Germany's president censures antisemitism during major art show

Exhibits at this year's documenta fifteen art show include a pig labeled "Mossad" and an Orthodox Jew labeled "SS."

 German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier attends a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, April 8, 2022. Lehtikuva/Markku Ulander via REUTERS. (photo credit: Lehtikuva/Markku Ulander via REUTERS.)
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier attends a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, April 8, 2022. Lehtikuva/Markku Ulander via REUTERS.
(photo credit: Lehtikuva/Markku Ulander via REUTERS.)

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has urged the organizers of this year's documenta fifteen art show to do more to stop the antisemitism allegations surrounding the high-profile event.

Steinmeier said on Saturday at the show opening that "there are limits” to what artists can do when they address political issues. The show, which runs every five years in the German city of Kassel, a sleepy town turned center of the art world every five years,  is considered a major event in the international art calendar. It is curated this year by the Indonesian group Ruangrupa, who reportedly invited organizations from developing countries who support a boycott of Israel. Exhibits included a pig labeled “Mossad” and an Orthodox Jew labeled “SS.” 

 A German and an Israeli flag are pictured in front of the warship ''Atzmaut'' (Independence, in Hebrew), built by a German company ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), during a handover ceremony, in Kiel, Germany July 27, 2021.  (credit: REUTERS/FABIAN BIMMER) A German and an Israeli flag are pictured in front of the warship ''Atzmaut'' (Independence, in Hebrew), built by a German company ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), during a handover ceremony, in Kiel, Germany July 27, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/FABIAN BIMMER)

A common theme of the show's exhibits reportedly address issues of colonialism. 

World Jewish Congress reaction 

In a letter on Tuesday, World Jewish Congress Executive Vice President Maram Stern thanked Steinmeier for calling on the organizers of the art event to recognize the existence of the State of Israel is non-negotiable, and that a boycott of the Jewish state is essentially denying its right to exist.

"Your words will be heard by the Jewish community worldwide."

Maram Stern, World Jewish Congress Executive Vice President

“I thank you for your groundbreaking words that a boycott of Israel would be tantamount to a denial of the existence of the Jewish state," Stern said. "You emphasized that the systematic exclusion of ‘independent Jews from Israel’ is a ‘strategy of exclusion and stigmatization’ that ‘cannot be separated from hostility towards Jews.’ … 

 “Your words will be heard by the Jewish community worldwide, in Germany, Israel and beyond. I trust that the course you have set with this speech will set the tone, not only for Germany and the world of art and culture, but also for the international community.”

An estimated 1 million people are expected to visit the documenta fifteen, which operates for 100 days.

Antisemitism on the rise in Germany 

The German government’s annual report on developments in extremism noted a nearly 29% increase in antisemitic crimes in 2021 over the previous year.