German festival buckles to BDS supporters

Last week, the Ruhr Triennale cancelled the rock group Young Fathers over its support for an Israel boycott.

This week, it has reinstated them after protests by the BDS movement.

Here’s the festival director’s risible equivocation:

Bochum, June 2018 – The programme of the Ruhrtriennale is directed against racism, anti-Semitism and exclusion in every form and tells complex narratives. I consider it important to open up perspectives other than our Western ones, and thus to take the context of our international programme seriously. I do not wish to be part of a campaign, let alone hostage to a campaign.

The programme of the Ruhrtriennale and the artists of this programme are currently under pressure from two campaigns. One says: artists who support organisations that oppose the current policy of the government of the Israeli state and support the rights of the Palestinians are automatically anti-Semitic. The second campaign is the BDS campaign, which says that artists who do not boycott the current government of the State of Israel are automatically suspected of being racist or opponents of the Palestinians. I do not share any of the superficial, simplifying positions of these two campaigns. I wish to be able to invite a band such as the Young Fathers for their music and their lyrics although I personally completely reject the boycott strategy of the BDS. As a German, it is, of course, difficult for me to be linked to a movement that boycotts Israel, but I have invited the Young Fathers and not the BDS. In many interviews, the Young Fathers have made it credible that they reject anti-Semitism in any form. Following the impression of many discussions and reflections over the last few days, I would like to correct my approach: I wish to invite the Young Fathers again to the concert in Bochum on 18 August 2018 although I do not share their attitude to the BDS. I believe that we need to allow the different perspectives and narratives, because this openness is the dramaturgic credo of our programme. I therefore have to defend the freedom of the arts, and do not, under any circumstances, even indirectly, wish to exercise censorship.

I again wish to stress that, in my view, criticism of the current policy of the government of the State of Israel is not automatically anti-Semitic. None of the artists at this year’s programme of the Ruhrtriennale are anti-Semitic or racist. I personally reject boycott in connection with Israel, but also in other contexts, and especially in the field of art. Artists do not represent nations or ideological discourses.

I do not, however, want artists to be censored, lectured or excluded for their attitudes. Every artist is free to take up a position as long as this position is not anti-Semitic, racist or exclusionary. I wish to initiate a public event on the topic of boycott, freedom of the arts and the differences of perspectives, the place, time and implementation of which we will announce. Perhaps such an event could be held in the context of the concert, and the band could preferably represent its own position there.

Stefanie Carp

 

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  • I believe that her position is the correct one. By inviting the group the Festival is endorsing the the music of the ensemble, not the politics of the ensemble. All cultural boycotts backfire, including boycotts fo those who endorse cultural boycotts!

  • I think Stefanie Carp has taken the right stance. There are many things to balance in her decision, and as the director of a German festival her position in the matter is very difficult, so I understand the doubts and confusion that have left her indecisive. Public arts funding cannot under any circumstances become involved in political censorship, even if we might disagree with those political views. I think we will note that almost all of the attacks on her are highly partisan.

    I do have one question. Were any Israeli artists invited? If not, I think this is a mistake that should be corrected.

  • “I again wish to stress that, in my view, criticism of the current policy of the government of the State of Israel is not automatically anti-Semitic.”

    Spot-on. A very commendable turn- around.

  • Criticizing Israeli government’s policies is not necessarily antisemitic. Singling that country out by boycotting it culturally and economically in today’s world definitely is.

    • It’s an interesting idea, but the logic is weak. An aggrieved group can raise a boycott in their own interest without relativizing their actions against other injustices that do not affect them. And people can also choose which causes they support among many injustices in the world without automatically being racist.

      Sometimes countries are even held to a higher standard exactly because they are a close and cared for part of a community of nations from which certain higher standards are an expected norm.

      • A “group” whose “own interest” starts and ends with vilifying Israel and only Israel in today’s world is – whether “automatically” or not – clearly antisemitic.

  • Art and politics do not mix. God makes it rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Political views held by musicians should not be a basis to exclude them. Has not the Berlin Philharmonic played in israel? Has the Israel Philharmonic not played in Berlin? However, artists should just keep their mouths shut, unless, of course, they happen to be singers. Politics is for the voting booth.

    • Politics is not for the voting booth only, absolutely not. Politics is for daily life. Politics concerns us all at all times. Nobody should keep his or her mouth shut. Yet one should also not abuse one’s professional platform for political activities. Tricky balance.

      Those who say artists should keep their mouth shut have a derogatory view on the arts and artists, treating them as their ‘entertainment pets’, rather than full human beings.

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