Envoy gets anti-Israel talk at Berlin Jewish museum canceled

The slated talk was to be delivered by the US-based academic Sa’ed Atshan who said in 2014: “We all know Israel is an apartheid state and should be boycotted.”

July 23, 2018 20:07
3 minute read.
A MAN wearing a kippa waits for the start of a demonstration against antisemitism at Berlin’s Brande

A MAN wearing a kippa waits for the start of a demonstration against antisemitism at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate in 2014. (photo credit: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS)


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After Jeremy Issacharoff, Israel’s ambassador to Germany, complained to the head of the Jewish Museum in Berlin about a hardcore anti-Israel speaker, the museum’s director pulled the plug on the academic’s talk this month.

The slated talk was to be delivered by the US-based academic Sa’ed Atshan, a Swarthmore College professor of Peace and Conflict Studies in Pennsylvania, who said in 2014: “We all know Israel is an apartheid state and should be boycotted.”

Ambassador Issacharoff told the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung that he welcomed the decision of the museum to cancel Atshan’s talk. “Atshan is very closely connected with BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions]” and “he is not a person who wishes to build bridges of understanding with Israel.”

BDS is a campaign that advocates diplomatic, cultural, political and economic warfare against Israel.

Atshan was scheduled to give a talk called “On Being Queer and Palestinian in East-Jerusalem” as part of the museum’s ongoing exhibit “Welcome to Jerusalem.”

Volker Beck, a Green Party politician and lecturer in the Center for Religious Studies at Ruhr University in Bochum, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that when the items about Atshan’s support for BDS on the Internet are accurate – including calling Israel an apartheid state – “it was right to disinvite him.” Beck, who is a leading figure in the German LGBT movement, added that he “who himself belongs to a boycott movement, should not complain when he is boycotted.” Beck said a speaker like Atshan “has no place in a publicly funded institution and has nothing to do with a critical dealing with Israel’s policies and the fight for the rights of Palestinians.”

Dr. Elvira Groezinger, the chairwoman of the German branch of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told the Post that: “The decision of the Jewish Museum in Berlin to cancel the talk by Saed Atshan is justified, as the speaker is a renowned anti-Israel activist supporting the BDS groups aiming at the destruction of what Atshan regards as an apartheid state.” She added that “It is a good signal for the Museum, which gave the impression of an Anti-Jewish Museum in past years, especially after the heavily criticized recent Jerusalem Exhibition there.

“Let us hope, the Museum’s anti-Zionist orientation has finally come to an end,” she said.

The museum director Peter Schäfer’s decision to cancel Atshan’s talk is a potent new setback for BDS in Berlin and anti-Israel employees at the museum. BDS has been viewed as adding to a growing hatred of Jews in the capital city.

Israel’s embassy complained previously in 2012 to the museum’s management for hosting a US academic, Judith Butler, who supports BDS and praised the US-classified Islamic terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah as “progressive.”

The embassy said at the time: “We regret that the Berlin Jewish Museum decided to hold a discussion event, which posed the question about the identity of the Jewish state. Similar discussions are not conducted about any other state on the planet.”

 The Israeli Embassy continued that it was “astonished that exactly this museum would provide a stage to a person who called for an academic and cultural boycott against Israel… In the name of freedom of opinion the Jewish Museum offered a forum to a person who supports a boycott against Israel and therefore calls for Israelis to be boycotted because they are Israelis.”

The embassy added that it hoped the museum, with a view toward the future, would invite speakers who show different views other than calls to boycott Israel. The museum took the complaints of the embassy in 2018 seriously.

Writing last year in the Jewish Exponent, Asaf Romirowsky, the executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, called Atshan “a well-known advocate for BDS” who “has also been active with SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine], whose parent organization, American Muslims for Palestine, was recently shown to be connected to the same American Muslim Brotherhood supporters who funded Hamas through the Holy Land Foundation, and which has trained its activists in ‘Countering Normalization of Israeli Oppression on Campus.’’’

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