German institute scales down event after mass cancellations following Palestinian Mohammed El-Kurd's exclusion

German institute scales down event after mass cancellations following Palestinian Mohammed El-Kurd's exclusion
Germany's Goethe-Institut has scaled down its upcoming event, 'Beyond The Lone Offender,' after participants withdrew just days before over the decision to disinvite Mohammed El-Kurd.
3 min read
22 June, 2022
Mohammed El-Kurd is a celebrated Palestinian activist, poet and reporter [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty-archive]

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from occupied East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah, was later deemed "not an appropriate speaker" and had his invitation rescinded.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". 

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.

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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".

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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.