The numerous anti-Semitism scandals at the exhibition mark a turning point. Harsh consequences must now follow – also for Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth, demands Philipp Peyman Engel from the “Jewish General”.
Rarely has the Jewish community in Germany been so upset. It doesn’t matter who the “Jüdische Allgemeine” has spoken to between Berlin and Bonn or Constance and Kiel in the last few days – with Shoa survivors, artists, officials, journalists or completely normal community members – the dismay, the horror, even the shock among Jewish Germans is immense.
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The world’s most important art exhibition documenta has been causing one anti-Semitism scandal after the next for weeks, each one with a scope that until recently would have been unthinkable. It is a failure that has no equal.
How can it be that Jews are humiliated in a painting as a pig with the Star of David and the inscription “Mossad”? How can it be that Jews are portrayed in a “work of art” in a way that is otherwise only known from the Nazi inflammatory newspaper “Stürmer”: with pejes, kippa, oversized monster teeth, bloodthirsty eyes and SS insignia the hat? How can it be that another work compares the Israeli armed forces with the Wehrmacht?
In short: How did it come to this that the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), anti-Semitic in its actions and goals, was able to spread its hatred of Israel and Jews at the documenta unhindered?
As a reminder: the documenta is curated by the Indonesian collective Ruangrupa, some of whose members are open supporters of the BDS or did not want to distance themselves from the boycott movement. For Ruangrupa members and some of the artists engaged for the exhibition, the Jewish state represents a colonial system of “white people”; Israel fulfills the characteristics of an apartheid, it practices the separation of the individual ethnic population groups like South Africa did at the time, which is why Israel should be proscribed comprehensively.
But instead of condemning the new ban on Jewish artists in Germany, the much-vaunted “perspective of the global South” was still being celebrated and defended at the highest level until last week. Claudia Roth promised: “It will be a new, very provocative, dissolving form of art and culture.” One can look forward to a “productive debate”. “I’m excited for the confrontation.”
Ruangrupa defended her against allegations of anti-Semitism. “Coming from a certain country should not lead to suspicions of possibly being anti-Semitic,” said the Green politician. Muslim Indonesia is one of the countries that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. “I find that bad. But that doesn’t mean that an artist or collective from Indonesia is per se suspicious.”
But even after that, the top cultural politician in the Federal Republic, who had distanced herself from the groundbreaking anti-BDS resolution of the Bundestag in 2019, remained inactive.
Particularly bitter: After the anti-Jewish depictions became known, Claudia Roth suddenly joined the phalanx of those who were outraged by the hatred of Jews. The question may be asked: How naive does Roth consider the Jewish public to be? First, she allows artists with a proven anti-Semitic worldview to curate the documenta. Now she wants to be surprised by the anti-Semitic excesses. It’s quite simple: Whoever opens the door to the anti-Semitism of the BDS will get it. If in doubt, also in the form of disgusting anti-Jewish smear paintings, compared to which the Wittenberg “Judensau” seems downright reserved.
Commitment to Israel and standing up against any form of anti-Semitism is part of the Federal Republic’s DNA. In this country, tax money should never be spent on pure hatred of Jews. The documenta gave this self-image a resounding slap in the face. It was the task of Minister of Culture Roth to prevent this. She failed miserably.
If the promise “Never again anti-Semitism” isn’t a cheap phrase, and that’s certainly the case with the federal government, the Ministry of Culture must entrust someone who credibly takes action against Jew hatred. Someone who performs his or her duties with competence and dignity. With her kosher seal for the BDS ideology, Claudia Roth has shown neither the one nor the other.
The author is the chief of staff at the Jewish General, where the commentary first appeared.