This article has been updated since initial publication.
Four acts have now pulled out of Berlin’s Pop-Kultur music festival because it is co-sponsored by the Israeli embassy.
Abu Hajar said he had been invited to perform later this month at the festival along with fellow musician Jemik Jemowit, and that the pair had “worked for a long time together in order to prepare a new music project that includes their music in addition to their critiques towards the ‘welcoming culture, the whiteness of Germany, the fortress Europe.’”
But after learning of the Israeli sponsorship, Abu Hajar said, “It did not take us a minute to know what we had to do; we will not participate in a festival that accepts the partnership with an embassy representing a state and a government,” led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, “which openly declared on many different occasions anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-Black attitudes.”
Abu Hajar added that he sees the festival’s partnership with the Israeli embassy “as an attempt to whitewash the image of its government and an endorsement of its behavior.”
A similar statement appears on Mazzaj Rap Band’s website.
Abu Hajar received political asylum in Germany in 2014 and was previously jailed for his activism by the government in Syria.
No room for racism
Abu Hajar preempted counterarguments that the festival was designed to promote cultural exchange and discussion.
“Neo-Nazi, racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic bands should have no platform to promote their discriminatory attitudes and hate speech,” Abu Hajar said. “We would not consider the presence of such a band as an opportunity for a constructive exchange. Our refusal to share the platform with the representatives of an oppressive government is in line with the above understanding.”
“Our stand is not against a culture, but resistance against a discriminatory, colonial government,” Abu Hajar added, urging other artists to follow suit.
“We make it clear that through our music, we seek to resist violence, persecution and discrimination of any kind against each other,” the band added.
And on Monday, the Syrian DJ and producer Samer Saem Eldahr, who goes by the name Hello Psychaleppo, became the third act to pull out over the Israeli sponsorship.
“At the time of my agreement to participate in the festival over couple of months ago, sponsors were not in place,” Eldahr, wrote.
On Tuesday, Emel Mathlouthi became the fourth act to pull out. “I was looking forward to playing later this month in Berlin, until I realized the festival is sponsored by the Israeli embassy,” the prominent New York-based Tunisian singer-songwriter wrote on Facebook. “When I agreed to do Pop-Kultur, the sponsors had not been announced.”
The Pop-Kultur festival bills itself as providing “artists from Berlin and the entire world the opportunity to create new art and showcase it as a world premiere on stage.”
But despite its edgy image, the festival boasts a range of official sponsors, including the Israeli embassy.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel calls for boycotting cultural events if they are “partially or fully sponsored by an official Israeli body” or other institution complicit in Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights.
Pop-Kultur also says it “emphasizes internationality and sexual diversity.”
Activists in Berlin have long protested Israel’s pinkwashing – the Israeli government’s use of its supposed support for LGBTQ people to market itself as “progressive” to Western audiences – and have sometimes been met with violence by Israel supporters.
Palestine solidarity activists and groups in Berlin and abroad have approached other artists slated to appear at the festival and called on them to reconsider their participation, which the activists say will doubtlessly be instrumentalized by the Israeli foreign ministry to advance its political aims.