Statement on Kampnagel's international invitation policy in the context of the debate on the israeli-palestinian conflict

Hamburg, February 20, 2024

Since the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel on October 7 and the subsequent invasion of Gaza by the Israeli army, the violent conflict has continued to escalate. The suffering of Israeli and Palestinian civilians resonates around the world. In the maelstrom of indignation, political divisions often emerge, overshadowing the essential undivided empathy and the complexity of the discourse. In a heated public mood, we are experiencing a rise in anti-Semitism and racism on a daily basis.

The German state takes a clearly pro-Israeli stance and refers to Germany’s historical responsibility for the protection of Jewish life. Political voices affirm Israel's security as a fundamental German interest of state. At a cultural policy level, this has led to plans for the rapid introduction of legally binding regulations, such as anti-anti-Semitism clauses, which has sparked a debate on the preservation of democratic rights to freedom of art and expression.

In the context of this situation, internationally active cultural institutions are increasingly facing criticism regarding their invitation policies and are being urged to take a clear stance. Left-wing political groups that share a common discursive space and invoke the same basic values of solidarity, anti-discrimination, and unrestricted human rights are increasingly slitting apart and coming into conflict with each other.

Each group has its own coherent arguments. One group emphasizes criticism of anti-Semitism and accuse others of applying anti-Semitic double standards when it comes to Israel. It classifies movements such as BDS as anti-Semitic, demands a clear commitment to Israel's right to exist, and points to Germany's special responsibility in light of the Shoah.

The other group argues that criticism of racism is dismissed by labeling any critique of Israel's policies as anti-Semitic, suppressing discussions on the oppression of Palestinians, and promoting right-wing, anti-Muslim sentiments. This group deplores a climate of "silencing," canceling pro-Palestinian voices, and especially targeting people of color.

We also experience such discursive dynamics and the demand for positioning within the Kampnagel organization. Our challenge here is the ongoing search for common ground to collectively resist right-wing ideologies and violence, which continue to pose the greatest danger to Jewish and migrant communities. Polarization and division play into the hands of right-wing forces.

Dialogue is essential for this search, and we are convinced that dialogue is the basis of international work. Those who call for boycotts, disinvitations, and cancellations are calling for the termination of talks, exchange, and understanding. This applies equally to calls against collaboration with Israeli artists and artists with pro-Palestinian positions.

For Kampnagel, this means that we will continue to include artists in our program whose fundamental values align with ours, even if they occasionally express attitudes that we do not endorse, such as endorsing boycott movements. It is precisely now that we have to endure such positions and actually take them as an opportunity for dialogue and debate if we want to take democratic freedom of art and expression seriously. With additional event formats, we will seize opportunities to invite people to these dialogues and facilitate encounters. It is important to us that Kampnagel guarantees the highest level of protection for everyone present.

We are also aware that there are clear red lines when it comes to anti-Semitism and racism. These results stem from the diverse perspectives of those affected by discrimination, which we actively incorporate into our work. This is what our mission statement stands for: opposing any ideology that despises humanity.

In the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict, this entails on the one hand: no justification or glorification of Hamas' violent actions, no denial of Israel's right to exist, no assigning collective guilt to "the Jews" for Israel's state policies, and no devaluing of Jews based on their Jewish identity. On the other hand: no general condemnation of solidarity with Palestine or calls for Germany to assume historical responsibility for the situation of the Palestinians. There should be no collective guilt of the Palestinians for the crimes of Hamas, no admission of racism, and no blanket portrayal of Muslims as fanatical.

A certain tolerance for ambiguity is essential, along with a clear approach to red lines, in order to remain an open house in the future. This approach resolutely opposes destructive and violent forces from outside and sees dialogue as the driving force behind its work.