thousands of artists worldwide, including Hollywood stars, responded with meaningful solidarity, pledging their support for effective measures to hold Israel to account according to international law. Signatories to Musicians for Palestine, the Letter Against Apartheid, Visual Arts for Palestine — among many others — endorsed peaceful calls from Palestinian artists and civil society at large to end business as usual with Israel’s apartheid regime and complicit cultural sector.
This year, the world’s leading human rights organisation Human Rights Watch and Israel’s largest human rights group B’Tselem each reported in detail what Palestinians, South Africans, legal scholars and many others have long argued — Israel is an apartheid state. In this context, we welcome Pop-Kultur Berlin Festival’s apparent distancing of itself from apartheid Israel.
UPDATE 2020: Boycott Pop-Kultur Festival campaign - 26 August 2020
After a years-long human rights campaign, Pop Kultur Berlin Festival is not partnering with or promoting the embassy of apartheid Israel this year, apparently for practical reasons related to the online-only nature of the 2020 edition. Still, the absence of the embassy will be welcomed by supporters of Palestinian human rights. But the festival should drop the embassy permanently.
The campaign to boycott Pop-Kultur Berlin festival has seen fifteen artists across three editions withdraw or distance themselves from the festival’s complicity in racism and artwashing Israel’s war crimes. It will continue if and when the festival once again partners with the Israeli embassy.
Recently, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that advocating for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is protected speech. Hundreds of scholars and artists have pledged to oppose political litmus tests in Germany, and hundreds more have defended Black, brown and queer artists targeted by an ugly and growing McCarthyism within elitist German cultural and academic institutions.
Yet, instead of Pop-Kultur Berlin meeting its basic ethical obligation to end its complicity in Israel’s far-right regime of annexation, ethnic cleansing, occupation and apartheid, the festival has for years systematically engaged in the shameful political testing of potential artists, radically narrowing its once diverse programme as a result. It must end its repressive policy regarding what artists should say and think about Palestinian human rights.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel - 30 July 2019
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) calls on all participating artists in Pop-Kultur Berlin festival to withdraw, due to its ongoing partnership with the Israeli embassy. Fourteen artists from six different countries withdrew from the last two editions of the festival for this reason, just as they would have withdrawn from an event in Germany partnered with the South African regime during the height of apartheid there.
Indeed, Israel gave constitutional status to its long-established apartheid regime against Palestinians with last year’s “Jewish Nation-State” law. Emboldened by unprecedented levels of support from the Trump administration, Netanyahu recently declared that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens” and promised to annex the occupied Palestinian West Bank.
UN investigators have said that Israeli snipers’ intentional targeting of unarmed Palestinian protesters in the besieged Gaza Strip, including medics, journalists, children, and those with disabilities, “may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity”. Yet Israel has not been held to account. Its brutal siege of two million Palestinians in Gaza continues, and its impunity on the world stage remains intact.
This impunity is why thousands of artists now support the cultural boycott of Israel’s regime and complicit institutions, with Israel lobby groups privately acknowledging its impact and growth. But regardless of whether or not a particular artist supports or endorses the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights, everyone has an ethical obligation to do no harm to nonviolent struggles for human rights by not undermining them and to defend freedom of expression.
Israel’s far-right regime of apartheid, occupation and settler-colonialism explicitly whitewashes its oppression against Palestinians through culture, including by partnering with supposedly progressive festivals. Yet Pop-Kultur organisers have repeatedly made clear, in stark, vulgar and anti-Palestinian terms, that partnering with Israel is more important than maintaining its own artistic programme.
Indeed, the festival can no longer attract the diverse range of progressive artists that it could just a few years ago. Its organisers are screening all potential artists, excluding all those who might take issue with the festival’s collaboration with Israel’s regime of oppression. For this reason, we anticipate fewer cancellations this year. But we and our partners in Germany and around the world, including progressive Jewish and Israeli groups and figures, will continue the campaign to boycott Pop-Kultur festival until it ends the partnership.
As the far-right continues to rise across the world, anti-racist movements like BDS are under increasing anti-democratic attack, including in Germany. We agree with Martin Luther King Jr., that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. We urge all participating artists to consider the ‘indivisibility of justice’ and to refuse to undermine the peaceful struggle for Palestinian human rights.
Berlin Against Pinkwashing - 1 August 2019
STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF PACBI’S CALL FOR Boycott Pop-Kultur Festival 2019
Berlin Against Pinkwashing joins the call by PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) for all participating artists to withdraw from Berlin’s 2019 Pop-Kultur festival. Due to its continued Israeli Embassy partnership, Pop-Kultur allows the State of Israel to paint itself as a progressive entity and distract the world from its apartheid state and the illegal occupation of Palestine.
As a mixed multi-ethnic group of queer and queer-allied activists, we see it as fundamentally important to stand in solidarity with Palestinian civil society in their peaceful protest against systematic oppression by the Israeli state.
Israel is currently breaking international law by occupying Palestinian territory and has made the systemic exclusion of Palestinian voices – among them women*, LGBTIQ* and GNC people – public policy. At the same time it has set up a multi-million dollar budget campaign aimed at branding itself an egalitarian, LGBTIQ*-friendly state. This state, however, only provides LGBTIQ* rights for an exclusive group based on race, religion and nationality.
What’s more, the Palestinian fight for freedom and justice is undoubtedly a feminist issue too: Palestinian women are forced to give birth waiting at checkpoints, Israeli settlement authorities bulldoze family homes, and many women experience sexual assault at the hands of the Israeli army.
As artist Emel Al-Mathlouthi remarked upon withdrawing from Pop-Kultur in 2017: “As things get tougher inside and outside Palestine, what each one of us can always do is show solidarity and empathy, as artists it starts by being true and faithful.”
Whilst we warmly welcome a festival that creates space for otherwise marginalised queer and POC voices, we are disappointed that such a space would become an advertising platform for the Israeli embassy. Berlin Against Pinkwashing once again applauds the decision of 14 artists from 6 different countries who withdrew from the festival in 2017 and 2018. We also note that the 2019 Pop-Kultur line-up lacks the range of progressive artists present in the line-ups of previous years, suggesting how representation and diversity at Pop-Kultur have been compromised by the festival’s dedicated partnership with the Israeli State.
Regardless of the extent of the funding or involvement of the Israeli embassy, any cooperation that allows a state maintaining an illegal occupation to paint itself as a progressive haven by providing cultural funding is indefensible. We call on all participating artists in Pop-Kultur’s 2019 line-up to withdraw in support of Palestinian human rights.
“Through our music, we seek to resist violence, persecution and discrimination of any kind against each other.“ – Islam chipsy & EEK
BOYCOTT! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within - 4 August 2019
Open letter from Israeli citizens to artists participating in the Pop-Kultur festival in Berlin
We are over a thousand citizens of Israel who oppose our government’s policies of colonialism, military occupation, and apartheid against the indigenous Palestinian people . We write to you in support of The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) call on all participating artists in Pop-Kultur Berlin festival to withdraw, due to its ongoing partnership with the Israeli embassy .
We support this campaign since it follows universal principles of human rights, including opposition to any form of racism . We, as Israelis, also ask you to cancel your participation in the festival.
Israel openly and actively uses culture as part of its state branding campaign strategy . The Israeli foreign ministry openly acknowledges spending hundreds of millions of dollars annually to improve Israel’s image. “Brand Israel” was conceptualised a decade ago, in order to change Israel’s deteriorating image around the world, which has been badly damaged after decades of occupation, apartheid and military attacks on a civilian population . The strategy’s aim is to actively move the focus of the conversation around Israel from its military regime and its crimes, to its perceived cultural or high tech achievements, or- ironically- its respect for human rights. Most notably the exploitation of the achievements of the LGBTQ* community, which in reality are suffering frightening setbacks , especially when it comes to legislation, where Israel is in fact far behind most European states . An exploitation which the Pop-Kultur festival duplicates by associating its LGBTQ*-friendly space with Israel’s embassy.
The Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israeli institutions  is a call initiated and conceptualised by Palestinian civil society (trade unions, women’s and youth associations, academic associations, human rights organisations, community centers, cultural associations, religious organizations, media groups, etc.) and has consensus across its separated sectors- in the West Bank, Gaza, within Israel itself, and Palestinian refugees all around the globe. It is those directly affected by Israeli policy who ask us, as people of conscious, to boycott Israel.
Many Jewish people of conscience from all around the world, and some of us within Israel, have taken up the call. Years of advocacy have proven to us, time and time again, that just as Israel is dependent on external funds and approval, so it is that external divestment and disapproval is the only way to move it to abide by international law and agreements.
It is for all this that we ask you to reconsider your participation in a festival that privileges its collaboration with the Israeli embassy over its own artistic program , partnering with a government that applies policies of colonialism, military occupation, and apartheid against an indigenous population. Please don’t take part in this partnership and withdraw from the Pop-Kultur Berlin festival.
We would be happy to answer any questions,
BOYCOTT! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within
Israeli Artists - 9 August 2019
‘As Israeli artists, musicians, and filmmakers, we support the Palestinian call to boycott Pop-Kultur Berlin festival 2019, given its complicity with Israel’s racist regime.
So long as Pop Kultur continues to have the Israeli embassy as a partner, all appearances at the festival will be exploited by the Israeli government as part of its efforts to whitewash its occupation and rebrand itself through culture.
We recognise that there is an urgent moral need to end the Israeli government’s decades-long oppression of millions of Palestinians, and that boycotts rooted in international law and universal principles of human rights are a legitimate, nonviolent, time-honoured tactic.
We are dismayed that the festival director last year wrongly condemned BDS as “antisemitic” in defending their partnership with the Israeli embassy. Even Avi Primor, himself a former Israeli ambassador to Germany, agrees that “the leitmotiv of the BDS movement is justice for the Palestinians”.
We agree with 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars who called on the German government not to endorse the recent anti-Palestinian Bundestag resolution that falsely equated the BDS movement for Palestinian rights with bigotry, adding that they “are shocked that demands for equality and compliance with international law are considered antisemitic”.
We also agree with Ishay Rosen Zvi, a Talmud professor at Tel Aviv University, who decried the attempts in Germany and elsewhere “to erase differences between criticism of Zionism, criticism of Israel, criticism of the policies of the government of Israel and antisemitism”.’
Aviad Albert, musician
Dror Dayan, filmmaker and film scholar
Ohal Grietzer, musician
Avi Hershkovitz, film director
Liad Hussein Kantorowicz, performance artist
Jonathan Ofir, violinist and conductor
Michal Peleg, author
Ben Ronen, visual artist
Michal Sapir, writer and musician
Yonatan Shapira, musician
Professor Eyal Sivan, filmmaker
Oriana Weich, artist
Karen Zack, photographer
Artists for Palestine UK - 10 August 2019
Artists for Palestine UK has joined the call from Palestinians, and also from Israeli artists and Israeli human rights defenders, and from LGBTQI+ campaigners in Berlin, for participating artists to withdraw from Pop-Kultur Berlin 2019, in protest at the festival’s continued partnership with the Israeli embassy.
As you may know, the far-right Israeli government cynically exploits the arts to improve its image abroad and to distract from state-sanctioned discrimination and violence against millions of Palestinians on the basis of their identity. For this reason, Palestinians asked Pop-Kultur Berlin to end its partnership with the Israeli state.
Art matters. The arts should not be used to whitewash a regime whose apartheid character has become explicit and undeniable.
We hope that UK-based artists who are scheduled to appear at Pop-Kultur Berlin 2019 will chose to stand with Palestinian artists and their audiences – be they living under military occupation in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem or Gaza, be they living as second class citizens within Israel’s borders in historic Palestine, or in exile in the refugee camps and in the diaspora.
Last year, Israel targeted and completely destroyed the al-Mishal Cultural Centre in Gaza. The UN has found that photo-journalists in Gaza have been deliberately targeted and shot by Israeli army snipers since 2018. Palestinian photographers and journalists in the occupied West Bank and Jersualem are routinely harassed, assaulted and arrested while trying to do their job. Palestinian on-line space is heavily policed and many face arrest simply for reporting on their own experience. For example, a Palestinian poet was recently released from almost three years in jail and under house arrest for the ‘crime’ of posting one of her poems on Facebook.
The Israeli state has buried and erased Palestinian cultural heritage since its founding, and today the government is systematically removing historic documents from its own archives in order to conceal proof of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948. Two weeks ago the Israeli state blew up 13 Palestinian apartment blocks in occupied East Jerusalem, demonstrating the impunity with which Israel continues ethnic cleansing policies in plain sight, confident that our government/s will not press for sanctions in order to defend the Palestinian population.
As with South African apartheid, when all avenues for seeking justice have been exhausted, boycott is a non-violent weapon of the weak against the powerful. Our strength lies in our collectivity. We urge you to join the fourteen artists from six countries, including eight from the UK, who withdrew from the last two editions of the festival following appeals. Please support the Palestinian call, and to refuse Pop-Kultur Berlin’s normalization of Israeli apartheid.
Artists for Palestine UK
Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East - 11 August 2019
Human Rights Violators should not be celebrated! Our Statement re: the Pop Culture Festival in Berlin
Solidarity with the Israeli regime rots the political and cultural atmosphere in Germany. Just recently the Open Source Festival, after having invited Talib Kweli, removed the singer from their schedule because he refused to distance himself from the BDS movement. The YAAM club in Berlin – inspired by the organizers in Düsseldorf – decided to put the same pressure on the US American rapper and activist by forcing him to censor his voice and criticism of the racist politics of Israel.
The Pop Culture Festival in Berlin is celebrating its fifth year in August 2019 and is inviting everyone to join their so-called “artist dialogs“ and “international exchanges”. We see that the Israeli Embassy is yet again on their list of partners and sponsors.
Despite the many statements in past years from organizations such as PACBI (The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel), the Jewish Antifa, BDS Berlin and our own voice, as well as 14 international artists from 6 different countries refusing to take part, the festival is maintaining its loyalty to the Israeli government, true to the motto “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil“.
It comes as no surprise that participants didn’t boycott so far this year. The organizers of the festival carried out careful research before selecting whom to invite. On their website one reads that they want to encourage diversity and dialog, but we see only dialog on consensual topics. Any reflection on the motives for boycotting human rights violations receives no attention or exposure at all. One is reminded only too well of Germany’s close alliance with the Apartheid regime in South Africa, until it collapsed. This embarrassing and shameful tradition should have no place in a democratic society, especially at a time when right-wing forces are gaining power.
We, the Jewish Voice for a Just Peace, are again calling on the organizers of the Pop Culture Festival to sever their partnership with the Israeli Embassy. Solidarity with the Israeli regime rots the political and cultural atmosphere in Germany. Just recently the Open Source Festival, after having invited the singer Talib Kweli to participate, removed him from their schedule because he refused to distance himself from the BDS movement. The YAAM club in Berlin – inspired by the organizers in Düsseldorf – decided to put the same pressure on the US American rapper and activist by forcing him to modify his position and censor his criticism of the racist politics of Israel.
Following the Bundestag resolution of May 17th 2019, Germany declared the BDS movement to be “antisemitic” and decided to fight its representatives, a move that further restricts the space of democratic free speech in Germany. On the other hand, the bloody occupation politics of Israel have no problem finding allies in Germany and a space to move and speak freely. Their representatives feel empowered to whitewash the crimes of Israel and polish its image. The recent partnership with the CSD (Christopher Street Day) in Berlin shows the human- and queer-friendly image Israel is trying to project by white- and pinkwashing its politics.
The Pop Culture Festival organizer, Katja Lucker, said in an interview that they can’t solve the so called “Arab-Israeli conflict”. Indeed, that was never the task of a cultural festival. But we must insist that by accepting funding from a far-right state, one contributes to its politics and allies oneself with it. One is supporting and helping a government that is violating international law and human rights, and is oppressing Palestinian culture on a daily basis, hiding behind an image of diversity. At the end of the day, one is rewarding human rights violations.
The solidarity of your invited artists with Palestine should have encouraged you to respond to the inevitable criticisms of the Israeli State, to reconsider your sponsors, and to reflect on why the partnership with a far-right state fosters neither art, nor open and constructive dialog. Instead you and the German media decided to criticize the artists’ boycotts, and then to ignore them.
We’d like to encourage the invited artists to reconsider their participation, and not to show their talent and art on a stage that is partnered with the Israeli government. Further we want to empower all readers to write to the organizers of the Pop Culture Festival and to remind them why we will not tolerate a partnership with the Israeli Apartheid state.
To reuse the powerful words of the singer Talib Kweli “Any antiracism which excludes Palestinians isn’t antiracism at all!”
All good things come in three’s. We are calling on the organizers of the festival, yet again, not only to speak about a discursive space, but also to create one. After 14 invited artists refused to participate in your festival, after numerous calls for boycott in the last year and failed panel discussions, in which BDS and Palestinians were talked about rather than with, we feel that the organizers have more than sufficient reason to sever their partnership with the Israeli Embassy.
Repetitor - 21 August 2019
It is with a heavy heart that we will be taking the stage at Pop-Kultur Festival in Berlin tomorrow.
We only recently learned the scale of Pop-Kultur’s ongoing partnership with the Israeli government, which exploits the arts in order to cover up its racist, apartheid policies against the Palestinian people. Indeed, we were shocked to see the logo of the Israeli embassy prominently displayed on the Pop-Kultur website.
We join the calls from Palestinian, Israeli and international artists urging Pop-Kultur Festival to end all ties with the Israeli government until Palestinians can live without oppression or apartheid, in their own state.
Just as it would have been reprehensible for a self-defined progressive festival to partner with or accept any support from the apartheid regime in South Africa in the past, while locals call them not to, it is now wrong for Pop-Kultur to partner with the Israeli government until it fully complies with its obligations under international law and respects Palestinian national rights for an independent state, recognized by the UN.
As a band that takes calls from the oppressed local Palestinian, and even some Israeli community seriously, Repetitor commits to not playing future gigs in Israel or at events sponsored by its government. We don’t want to be used in a campaign of normalizing racial segregation and occupation of Palestinian territories.
We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people like they stood and still stand with our own.