Director of Berlin's Jewish Museum quits after pro-BDS tweet uproar

Director of Berlin's Jewish Museum quits after pro-BDS tweet uproar
The director of Europe's largest Jewish museum quit this week after facing censure over a pro-BDS tweet.
4 min read
16 June, 2019
Cultural institutions have become a battleground for the debate over BDS [Getty]
The director of Berlin's Jewish Museum has resigned amid uproar after he tweeted out support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in solidarity with Palestine.

Peter Schafer, director of Europe's largest Jewish museum, has repeatedly been accused of being "anti-Israeli".

An exhibition that opened last year at the museum about Jerusalem was accused of being anti-Israeli.

The exhibition reportedly resulted in Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu demanding German Chancellor Angela Merkel stop funding the museum as it had presented Jerusalem through a "Muslim-Palestinian perspective".  

Schafer himself suffered criticism last year after inviting a Palestinian scholar to give a lecture at the Berlin museum.

He also faced censure for giving a private tour to the cultural director of the Iranian Embassy.

Schafer withstood that criticism until Saturday, when the museum director resigned over a tweet posted by the museum's official account last week.

The post linked to an article from a German newspaper citing a letter signed by more than 200 Jewish and Israeli scholars.

The letter called for politicians not to sign a parliamentary resolution declaring the BDS movement anti-Semitic.

The petition asserted that "boycotts are a legitimate and nonviolent tool of resistance".

That motion passed in parliament last month.

The Jewish Museum initially attempted to defend the Twitter post, urging followers to understand that it had been trying to point to the scholars' argument that the anti-BDS resolution in parliament would "not assist [the] fight" against anti-Semitism.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany hit back at Schafer and the museum over the posts.

"Enough is enough. The Jewish Museum appears to be completely out of control," the council's head, Josef Schuster, said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the council no longer trusted the museum.

Israeli Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff slammed the museum’s sharing of the petition, calling it "shameful".

Schafer subsequently resigned amid the backlash, saying he had decided to quit in order to "prevent further damage to the museum".

German Culture Minister Monika Grutters, who heads the board of the museum foundation, said she had accepted Schafer's resignation.

Schuster responded, saying that Schafer's decision to resign was "an important step".

Widespread controversy

Pro-Palestinian movements such as calls for BDS are especially controversial in Germany, which has made respect for Israel's right to exist a cornerstone of its foreign policy.

Calls to boycott Israel can be seen as carrying historical associations with the Nazis.

The non-legally binding parliamentary motion to designate BDS as anti-Semitic, for example, stated that "Don't Buy" stickers on Israeli products echoed the Nazi slogan "Don't buy from Jews".

Cultural institutions have become a key battleground over the BDS movement in Germany.

Last year, the Ruhtriennale, an international arts festival in western Germany, disinvited a Scottish rap group after facing pressure over the group's pro-BDS stance.

Earlier this week, US hip hop star Talib Kweli had his invitation to the German Open Source music festival rescinded after he refused to back down and denounce the BDS movement.

"By lying and saying that BDS is an anti-Semitic movement, the German government is engaging in fascism and doing a disservice to the German people," he wrote on Facebook.

"Boycotting, Divesting and Sanctioning are peaceful solutions to the crisis that destroys Palestinians homes and lives. It is the opposite of terrorism," he added.

"The ball is in your court. I would like to perform in Germany but I don't need to. I'd rather be a decent human being and stand up for what's right then censor myself and lie about BDS for a check."

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