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Documenta Committee Resigns in Wake of Antisemitism Claims

After the scandals surrounding documenta 15, the art show is once again under fire. The committee responsible for selecting a new artistic director has resigned following accusations of antisemitism.

Following the scandal-hit 2022 edition of the documenta art exhibition, claims of antisemitism have again surfaced as preparations begin for the next installment of the event, which is held every five years.

After Indian curator, art critic and poet Ranjit Hoskote was appointed to the six-member finding committee to choose the artistic director of documenta 16 — to be held in 2027 — it emerged that he had signed a 2019 statement by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. 

The Palestinian-led BDS movement promotes boycotts and economic sanctions against Israel “to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.” BDS was designated antisemitic by the German parliament in 2019. 

Claudia Roth, the German minister of state for culture, denounced the BDS letter signed by Hoskote as “clearly antisemitic,” a claim based in part on its calling Israel a “settler-colonial apartheid state.” BDS is modeled on the boycott movement that campaigned against apartheid in South Africa.

Hoskote has since resigned from the committee, and refused to distance himself from the statement he signed — as demanded by documenta managing director Andreas Hoffmann.

Israeli artist and writer Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger also resigned from the committee after her request for the process to be slowed in the wake of the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks was rejected.

Now, the rest of the committee — Simon Njami, Gong Yan, Kathrin Rhomberg, and María Ines Rodriguez — have announced their “collective resignation from this honorable task.” 

Antisemitism issue ‘misused for opinion politics,’ say former committee members

In a statement released on Friday, November 17, the former committee members justified their resignation in light of what they called an “emotional and intellectual climate of over-simplification of complex realities” in regards to accusations of antisemitism at documenta. 

This related not only to concerns over support for the BDS movement, but months of debate about depictions of antisemitic cliches in the works of Ruangrupa, the Indonesian curatorial group behind last year’s documenta festival.

While the outgoing committee members acknowledged that “Germany has distinct social and political responsibilities,” and that “alarming signs of deep-rooted antisemitism are once again making themselves felt around the world,” they feared the issue has been “misused for opinion politics.”

“In the current circumstances we do not believe that there is a space in Germany for an open exchange of ideas and the development of complex and nuanced artistic approaches that documenta artists and curators deserve,” stated the resignation letter.

Culture Minister Roth responded to the resignations on Friday, saying that “we now need a credible new start, for which documenta must also be repositioned with regard to its organizational structures.”

Art critic claims right to express ‘sympathy’ with Palestinians

In Rajit Hoskote’s resignation letter published on November 13, he wrote that he had “publicly spoken out against the intellectual and cultural boycott of Israel.” He also expressed his “wish to restate” his “highest regard for the Jewish people,” and his “deepest empathy with their historic sufferings and admiration for their glorious cultural achievements.”

But he also claimed that criticism of Israel is not antisemitic.

“I am being asked to accept a sweeping and untenable definition of antisemitism that conflates the Jewish people with the Israeli state, and that, correspondingly, misrepresents any expression of sympathy with the Palestinian people as support for Hamas,” he continued.

“My conscience does not permit me to accept this sweeping definition and these strictures on human empathy,” Hoskote wrote.

Federal government questions documenta subsidies

In her criticism of the BDS letter signed by Hoskote, Roth also questioned the federal government’s financial involvement in documenta.

Subsidies for the international art exhibition in Kassel, central Germany, will only be provided, Roth said, “if there is a joint plan and visible reform steps.” These include “clear responsibilities” and “a genuine opportunity for the federal government to participate and set standards to prevent antisemitism and discrimination.”

The federal government’s contribution to documenta 15 in 2022 amounted to €3.5 million ($3.8 million), while the two main shareholders — the city of Kassel and the state of Hesse — contributed €21.5 million.

Israeli artist stands down in wake of Hamas attacks

On November 10, Israeli artist Lichtenberg Ettinger, who is based in Paris and Tel Aviv, also resigned from the documenta finding committee.

Following the terror attacks by Hamas on October 7, she said it was not possible for her to participate in the selection of the next artistic director after a failed request for the process to be slowed down. She had not been able to personally attend a meeting of the committee a few days after the Hamas attacks after she was told her flight had been canceled.

In her resignation letter, the artist described a feeling of being “paralyzed under rockets” when attending a meeting via video.

She described “the details of the massacre committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians, women, and babies … being streamed on my screen during our lunch and coffee breaks, just a few days after the massacre by Hamas that began the tragic war.”

“The situation in the Middle East is tragic from all angles,” she added. “Innocent civilians suffered and died, and my heart cries for each dead on all sides: Palestinians and Israelis. Every life is precious.”

Source : bbc