Berlin Senate scraps controversial “anti-discrimination clause” for arts funding amid protests after cultural boycott

Joe Chialo

The Berlin Senate has scrapped a controversial “anti-discrimination clause” for arts funding following a boycott from figures in the arts and entertainment industry.

The clause was introduced in December and required recipients of government arts funding to renounce “any form of antisemitism according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s [IHRA] definition of antisemitism”, and declare that they were in favour of a “diverse society”.

The following weeks saw nearly 1500 of artists sign an open letter from the Strike Germany movement, which called for a boycott of state-funded cultural events, claiming that the “use of McCarthyist policies” suppressed “freedom of expression” in relation to displays of solidarity with Palestine and criticism of the Israeli state.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism cites examples including “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” and “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor”.

Strike Germany claimed that the IHRA definition was “increasingly becoming official state policy, effectively censoring criticism of the state of Israel and anti-Zionist perspectives from the German cultural sphere, furthering a dangerous false equivalency that ultimately harms the fight against anti-Semitism”.

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As of Monday (January 22), however, the clause has been dropped. “I must take the legal and critical voices that saw this clause as a restriction on the freedom of art seriously,” said Joe Chialo, Berlin’s culture senator, in a statement (via The Art Newspaper). “Let there be no doubt: I will continue to fight for a Berlin cultural scene that is free of discrimination”.

The statement added that the senate plans to hold talks with cultural workers and institutions to find a “unanimous ruling”.

The letter from Strike Germany also claimed that Palestine solidarity protests had been “mislabeled as anti-Semitic and banned” while activist spaces are “raided by police, and violent arrests are frequent”.

In a statement following the U-turn decision, Strike Germany said that this is “only the beginning”, adding: “This change is the result of actions taken by a large number people on the ground in Berlin, and around the world.”

Artists like Jyoty and Manuka Honey withdrew from Berlin’s upcoming CTM Festival this month in solidarity with the Strike Germany movement.

This week, Ghostpoet called the strike “misdirected” while declaring his support for Gaza. The Mercury Prize-nominated singer-songwriter wrote that while he shares the anger over “Germany’s unforgivable support of Israel’s genocidal campaign against Palestinians”, it will not “achieve the desired results”.

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