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Top German Antisemitism Official Expresses Concern That Major Art Show Is Boycotting Israel

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Display boards in the German city of Kassel advertising tickets for the 15th Documenta art festival in 2022. Photo: Reuters/DPA

The failure of a major contemporary art show in Germany to invite Israeli artists to exhibit suggests its curators have endorsed the international boycott campaign targeting the Jewish state, the leading German federal official combating antisemitism stated over the weekend.

In an extensive interview with the Welt news outlet, Felix Klein — the German government’s federal commissioner tasked with countering antisemitism — argued that the absence of Israeli artists from the Documenta festival that begins in the city of Kassel on June 18 could be interpreted as a boycott.

“If not a single Israeli artist is invited, the assumption is forced that Israeli artists are being boycotted,” Klein said, before adding: “But I wouldn’t allow myself a final verdict just yet. The Documenta [festival] still has the chance to dispel the allegations.”

The Documenta festival, which takes place in the city of Kassel every five years, has been embroiled in a row over antisemitism for several months. Leading members of Ruangrupa, the collective of Indonesian artists curating this year’s show, have declared their support for subjecting Israel to a boycott.

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A second group participating in the festival, the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, located in the West Bank city of Ramallah, has repeatedly expressed support for boycotts of artistic events in Israel. The center is named in honor of Khalil al-Sakakini, a Palestinian scholar who lived in Jerusalem prior to Israel’s creation in 1948 and was openly sympathetic to Nazi Germany.

In his interview with Welt, Klein echoed similar views expressed by the head of Germany’s Jewish community in a discussion with the same outlet. “Given the overall circumstances that we see at Documenta, the impression is almost inevitable that BDS is already having an effect with its call for a boycott of Israeli art and culture,” Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of German Jews, stated last Thursday, referring to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Asked about the insistence among some Ruangrupa artists that Israel practices apartheid, Klein replied that this was an “antisemitic narrative” designed to communicate “tangible hatred of Jews” in respectable terms.

“From the point of view of some of these authors, Israel is the west’s last colonial project,” Klein said. “But Israel is a lifeline for persecuted Jews.”

For its part, the Documenta festival has rejected the allegations of antisemitism. “All the artists, the artistic directors of Ruangrupa, the sponsors and the management clearly distance themselves from antisemitism,” the festival’s director, Sabine Schormann, said in a statement. “It was never about turning the Documenta into an event in line with the anti-Israel BDS alliance.”

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