A guide at the Jewish Museum of Berlin has resigned in protest against what he calls “the crass political intervention by the German government and the State of Israel in the work of the museum”.
Writing in Israeli daily Haaretz to explain the reasons for his departure, Yossi Bartal said that he was “not interested in working for an institution that relinquishes its independence to serve the political interests of this or that state”.
Bartal – who has become the museum’s second high profile resignation in a week – took aim at Israeli officials who he believes are leading a campaign to censor and silence free speech in an attempt to shield Israel from criticism.
He also expressed outrage at the “firing” of his colleague Peter Schafer. Describing Schafer as one of “the most important scholars of Judaism in the world”, Bartal said that the former director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum was forced from his position because of an “aggressive campaign of ‘fake news’ conducted by the Israeli Ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, and Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany”.
Bartal provided details of attacks against the museum, which has been trying to guard its artistic and academic autonomy from Israel. Last year, Israel pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel to stop funding the Jewish Museum for holding an exhibition on Jerusalem, which “presents a Muslim-Palestinian perspective of the city”. According to Bartal, the exhibition in fact focused on “its significance to three religions” – Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
Opposition to the museum’s activities, Bartal says, “is based on a fervent rejection of democratic discourse and its [the Israeli Embassy’s] absolute conflation of the interests of the Israeli government with those of world Jewry”.
Bertal believes the Israeli ambassador and right-wing journalists are “running a toxic and untruthful campaign against museum staff.” He also accuses Israel’s Culture Minister, Miri Regev, of importing “fear-mongering” from Israel to Germany. He explains that Germany is uniquely susceptible to this “because of its great sensitivity to anti-Semitism and deep identification with Israel in the wake of the Shoah [Holocaust].”
This round of attacks on the museum which ultimately led to Bartal’s resignation began after Schafer tweeted an article from a German daily which cited an open letter signed by 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars urging lawmakers not to sign last month’s resolution declaring the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement anti-Semitic. It was this tweet which led to Schafer’s resignation.
Bartal also expressed concerns over the German bill against BDS, saying that the “accusations of anti-Semitism, which carry enormous weight in Germany, lead more and more to censorship and self-censorship”. He went on to explain that cultural institutions in Germany – which are supposed to provide a stage for critical positions – are being threatened financially and politically if they dare to host artists and musicians that express support for non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation.
The global opposition to BDS, Bartal says, is being run by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs and the Foreign Ministry, in cooperation with Jewish and right-wing organisations around the world. According to Bartal, these organisations “defame and slander anyone who refuses to join their campaign of incitement against human rights activists”. Bartal claims that their campaign led to the firing of Schafer for choosing to “defend the rights of Israeli academics to oppose the designation of the BDS movement as an anti-Semitic movement”.