U.S. Musician John Maus, Three U.K. Bands Boycott Berlin Music Festival Over Israeli Funding

Support for BDS and opposition to Israeli Embassy funding spur the indie music acts to pull out of Pop-Kultur; Palestinian group slams Israeli effort to 'art-wash' image

John Maus at Capitol Hill Block Party at Capitol Hill in Seattle, 2012.
Dave Lichterman / LAVID Photos

American singer and songwriter John Maus has canceled his appearance at Berlin’s Pop-Kultur music festival because the festival received financial support from the Israeli Embassy.

According to the Stereogum music website, the Berlin-based embassy contributed 1,200 euros ($1,400) to cover the travel expenses of several Israeli musicians slated to appear in the three-day festival, in August. As a result, in acknowledgement of its support, the embassy logo appeared on the festival website.

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In response, Maus, whose music is characterized by vintage synthesizer motifs, said he would not perform at the event because his band would “prefer not to play within a politicized setting,” as reported by the Resident Advisor website.

Maus is not the only artist to boycott Pop-Kultur. Three British groups – post-punk band Shopping, Richard Dawson and the Gwenno band – have also announced that they will not perform.

“As a band, Shopping is and will always be completely opposed to any form of oppression and discrimination, including homophobia, transphobia, colonialism and racism. We stand firmly against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. For these reasons, and in harmony with the principles of the nonviolent, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for Palestinian rights, we affirm our solidarity with the Palestinian call for BDS,” the band said, in a statement that appeared on the Artists for Palestine UK website.

Last year, eight individual performers and groups canceled their appearances at the Pop-Kultur event over Israeli Embassy funding, the website noted.

According Stereogum, the international BDS movement and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel asked the festival to discontinue its cooperation with the Israeli Embassy, and a number of other artists have been asked to cancel their participation in the festival.

“Israel seeks associations with international festivals, such as Pop-Kultur Berlin, to art-wash its image abroad in the explicit attempt to distract attention from its crimes against Palestinians,” PACBI said in a statement. “For a supposedly progressive festival to accept sponsorship from a decades-old regime of oppression and apartheid like Israel’s is unethical and hypocritical, to say the least.”

In response, the Pop-Kultur festival stated: “We are not intimidated by boycotts. If there are artists who don’t want to perform at our festival because we receive travel and accommodation support from the Israeli Embassy in Berlin, we very much regret that."

It added: “However, the boycott, the refusal to perform, is not our decision. We are always open to engaging in constructive dialogue. We believe that discourse and dialogue are the only means through which to deal with conflicts in this world. We as cultural workers have a special responsibility for establishing networks across borders, even when we disagree.”

Festival organizers said Israel’s was one of three embassies providing support for artists appearing at the event.