Art Inhibition

Germany’s “special responsibility” for Israel stifles its art scene

Palestinian-Syrian poet Ghayath Almadhoun at the "We Still Need to Talk" protest in Berlin on 10 November 2023. The launch of an anthology of poetry edited by Almadhoun was abruptly cancelled by Berlin’s Haus für Poesie. The cancellation is an early example of silencing of voices in Germany’s cultural sphere since the 7 October attack by Hamas on Israel and the consequent ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza. IMAGO / Alamy Photo
31 December, 2023

On 12 October, the Palestinian-Syrian poet Ghayath Almadhoun received an email from Haus für Poesie—House for Poetry—a centre for literature in Germany’s Berlin. For the last two years, Almadhoun had been working with the institution on compiling an anthology of poetry with 34 writers of Arab descent based in Europe. Kontinentaldrift: Das Arabische Europe—Continental Drift: The Arab Europe—was slated for a launch on 11 December. The email, however, informed Almadhoun that this event had been cancelled.

“They told me that they had run into end-of-the-year issues with the budget and had to cancel the book launch, after having confirmed the event plan just one week ago,” Almadhoun told me. “In their cancellation email, they did not mention the possibility of rescheduling or apologise at all.” Haus für Poesie reiterated to me that the launch was cancelled due to budget issues, alongside three other events.

The cancellation is an early example of a drastic silencing of voices seen in Germany’s cultural sphere since the 7 October attack by Hamas on Israel and the ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Artists, writers, scholars and activists across the country have faced de-platforming, disinvitations and denunciations in the German press over support for Palestine and criticism of Israel.

Institutions at first cited sensitivity towards the war as a reason for cancelling specific events. The Frankfurt Book Fair announced, on 13 October, that it was cancelling the prize ceremony for the Palestinian writer Adania Shibli, who had been awarded Germany’s LiBeraturpreis for her novel Minor Detail, “due to the war started by Hamas.” Similarly, the Federal Agency for Civic Education stated, on 24 October, that it was acting “proactively” in cancelling the symposium “We Still Need to Talk: Towards a Relational Culture of Remembrance.” The conference had been organised by the South African artist Candice Breitz and the US academic Michael Rothberg, the chair of Holocaust Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Breitz and Rothberg, who are both Jewish, wrote in response, “We find it short-sighted and regrettable to cancel a symposium that was to focus discussion on crucial questions related to genocide, political violence, antisemitism, racism and the strengthening of intersectional solidarities, at the very moment in which such conversations—no matter how difficult—are more necessary and urgent than ever.”