For months, the Berlin cultural scene has been the site of bitter division over how to respond to the conflict in Israel and Gaza – with some left-wing spaces like Oyoun specifically targeted for their stance.
This culture war seemed to enter a new phase early this month, as Joe Chialo (CDU), the Berlin Senator for Culture and Social Cohesion signed a new anti-discrimination clause into effect. Immediately this proved controversial, with around 6,000 cultural workers signing an open letter opposing the measure.
Why was the new clause so controversial? What worried its opponents was the addition of a clause that required everyone applying for cultural funding in Berlin to adhere to the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which some argue limits legitimate criticism of the state of Israel.
But now, it seems, the state has backtracked. On Monday, January 22nd, it was announced that the anti-discrimination funding clause would be repealed with immediate effect.
Berlin’s Culture Senator Joe Chialo commented, this u-turn was made in order to “take seriously the legal and critical voices that saw the clause as a restriction on artistic freedom”.
legal and critical voices saw the clause as a restriction on artistic freedom
So does this mean that the strike is over? We’ll have to see how individual artists respond, but the organisers of the Strike Germany have also insisted that this is “just the beginning” as the clause has only been dropped in its “current form”.
This is a crucial point. As Berlin mayor Kai Wenger made clear in recent press conference, Berlin plans to come back to the measure on a new “legally secure” basis and even hopes to enshrine the fight against antisemitism into the Berlin constitution. “Our goal is clear,” he explained. “No money for antisemites.”
Exactly how this will be defined, however, remains under debate. According to activist groups like Strike Germany, the IHRA definition is still a federal guideline which restricts artists. As such, they have reiterated their continued calls for a boycott of publicly funded cultural institutions until they “refuse to police the politics of their artists”, as well as to commit to overturning the anti-BDS resolution, which opposes boycotts of Israel.
And it is not just publicly funded cultural institutions that have been caught up in calls for boycotts. Berghain was in the news recently when the DJ Arabian Panther accused the venue of cancelling their show due to the DJ’s stance on Palestine. Similarly, at the end of his set at SÄULE Berlinhe, the DJ Hoyah announced his decision to boycott Berghain, pointing to the venue’s lack of a statement on the conflict in Gaza.
So, while the funding clause may no longer be in effect, the sense of division in Berlin’s cultural scene looks set to continue.