German university withdraws funding for Israelis looking to 'unlearn Zionism'

German university withdraws funding for Israelis looking to 'unlearn Zionism'
A Berlin arts university has withdrawn funding from 'The School for Unlearning Zionism'.
3 min read
22 October, 2020
Criticism of Israel is extremely taboo in Germany [Getty]
A German university has withdrawn funding from a programme founded by Israelis seeking to "unlearn Zionism", +972 reported on Wednesday.

Weissensee Kunsthochschule, a Berlin art college, withdrew funding for "The School for Unlearning Zionism" just days into its online programme this month.

The October programme includes lectures by Israeli and Palestinian speakers, as well as an art installation at the Weissensee Kunsthochschule.

The university retracted on 8 October its small amount of funding, which enabled organisers to pay speakers a fee of 100 euros ($118).

The university administration also took down The School for Unlearning Zionism's website without notifiying the organisers, according to +972 magazine.

The college's response was prompted by an email from Frederik Schindler, a journalist for the Die Welt newspaper reported.

Schindler had asked about the programme's ties to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Germany declared the Palestinian-founded initiative anti-Semitic last year.

In particular, the reporter named four Jewish Israelis on the speaker list as supporters of BDS.

While a German parliamentary resolution last year designated BDS as anti-Semitic and supported denying state funds to anyone who calls for a boycott of Israel or questions its right to exist, the motion was not binding.

However, criticism of Israel and particularly support for its boycott are highly taboo in Germany.

"We had to decide quickly how to handle the protest against the realisation of this event," a university spoksperson told +972, confirming that the college had withdrawn funding due to last year's anti-BDS resolution.

The decision to withdraw funding for The School for Unlearning Zionism programme is particularly problematic, said Professor Mathias Jud.

Jud is a visiting professor at the Weissensee Kunsthochschule who has been overseeing the work of Israeli students researching "unlearning Zionism".

The German parliament's "resolution states explicitly that you cannot cancel Jewish events. It is explicitly against the boycotts of events by Jews", the professor said.

Yehudit Yinhar, one of The School for Unlearning Zionism's founders, said the programme had nothing to do with BDS.

"The practice of unlearning is related to looking at power relations and your own role within them. In order to dismantle hegemony and be partners in struggles for equality within spaces where power relations are not equal and privilege is a resource, we must have this conversation amongst ourselves," Yinhar told +972.

"Really important moments of growing and learning together have been happening in this space, and then this institution comes and says, 'we need you to talk differently or go back to Israel where it's not a problem. But you can't be like that here. That doesn't work with our story, we own your history'. German policy is turning us into good or bad Jews," she added.

Earlier this month, Israel's embassy in Germany claimed the programme's name constituted an "embrace of anti-Semitism".

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