June 18, 2019; Hyperallergic
Hyperallergic reports that the director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum, Peter Schäfer, resigned on Friday after Twitter users complained that he shared an article that questioned the characterization of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic.
The article in question reported on an open letter written by 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars which protested the then-proposed resolution in the German parliament to condemn the BDS movement as anti-Semitic. The open letter, signed by 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars, urged German lawmakers to vote against the measure.
The letter reads, in part:
In Mid-May, Jewish and Israeli scholars, many of whom specialized in anti-Semitism, Jewish history and history of the Holocaust, sounded alarm about the growing tendency to label supporters of Palestinian human rights as anti-Semitic. They did so in a call addressed to the German Bundestag in relation to several motions that were being tabled against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). Many of us signed this call…we call on the German government not to endorse this motion and to fight anti-Semitism, while respecting and protecting freedom of speech and of association, which are undeniably under attack.
As expressed in the earlier statement, we view anti-Semitism and all forms of racism and bigotry as a threat that must be fought, and we encourage the German government and parliament to do so. However, the adopted motion does not assist this fight. On the contrary, it undermines it.
The opinions about BDS among the signatories of this call differ significantly: some may support BDS, while others reject it for different reasons. Yet, we all reject the deceitful allegation that BDS as such is anti-Semitic and maintain that boycotts are a legitimate and non-violent tool of resistance.
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The BDS movement seeks to influence the policies of the government of a state that is responsible for the ongoing occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people. Such policies cannot be immune to criticism. In this context, it should also be noted that many Jewish and Israeli individuals and groups either support BDS explicitly, or defend the right to support it. We consider it inappropriate and offensive when German governmental and parliamentary institutions label them anti-Semitic. Moreover, the three main goals of BDS, ending the occupation, full equality to the Arab citizens of Israel and the right of return of Palestinian refugees adhere to international law, even if the third goal is undoubtedly debatable. We are shocked that demands for equality and compliance with international law are considered anti-Semitic.
The museum has come under periodic attack around its willingness to entertain dialogue on the subject of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. In 2017, it got blowback after it staged an exhibition called Welcome to Jerusalem, which showed works on that city’s political and religious tensions by both Israeli and Palestinian artists. In 2018, the publication TAZ reported that the Israeli government sent a letter demanding that the museum’s funding be cut to German Chancellor Merkel. It demanded the defunding of 11 other NGOs at the same time.
“Enough is enough,” head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, said on [June 11th] in response to the Jewish Museum’s post. “The Jewish Museum appears to be completely out of control,” he wrote, adding that he’s no longer sure it is still “appropriate” to call the museum “Jewish.”
Schuster went on to say the museum has lost the council’s trust. Israel’s Ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, joined the criticism, calling the museum’s sharing of the open letter “shameful.”
Schäfer’s resignation letter said his leaving was meant “to prevent further damage to the museum.” In a statement, Schuster shamefully called it “an important step.” The intellectual dishonesty of the anti-BDS movement, which freely employs charges of anti-Semitism against anyone who disagrees with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, is a dangerous path not only for Palestinians, but for Jews everywhere.
We have written on a number of occasions about the use of accusations of anti-Semitism to smear Black scholars and activists. One example from this year was Angela Davis, who was to have been honored by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute for her work for human rights until her past support of the BDS movement drew these kinds of critiques. The Institute withdrew the award to great outcry, though they subsequently restored it, and Davis has participated in the community’s attempts to heal the divisions caused. Still, how much more of this must we see before we join these scholars in protesting this terrible cynical practice at every turn?—Ruth McCambridge