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July 4, 2018 11:53 am

German Festival With Israeli Sponsorship Targeted by BDS Campaign

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Posters in Berlin calling for the boycott of the Pop-Kultur festival. Photo: Protest Stencil / Twitter.

The Palestinian-led boycott campaign against Israel is calling on artists to withdraw from Berlin’s Pop-Kultur Festival in August over the Israeli Embassy’s involvement in the event.

The demand — made by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) — has been endorsed by five performers to date, including American musician John Maus and UK-based acts Richard Dawson, Gwenno, and Nadine Shah.

Several of the artists cited the violence that took place by the Gaza-Israel border during recent Hamas-led riots in their statements, with the band Shopping explaining that it reached its decision after being “contacted privately by Palestinian artists and human rights activists.”

PACBI has targeted Pop-Kultur since May, accusing the festival — which receives funding from the German government — of “art-washing Israel’s regime” and engaging in “anti-Arab racism.” The group previously sought to force the festival to disassociate from the Israeli Embassy in 2017, but only succeeded in securing the cancellation of eight artists.

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The event’s organizers have dismissed PACBI’s claims, saying they “are not intimidated by boycotts.”

The Israeli Embassy is expected to contribute $1,400 to cover the travel and accommodation costs for three Israeli artists participating in the festival, and — like all other partners and sponsors — will “have no influence over the programming,” they noted.

“We have received e-mails requesting that the official cooperation with the Israeli Embassy be discontinued and that the embassy’s logo … be taken offline,” Pop-Kultur said. “Various artists have also received messages in which they were asked to boycott the festival.”

Festival director Katja Lucker separately said in June that her team gets “really strange emails about what we should be doing.”

“Artists offer to give us the money to take down the [Israeli] embassy logo,” she explained, according to a translation by PACBI.

While Israel’s involvement in the festival has attracted controversy, it is not the only government contributing funds to the event. Music Norway, which is funded by the country’s Ministry of Culture, and the Institut Français, which is under the supervision of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will also provide artist and travel support. Other sponsors include the government-funded Austrian Music Export and British Council, which is sponsored by the UK’s Foreign Office.

PACBI has long sought to pressure artists to avoid performances in Israel and to distance themselves from events with Israeli involvement. The group is a leading driver of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign, which describes itself as an effort “to isolate Israel academically, culturally, economically and militarily.”

Supporters of the campaign describe it as a movement to secure justice for Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law. Critics say it denies the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and aims to undermine Israel’s continued existence.

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