Artists boycott Germany’s Ruhrtriennale for banning Palestinian rights

Rock legend Roger Waters has voiced support for Young Fathers after the group was banned from a German music festival for backing Palestinian rights.

This comes as other artists are expressing their solidarity with Young Fathers by pulling out of the Ruhrtriennale festival, which is sponsored by the government of North Rhine-Westphalia state.

And in the face of continued repression, activists and academics in France are escalating their protests against their government’s complicity in Israel’s massacres of Palestinians.

“First respect to the Young Fathers,” Waters tweeted, and asked why Ruhtriennale had decided to “distance itself in all forms from the BDS movement?”

Waters stated that the Palestinian-led BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – campaign is “an international nonviolent protest movement that seeks to promote equal human and civil rights for all people everywhere.”

Last week, the Ruhrtriennale festival canceled the scheduled August performance of acclaimed Scotland-based band Young Fathers because it would not renounce its support for BDS.

The band called it a “wrong and deeply unfair decision” to require artists to “distance ourselves from our human rights principles in order for the appearance to go ahead.”

Other artists agree. On Sunday, Beirut-based Sherif Sehnaoui, Mazen Kerbaj, Tony Elieh and Raed Yassin of the acts Wormholes and A Trio announced they were pulling out of their scheduled performances at Ruhrtriennale.

Their statement was joined by Cairo-based musician Hassan Khan, who is scheduled to perform at Ruhrtriennale along with Tarek Atoui in September. It is unclear if Atoui will go ahead solo.

“Unfortunately, under the present conditions, we will be unable to perform with a clear conscience in a context where our colleagues have been publicly punished for exercising their right in expressing a political position peacefully,” the five artists said.

Music journalist and BBC broadcaster Kate Molleson also slammed Ruhrtriennale’s cancellation of Young Fathers, tweeting that it amounts to “silencing the right of artists to voice political opinion and campaign for human rights.”

The decision “puts other artists at the festival in very tough position – some have already quit in solidarity,” Molleson observed.

Palestinian campaigners have called the decision “McCarthyism” and urged a boycott of Ruhrtriennale.

Young Fathers was targeted by the Ruhrtriennale organizers because last year the band was one of a number of acts that boycotted Berlin’s Pop-Kultur festival after it accepted sponsorship from the Israeli embassy.

Pop-Kultur is again facing a growing boycott this year because of its insistence on teaming up with the Israeli government.

German intolerance

The BDS movement aims to pressure Israel to respect Palestinian rights, including through boycotting Israeli government-sponsored cultural events, and the movement has clearly expressed its universalist anti-racist principles.

Yet Israel and its lobby groups try to portray BDS as illegitimate and smear people who use boycott tactics as being motivated by anti-Jewish hatred rather than opposition to Israel’s policies of military occupation, land theft for settler-colonialism, regular massacres of civilians and total system of apartheid over Palestinians.

The official intolerance for people who believe Palestinians deserve full and equal rights is especially strong in Germany, where elites channel their sense of guilt for the Nazi extermination of Jews into unquestioning support for Israel.

Roger Waters has himself been the target of smears in Germany. Last week he hit back at Dieter Reiter, the mayor of Munich, who accused the rocker of “anti-Semitic rabble-rousing” before he played a show in the city.

The mayor vowed Waters would not be allowed to play at the city’s Olympiahalle venue in the future.

Through a lawyer, Waters demanded that the smear be removed, but it remains on the city’s official website.

Last week, at a concert in the the French city of Nanterre, Waters had, to loud cheers, spoken publicly for the rights of the Palestinian people. He also condemned the prosecutions of BDS activists by French authorities, saying they were guilty of nothing more than what he was doing – urging peaceful civil society action to support Palestinian rights.

“So where are you les flics?” Waters said, using French slang for the police, “come on, take me to fucking prison.”

Watch the video at the top of this article.

Paris protests

State repression of Palestine solidarity activism was on full display Sunday, when Paris police forcibly prevented two boats that are part of a planned humanitarian flotilla to Gaza from mooring on the banks of the Seine, the publication Orient XXI reported.

Meanwhile, university professors are calling on the French Academy of Sciences to pull out of the Saison France-Israël – or France-Israel Season – a series of events sponsored by both governments to promote Israel’s image.

AURDIP, an academic group that supports Palestinian rights, is objecting to an event scheduled for 19 June featuring Nobel Prize winners, French students and personnel representing Israeli universities involved in arms research.

The event is “an exercise in political propaganda in support of Israel,” AURDIP stated.

“It is unacceptable to honor in this way a state that holds a population of two million in a ghetto and fires on the crowd when this population attempts to escape its trap,” AURDIP said, referring to Israel’s recent massacres of Palestinians in Gaza.

In Paris last week, BDS France activists protested at the government-sponsored Eurosatory arms fair.

Dozens of Israeli companies, including the maker of an assault rifle used to kill unarmed protesters in Gaza, were among the exhibitors.

Members of groups including Association France Palestine Solidarité and the Quakers also took part in the actions.

Protesters staged a “die-in” and chanted slogans calling for a military embargo on Israel and for Israel to stop testing weapons on Palestinians.

BDS France said that though their protest was highly visible to those attending the arms fair, many appeared “unmoved by our vigorous actions.”

However, one person attending quietly slipped the activists a note.

“Not all of us are the same, or maybe it’s just me,” the note said. “This is my job, but I’m with you. Free Palestine.”