Musicians boycott Berlin festival backed by Israel

Several artists have withdrawn from Berlin’s Pop-Kultur festival this month to protest its renewed sponsorship by the Israeli government.

Their actions came in response to a call from Palestinians “to distance themselves from the festival’s intentional whitewashing of its partner Israel’s apartheid regime and massacres in besieged Gaza,” PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, said.

Israel has funded Pop-Kultur in previous years, but not since 2019. At least 15 performers have pulled out of the annual festival since 2017, heeding Palestinian calls for solidarity.

“The festival shamefully concealed the resumption of its years-long partnership with apartheid Israel, only announcing it days before artists were due to arrive,” PACBI said.

This was “a futile attempt to prevent such principled actions of solidarity from festival artists.”

French musician Lafawndah was the first to withdraw last week, citing Israel’s latest killing spree in Gaza earlier this month.

“By continuing its partnership with Israel, Pop-Kultur knowingly whitewashes these crimes,” Lafawndah said on Instagram.

“The festival’s stance is an effective show of support for racism, colonial brutality and murder, despite its savvy marketing language touting inclusion, diversity and tolerance.”

Trustfall, a musician performing with Lafawandah, also withdrew.

Trustfall called Pop-Kultur’s decision to partner with the Israeli embassy in Germany as “tantamount to entrapment” as it compromises “the ethics and livelihoods of many artists.”

British artist Alewya followed suit, as did musicians Franky Gogo, Gista and Xenia Rubinos. Trustfall warned others “to be on the watch for anything Klaus Lederer is involved in.”

Lederer is the Berlin deputy mayor and heads the committee that organizes the festival.

He called the boycott call by Palestinian civil society “disgusting,” adding that he was all the happier that the Israeli embassy in Germany was supporting the event.

Lederer smeared the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as anti-Semitic.

“Under the very thin cloak of criticism of the policies of the State of Israel, BDS caters to massively anti-Semitic patterns of thought and interpretation,” he wrote on Twitter.

In her opening night speech, German culture minister Claudia Roth attacked the artists who took the principled decision to withdraw.

“This festival is not a parade ground for guerrilla fighters,” she reportedly said.

“Anyone who boycotts ends every dialogue and every argument,” Roth said, according to the culture ministry. “We will not tolerate the kind of authoritarian pressure that BDS activists consistently direct against anyone who doesn’t share their views.”

This is an Orwellian reversal of reality. Palestinians have absolutely no means to pressure or force artists not to participate. Palestinians make a call for solidarity and artists decide whether to answer it based on whether they are convinced by the arguments.

It is the German government and its institutions that relentlessly bully, smear and punish anyone who supports Palestinian rights.

It is Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, which in 2019 passed a resolution equating BDS with anti-Semitism and calling on all public bodies to deny supporters of the campaign public funding and space.

Roth, notably, is a member of the same government that immediately ordered German universities to halt all research and academic ties with their Russian counterparts, following the invasion of Ukraine in February.

The Palestinian-led boycott campaign of Israel is modeled on the economic, cultural, academic and sporting boycott that helped end apartheid in South Africa.

The BDS movement explicitly opposes all forms of bigotry, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.