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.