Israel is demanding that Germany stop funding the Jewish Museum Berlin, an institution that has educated millions of people about the Jewish culture that the Nazis tried to exterminate.
The museum is one of dozens of cultural and human rights organizations Israel wants defunded because they allow free discussion of Palestine or criticism of Israel’s human rights record.
Israel wants the organizations muzzled as a condition of any future German funding.
Israel also wants funding stopped to the renowned Berlinale film festival and the Israeli publication +972 Magazine.
A copy of the seven-page letter was obtained by the German newspaper taz last month.
The letter accuses the Jewish Museum Berlin and the Berlinale of “anti-Israel activities.”
Although it had no letterhead, no addressee and was not signed, a German government spokesperson told taz that the Israeli government handed over information to German officials when they discussed support for nongovernmental organizations.
Writing at the World Socialist Web Site late last month, Sybille Fuchs cited reports that the letter was “personally handed over” to German officials by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But Gerald Steinberg, the head of NGO Monitor, denied having anything to do with the letter, according to taz.
In an open letter published by taz, dozens of Israeli artists urge the German government and parliament to reject the Israeli demands.
“We are shocked to hear that our prime minister and his government have demanded that the German government stop its support for the Jewish Museum in Berlin because of the latter’s special exhibition about Jerusalem,” the artists state. “This exhibition has been insincerely and incorrectly alleged to reflect a mainly Muslim-Palestinian narrative.”
“In recent years, we in Israel have witnessed myriad attempts by the government, in cooperation with populist and ultra-rightwing parties, to shrink the spaces of cultural expression and limit pluralist, critical discourse,” the Israeli artists add.
The Israeli government claims, according to taz, that the Jewish Museum Berlin only reflects a “Palestinian-Muslim view of Jerusalem” in its exhibition Welcome to Jerusalem.
Israel also accuses the museum of hosting supporters of BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – as speakers.
“We believe that an open discussion involving sometimes controversial views is essential to enable our visitors to form their own, differentiated judgment,” a museum spokesperson told taz.
Among the signatories are Micha Ullman, the artist who designed the Berlin memorial on the spot where in May 1933 Nazis burned 20,000 books.
The Israeli government letter characterizes German funding for civil society and human rights groups as unwarranted interference in Israel’s internal affairs.
For example the letter attacks +972 Magazine, which is funded through the Green Party-linked Heinrich Böll Foundation, because its writers “regularly accuse Israel of apartheid.”
The Böll foundation, which itself publishes propaganda promoting Israel as a “start-up nation” and disseminates “progressive” attacks on the nonviolent BDS movement for Palestinian rights, dismissed the claims in the Israeli government’s letter as “absurd.”
Israel also criticizes the Berlinale film festival for its alleged relationship with the BDS movement. It wants the German government to make future support conditional on the exclusion of BDS supporters.
The Israeli government may be irritated that British filmmaker Ken Loach was in 2014 awarded the Berlinale’s lifetime achievement award, the Golden Bear, and his films are often screened at the festival.
Loach is an outspoken supporter of the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.
The premiere of Palestinian director Raed Andoni’s documentary Ghost Hunting at the Berlinale in 2017 may also have caused annoyance.
The film shows how Israel tries to break the spirit of Palestinian prisoners with abuse and torture.
He also urged Germany to stop arming Israel.
But Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick is not giving in to Israeli pressure.
“The views can be controversial, but our job is to work for the freedom of art within the framework of democratic order,” Kosslick said.
The organizations under Israeli attack can draw some hope from a German federal government spokesperson who told taz that the “promotion of a vibrant civil society is a goal of German foreign and development policy.”
Protection of human rights and freedom of expression are basic principles, the spokesperson added.
Nonetheless, the Israeli government’s escalating demands for censorship come against a background of official intolerance and repression in Germany of free expression in support of full Palestinian rights.
As long as the German government “sticks to its principles” of nominal support for freedom of speech, the pressure from Israel “is likely to continue,” taz predicts.