Melodie & Rhythmus

»German McCarthyism«

15.04.2019 18:10
Foto (Montage): dpa/Johannes Eisele; EPA/Atef Safadi/dpa

Foto (Montage): dpa/Johannes Eisele; EPA/Atef Safadi/dpa

Defamation and canceled shows: German politicians and a right opportunist techno club scene employ harsh methods against international artists who show solidarity with Palestine

Matthias Rude & Valery Renner

On September 12th 2018 the British DJ Ben UFO set off a heated dispute within the German club scene when he posted an inconspicuous picture on Instagram. It read: »As long as the Israeli government continues its brutal and sustained oppression of the Palestinian people we respect their call for a boycott of Israel as a means of peaceful protest against the occupation.« Using the hashtag #DJsForPalestine, Ben UFO emphasized that he sees his statement as a consequence of his general anti-racist stance. More than hundred musicians and producers joined the cause, including some of the scene’s big names: Four Tet, The Black Madonna, Caribou, Laurel Halo. The initiative arose from the artists themselves, independent of but in reference to campaigns like »Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions« (BDS). These campaigns, which see themselves in the tradition of the international movement against Apartheid in South Africa, are controversial in Germany.

When the Israeli embassy gave financial support to selected artists of the Berlin Pop-Kultur festival in 2017, eight bands – from the Arab region, Great Britain and Finland – withdrew their participation. For this decision they were blasted by the German media. Another fact was left unmentioned: Also seven German and international Jewish as well as Israeli organizations support this kind of boycott, for example the Jewish Voice for Peace network. One year later, in 2018, critical Jews released a hailstorm of protest on the Netanjahu PR of the Pop-Kultur festival: »Accepting support from the Israeli government plays into the hands of their well known ›Brand Israel‹ propaganda strategy, which uses art in order to whitewash their continued breaches of international law«, explained the Jüdische Stimme für gerechten Frieden in Nahost, the German section of the Europan Jews for a Just Peace confederation.

Although the initiators consistently condemn any form of antisemitism and speak out against equating Israel with Judaism, their calls for boycott were discussed under the headline »Special Topic Antisemitism« in the 2017 annual report of Berlin’s interior intelligence service. The Scottish hip-hop trio Young Fathers, that canceled its gig at the Pop-Kultur festival that year, was temporarily uninvited from the Ruhrtriennale in 2018 as a result. In an open letter, 80 international artists and intellectuals, including Patti Smith, Noam Chomsky and Angela Davis, called the actions against the Young Fathers »a particularly alarming form of censorship, ›blacklisting‹ and repression«.

Berlin’s culture senator Klaus Lederer of the left-wing party Die Linke however toed the line drawn by the interior intelligence service and the increasingly aggressive pro-Netanjahu pressure groups when six acts canceled their participation in the Pop-Kultur festival 2018. In a public »discussion« about the boycott – which took place at the beginning of the festival and without voices from the Palestinian side or any other oppositional position invited – he called BDS and the apartheid accusations against Israel voiced by Jewish left-wing members in the audience »structurally antisemitic«.

Seth Joshua Horvitz aka Rrose, who supports #DJsForPalestine and has been threatened with sanctions, is shocked by the identification of left-wing solidarity towards Palestine with antisemitism – in his opinion a completely false association: »It is very common in Germany, but nowhere else where I have played.«

This is especially the case in the German capital. The local techno club scene – a regular recipient of subsidies from the culture senator’s »Musicboard« and on its way to becoming a business worth millions – seems to have immediately understood the signals from above. When the queer-feminist group Room 4 Resistance shared the #DJsForPalestine picture on their Facebook page in September 2018, they got an immediate reaction from the Berlin club About Blank, where Klaus Lederer likes to go dancing according to the people running the club. About Blank canceled an upcoming party the collective had announced for three days later and left them stranded with the expenses already incurred. Calls to boycott Israel, the club stated, had an »antisemitic character« and were comparable to the »Don’t buy from Jews«-campaigns the Nazis launched. The original event was replaced by a party under the motto »Shit is fucked!«. But Room 4 Resistance has not been deterred: The collective »stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people and strongly against the conflation of criticising the state of Israel and the occupation of Palestine with antisemitism«, the statement given to M&R reads. »In future we hope to see more focus on listening to all Palestinian voices and experiences, and to see less attention given to the institutions and spaces who choose to exclude those voices along with the artists, activists, academics, civil right leaders and all those who support equal rights for Palestinians.«

But the right opportunist tendencies in the club scene are no longer satisfied with marginalization – they aim to demonize and criminalize civil resistance. For example, in reaction to the events in Berlin Leipzig’s club Institut für Zukunft (IfZ) claimed that activists of the boycott campaign were close to »positions held by the terror organization Hamas«. While the cultural center Conne Island, also based in Leipzig, sees no problem in inviting a speaker who agitates against the »political left-wing cartel« and describes the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) as »sole voice of remaining reason«, at the same time it categorically refuses a discussion with BDS-activists for a podium under the title »Cultural Boycott Against Israel? #shitisfucked!«. Taking part was Volker Beck, member of the party Die Grünen, who demanded that no rooms should be given »to BDS organizations, including those who don’t carry that name but in fact mainly are by their identity«.

Banning from venues and withdrawal of gig opportunities have already become common practice in a time of »German McCarthyism«, which is how international artists and the Israeli left like to call the increasingly thorough cleansing that is happening in the pop-cultural landscape of the country of perpetrators – a cleansing of opponents to the policy of occupation and displacement provided by the Netanjahu government.

»A thuggish, cowardly, draconian culture of blacklisting is growing in Germany«, the electronic avant-garde project Jerusalem in My Heart warned at the end of January and reported about random accusations of antisemitism that had been used in order to justify the cancelation of a gig that had already been agreed to in Leipzig’s club Mjut. It was apparently no different for the US-American musician Hiro Kone. According to her she was not allowed to perform in Pracht, another Leipzig club, because she is part of #DJsForPalestine.

The Canadian DJ Ciel has made similar experiences with Hamburg’s Golden Pudel Club. A crew called Possy which organizes parties at this venue »completely canceled« her show after she had attested Headshell, another event team active at Golden Pudel Club, a »very unprofessional behavior«. Headshell had publicly branded two female #DJsForPalestine artists, who had been booked by the crew before, as antisemites, and according to Ciel thereby pretty much »invited« people to bully and harass the musicians online – which finally should happen in a »threatening, militant and chauvinist rhetoric«. Entries in the comment section of Headshell’s Facebook page confirm her statement. A hater of Palestinians and leftists joined in on pillorying the DJs by projecting his German blitzkrieg fantasies onto the Middle East: »The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] are even more powerful than BDS will ever be. They have tanks and planes and are capable of kicking your ass whenever they want.«

Meanwhile the Golden Pudel Club takes refuge in conformist indifference and, from a political point of view, has gone into hiding. The people running the club weren’t involved in kicking her out, Ciel explains. However she assumes that they too are »against BDS, but being afraid to cause irritation within the growing movement in the international electro scene, they have decided to remain silent on this topic, doing nothing to help the female artists who were exposed to blacklisting«. This impression is underpinned by the reaction M&R received upon request for comment from the Golden Pudel Club: They stonewall, play down the issue, do not want to be quoted, preferably not even mentioned at all.

The IfZ in Leipzig is not any more talkative and »not interested« to give a statement. Hinting at M&R’s correspondence, they claim that already the use of the term »occupation policy« relating to the Netanjahu government is to be assessed as a »tendency« which they »are not in the mood for«. A justification that throws a light on the question where the club can be located politically. For that Palestine has been subject to an occupation regime, namely in violation of international law for more than 60 years – this historical fact is usually only denied by fundamentalist Christians, ultra-right national religious settler movements in Israel and pro-Western fascists all over the world.

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