German Jewish museums need an advisory council

The government-run museums of Germany would be well-served with an outside advisory committees to offer some oversight.

By CHARLES O. KAUFMAN
July 24, 2019 21:25
3 minute read.
German Jewish museums need an advisory council

Jewish Museum Munich. (photo credit: CHUMWA/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Yet another Jewish museum in Germany has entered the arena of producing anti-Israel exhibitions. 
 
Weeks ago, the Berlin Jewish Museum and its director were exposed for promoting BDS, an antisemitic strategy used to demonize Jews and Israel. More recently, Jewish Museum Munich chose to address settlement controversies in Israel by injecting them into Bedouin issues in the Negev, in the south of Israel. 
 
Settlement issues typically revolve around small communities in disputed territories in Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank, including extended reaches of east Jerusalem. 
 
On its face, the context of the Bedouin is a distortion of the facts, much less the truth. It is the kind of false narrative that is intended to misinform and cast false impressions on impressionable people with little or no understanding of the area’s history.
 
The Bedouin population, going back just to the Ottoman Empire, has been a nomadic, tribal community. Fast forward to modern times. Bedouin are Israeli Arabs once chased from the new State of Israel when Arab neighbors attacked the newly partitioned state in 1948. But since 1948, Bedouin have dramatically repopulated Israel. Many of them are proud Israelis, with a small number of them actually serving in the Israeli army despite outside Arab pressure not to do so. 
 
As Israeli citizens, they receive the rights and freedoms of national citizens. Yes, there are economic and social problems in the flow of politics that are inevitable in a thriving democracy in a country with a growing population. The State of Israel attempts to address some of these issues through economic development. However, for a museum to tie these realities in such a distorted context with the settlement debate related to Palestinians in disputed territories is hardly the type of exhibition one would expect in a Jewish museum. This is shameful and further embarrassment for the museum community in Germany, not just in Munich.
 
The government-run museums of Germany would be well-served with an outside advisory committees to offer some oversight that would ensure that historical and cultural subjects are treated accurately and intelligently. What has happened in Berlin and now Munich indicates a gap, if not a void, in differentiating fact from opinion, politics from history. 
 
History cannot be ignored or rewritten. With information and disinformation traveling at warp speed and accelerated through social media, the opportunity and inclination to question history is overwhelming the ability simply to understand history – one based on true facts. 
 
The propaganda exhibitions in recent months in Berlin and now Munich Jewish museums invite viewers to question and impulsively revise history, replete with falsehoods. These are nothing short of blood libels in sophisticated wrapping. That this brilliant scandal finds its way into a Jewish museum is the kind of strategy that would make propaganda mastermind Joseph Goebbels proud.
 
Some people have suggested that museum directors who are Jewish would remedy these problems. This view is merely superficial and, frankly, naïve and insulting. Jewish or non-Jewish, the directors of Jewish museums have to be excellent administrators and carry out the mission of the museum with the highest level of integrity. They also must hire equally skilled and knowledgeable curators. 
 
Some observers see attendance alone as a measure of success for these museums. Not necessarily. Interesting, relevant, quality exhibitions and curious visitors are elements of attracting large audiences. Regardless of whether information is imparted through displays, exhibits or programs, even with controversial topics, visitors will come once and return only if content is presented honestly and truthfully. 
 
Violate the trust of a museum’s audience and the spaces will fall empty and silent. The doors most certainly will close. These are Jewish museums in countries where Jewish history runs very deep. When they falter or fail, guess where the blame will fall. 
 
The writer is president of B’nai B’rith International.


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