Israeli artist warned in Germany not to support BDS

Woman lighting menorah candles

Israeli-German artist Nirit Sommerfeld rejects the Bundestag’s resolution equating BDS with anti-Semitism. (via

A German venue is warning an Israeli-German artist that her upcoming concert in Munich will be canceled if she expresses support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

The Gasteig cultural center sent a letter to Nirit Sommerfeld, a descendant of Holocaust survivors, demanding she not make anti-Semitic remarks or endorsements of BDS – conflating the two – during the 5 October concert.

“Should we find out that the content mentioned above is mentioned during the event, we would have to cancel the event,” the letter states.

The Klezmer musician responded by assuring the cultural center she has never discussed BDS on stage but is nevertheless appalled by their conflation of anti-Semitism with support for Palestinian rights.

“For years I have been using artistic means to promote justice in Israel and human rights for Palestinians. Is that enough to be suspected of anti-Semitism?” she states.

“May I remind you that I am a Jewish woman born in Israel, a daughter of a Holocaust survivor and a granddaughter of a grandfather murdered by anti-Semites in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp?”

Sommerfeld frequently tweets in support of Palestinian rights and has urged artists to respect the cultural boycott of Israel:

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

McCarthyite atmosphere

The Gasteig cultural center’s letter comes in the context of the Munich municipality’s 2017 decision to bar BDS supporters from using public venues.

Sommerfeld highlights in her response that she was one of 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars to sign a letter rejecting the recent resolution by Germany’s lower house of parliament equating BDS with anti-Semitism.

Although the Bundestag resolution is nonbinding, it fuels a McCarthyite anti-Palestinian atmosphere fostered by Germany’s media and elites.

Following the resolution, numerous cultural figures have been harassed or had their appearances at German events canceled over their support for Palestinian rights.

Last month, the northwestern German city of Dortmund rescinded an award from novelist Kamila Shamsie because of her support for BDS.

The jury of the Nelly Sachs Prize announced its decision after bloggers from the anti-Palestinian Ruhrbarone website accused her of anti-Semitism and charged the jury with promoting “the destruction of Israel.”

Shamsie responded by reaffirming her support for BDS.

“It is a matter of outrage that the BDS movement (modeled on the South African boycott) that campaigns against the government of Israel for its acts of discrimination and brutality against Palestinians should be held up as something shameful and unjust.”

Sommerfeld was among dozens of artists, writers and musicians who spoke out in solidarity with Shamsie.

Rescinding award

Similarly, the western German city of Aachen rescinded an award from Lebanese-American artist Walid Raad on Monday over his support for BDS.

Aachen’s mayor Marcel Philipp previously stated that Raad was “a supporter of the BDS movement and has been involved in various measures for the cultural boycott of Israel.”

Philipp called it an “anti-Semitic” movement.

But the museum that administers the Aachen Art Prize announced that it will grant Raad the $10,000 award after all.

The Ludwig Forum for International Art said it secured the funds independently from the city.

The museum reportedly disagreed with the city’s decision and found no evidence of anti-Semitism by Raad.

The extent of Raad’s public endorsement of BDS seems to be signing a 2014 open letter asking artists to withdraw from an exhibit at an Israeli university, according to the publication ARTnews.

Phillip said that Raad was “evasive” when asked about BDS and “could not distance himself” from the movement.




It seems incredible that the politicians driving this wave of censorship don't understand the negative impression they're generating. But that appears to be the case. In fixating on antisemitism they are consciously reminding observers of Germany's history of genocide. In doing so, the aim as stated is to discipline and immunise their own society as well as other nations against a resurgence of the despicable views that dominated Europe in the recent past. But at the same time they're also unconsciously calling to mind visible links to that era in their recent passage of laws criminalising speech and in particular suppressing the voices of Jews who dissent from established state policy. As more artists are banned, more publications censored, more bank accounts closed, more awards rescinded, more invitations revoked, more museum directors forced to resign- it's impossible not to hear the echoes of another Germany in another time.

And frankly, how honest is the commitment to extirpate racism when those enforcing these laws give wholehearted support to the one state organised precisely along hierarchical lines of race and religion, in a system the world knows as " apartheid"?


@Tom Hall: I would go a step further: with this insane, racist behaviour Germany is in effect its Nazi-style racist policies to continue. To put it a different way: by insisting on this nefarious conflation of human rights and antisemitism, Germany tries to appear to be atoning for its Nazi past and the horrors inflicted on Europe's Jews, but in reality it has not learned anything from that grizzly past and is supporting the preservation of those horror policies.

That is the most shameful behaviour of all the countries that blindly support "israel".


If anyone has read Nirit's statements, they will see how ludicrous, blind, and profoundly ignorant such threats are compared with her reasoning. It's dangerous for such ignorance to have power in any realm. Please, Germany, if you really want to maintain a serious face in the world, revise your condemnation of BDS support as antisemitic, there's abundant evidence that it's not, and your still singling out antisemitism because of your own past needs to be revised urgently in view of the far more prevalent forms of prejudice in today's world.


The anti-BDS laws are NOT "fixating on anti-semitism" they are clearing fixating on protecting the Zionist agenda and the racist policies of Israel from criticism.

By conflating this criticism with "anti-semitim" they are simply following Netanyahu's/Israel's "party-line", and risk violating basic democratic rights such as freedom of speech, only to protect Israel's supremicist goals.

A very dangerous situation, and hopefully enought people in Germany will wake up to this censorship before it gets out of hand. The reaction of the Ludwig Forum, awarding the Art Prize in spite of all the government pressure, is a positive sign that fear/hate will not always win, no matter how much the lobby is pushing this anti-BDS campaign. To understand the anti-BDS German hysteria, worth watching:


@Paul Dva: you stated "The anti-BDS laws are NOT "fixating on anti-semitism" they are clearing fixating on protecting the Zionist agenda and the racist policies of Israel from criticism."
The only way the Zionist agenda and racist policies can be protected is by using "antisemitism" as a weapon, in line with the Zionist defence, it is the "nuclear option" of "antisemitism" smear because those using that weapon have no real counter-arguments to justify the racist agenda and policies, so, their response: stifle all criticism of the racist entity.

Will enough people in Germany wake up to this censorship? Even if they do, I am pretty sure the overwhelming majority won't dare to utter a word because that collective feeling of guilt is still pervasive throughout German society. Merkel herself was born after WW2 but that feeling of guilt has still dictated her obsequiousness to "Israel", as well as that of that McCarthyite Bundestag vote.


Germany's efforts to muzzle the expressions of conscience and social justice of those who support the BDS movement is in line with similar efforts in the US and elsewhere in the world. In the tradition of burying one's head in the sand, if the world is not allowed to learn of the racist and supremacist policies of Israel, then they don't exist. But they do exist. I encourage everyone who cares about this issue to read the book Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism to learn from many courageous Jews who have come to recognize and openly protest the Zionist agenda. I also encourage people to read the many laws that discriminate against non-Jewish Israeli citizens (, while non-Jews in the occupied territories experience even far greater repression, confiscation, injuries and death in a system which people of conscience from South Africa recognize as far worse than the apartheid they experienced.


Guess that gives that old art slogan a sad new twist - they might not know much about art but they know what they don't like!

/ w apologies to Monty Python and the Pope / Sistine Chapel sketch.

Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.