German institute scales down event after mass cancellations following Palestinian Mohammed El-Kurd's exclusion
The Goethe-Institut, Germany's state-owned cultural association, announced on Wednesday that their upcoming conference in Hamburg would be scaled down after mass cancellations followed their decision to disinvite Palestinian activist and poet Mohammed El-Kurd.
The Goethe-Institut Hamburg's 'Beyond The Lone Offender - Dynamics of the Global Right,' scheduled for June 23 to 26, originally invited El-Kurd to speak on a panel to discuss strategies used by different states to deflect from human rights abuses, according to a curator.
However, the 24-year-old Palestinian, from occupied East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah, was later deemed "not an appropriate speaker" and had his invitation rescinded. This prompted a flurry of withdrawals from curators and participants.
The institute released a statement just hours before the conference was set to begin, saying the event "will take place [but] with a reduced schedule".
Withdrawing from @goerheinstut’s Hamburg conference where they first invited and then disinvited Palestinian journalist and poet Mohammed El Kurd. Reason is even more offensive. Apparently Kurd is not respectful enough towards Israel. How do you say bugger off in German? 1/3— Mohammed Hanif (@mohammedhanif) June 21, 2022
Daniel Stoevesandt, head of the Goethe-Institut Hamburg, said: "We made organisational mistakes in the run-up to the event and very much regret that these cancellations have occurred.
"We will therefore continue to hold the forum with a reduced programme in order to give the topic the attention it deserves."
British-Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif on Tuesday tweeted that he was withdrawing from speaking at the conference.
It comes after Moshtari Hilal and Sinthujan Varatharajah, the curators of the panel El-Kurd was originally set to speak on, announced last week that they were pulling out of the forum.
"Our cancellation is in response to Goethe-Institut's attempts to intervene in our curatorial decisions and by way of it, enforce a climate of anti-Palestinian censorship," they said in a statement tweeted by Varatharajah on Friday.
They added: "The involvement of El-Kurd was transparent from the beginning.
"El-Kurd already confirmed his participation when we received a sudden notification from Goethe-Institut's head office, explicitly refusing the Palestinian writer's participation in this programme.
"Goethe-Institut's veto against El-Kurd calls into question the very purpose of this conference."
The curators said the organisation had "explicitly decided [that] the violence that affects Palestinians may not be named and discussed in a programme on the dynamics of the global right in Germany".
They said this "effectively devalues Palestinian oppression as unworthy of discussion".
The Goethe-Institut responded to Hilal and Varatharajah's statement on Friday, explaining that it disinvited El-Kurd because "in previous posts on social media, he had made several comments about Israel in a way the Goethe-Institut does not find acceptable".
It added: "Unfortunately, the necessary internal coordination only took place after a premature commitment had already been made."
The Goethe-Institut said it "disagrees with the reasoning" behind Hilal and Varatharajah's withdrawal from the conference, but "regrets and respects their decision".
The New Arab contacted the Goethe-Institut for more precise details on what social media posts caused El-Kurd's exclusion, and about the decision-making behind the event's scale down. No response was received by the time of publication.
Kampnagel made clear that the institute is responsible for editorial decisions, including the scale-down of the event.