Artists Pull Out of Berlin Culture Festival Due to Israeli Embassy Funding

Several acts drop out after Pop-Kultur festival publishes embassy's logo on website as part of 500 euros it contributed to help fund Israeli artists' costs

Young Fathers
Young Fathers Facebook

Several participants have pulled out of a Berlin music festival this week after it accepted 500 euros in funding from the Israeli Embassy in Germany.

The Pop-Kultur festival runs from August 23-25 in the German capital, and features live music, exhibits, talks and readings. According to its official website, over 70 events are set to take place over the three days.

Last week, though, the festival organizers released a statement (in German), noting that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement had put "immense pressure on all Arab artists in our line-up" to withdraw.

It noted that four artists from Arab countries had canceled, including Abu Hajar, Emel Mathlouthi and Hello Psychaleppo.

The festival noted that it had Israeli artists in the program, just as it had artists from "Tunisia, Syria, Russia, Poland, the U.K. and other countries." It also noted that the "cultural department of the Israeli Embassy gave us 500 euros [$590] as travel costs for artists, and is therefore listed on our website, like all other cultural partners."

This week, European artists have also announced their withdrawal due to the Israeli Embassy donation.

Scottish band Young Fathers tweeted on Wednesday: "Due to the addition of the Israeli governments [sic] logo to the list of partners and in solidarity with the Palestinian people, Young Fathers regrettably will not be performing at Pop Kultur festival in Berlin this week (25th August).

"Young Fathers have a long history of opposing any form of hatred including racism and anti-semitism and we support the principle of a peaceful solution that allows Palestinians the right to return to a safe homeland and that allows Israelis and Palestinians of all faiths (and none) to live together in peace.

"This is a very tiny act on our behalf in the grand scale of things but one we still believe is worth it," they added.

Artist Annie Goh also canceled her scheduled appearance on a panel discussion. She wrote on her Facebook page on Sunday: "As an artist and academic, I am taking a stand against participating in the festival due to its partial sponsorship by the Israeli embassy, in solidarity with Palestinians who have called for a boycott of Israeli state institutions until they adhere to international law."

She also criticized the festival organizers for their reaction to the news that she was withdrawing from the festival.

"Communication with festival organizers since my withdrawal has alluded to threats of violence against Israeli artists which are unfounded as BDS explicit [sic] foregrounds *non violent* protest," she wrote. "I am disappointed at the polarising language used in communications by Pop-Kultur to participants which unfairly depicts the BDS as putting pressure on Arab artists to boycott (this is not true) and warns us against their 'propaganda' and use of 'fake identities.' Whilst it helps that Pop-Kultur has clarified it is the modest sum of 500 euros they received from the Israeli embassy, whether 500 euros or 50000 euros no matter how big or small the sum is, it is nevertheless a political message which we have the option of acting upon."

Finnish black metal group Oranssi Pazuzu also dropped out of the festival on Tuesday.

It released a statement on its Facebook page, saying: "It has come to our attention that there has been a considerable controversy around the Berlin Pop-Kultur festival, an event which was presented as an artistic and cultural event, and where we were invited and have been scheduled to play this Wednesday. The extent of this controversy revolved around the partially [sic] funding of the festival, has resulted in giving a political character to the festival and therefore to all the artists participating.

"This makes the situation uncomfortable for us. For us music and our art are about expanding minds, not about ideologies.

"We do not want to endorse any state, governance or agenda; open or hidden," they added.

Last week, Pop-Kultur organizers concluded their statement by noting: "We believe that discourse and dialogue are the only way to deal with the conflicts in this world. As artists and cultural workers, we especially have the task of building networks across borders, even if we differ."

The controversy at Berlin mirrors similar protests by the BDS movement in recent years, including at events such as the Edinburgh international and fringe festivals.

Young Fathers, a hip-hop trio, was one of the bands calling on Radiohead to cancel its concert in Tel Aviv last month. That concert went ahead as scheduled, but not before an ugly Twitter feud broke out between Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and Roger Waters.

Radiohead's Thom Yorke performing in Tel Aviv, July 19, 2017.
Liron Schneider and Ariel Ephron

Another prominent pro-BDS activist, Thurston Moore, also tweeted his support for the artists who have dropped out, writing: "Solidarity with the 6 artists who have so far cancelled [sic] their appearances: Withdraw yr Israeli embassy partnership!"