Criticism of Israel or Blatant Anti-Semitism? BDS Movement Sets Sights on German Cultural Festivals


The Middle East conflict has arrived in Germany in the form of boycotts against German cultural festivals. The development raises the question of where the line is crossed between criticizing Israel as a state and anti-Semitism.

By Tobias Becker, Andreas Borcholte, Georg Diez and Jurek Skrobala
July 12, 2018

The Young Fathers sound a bit like gospel singers who have long been locked up in a church — and have now been released into freedom, into a world of unlimited possibilities, but also one filled with many truths and conflicts. They sing about identity and power, violence and war, love and sex. And often about God and the devil.

It is the music of doubtful young men, one white and two black, a Scottish pop group in the digital postmodern era. Critics have dubbed them “the most interesting newish band in the English-speaking world,” and Stefanie Carp, the new artistic director of the Ruhrtriennale, an annual music and cultural festival in Germany’s Ruhr region, was proud when she succeeded in booking the Young Fathers for a concert. In a cheerful announcement, organizers of the festival, which begins in August, described the group’s music as “genre-defying.”

But it’s possible that the band member’s political views may indeed fit into a category — and not a nice one: anti-Semitism. The mere question as to whether they can be classified as such has been the subject of considerable controversy and the debate is creating problems for Carp, with some journalists and politicians demanding her resignation. Last week, The New York Times even reported on the case. The story’s tone: The criticism of the festival has little to do with the band’s music, but much to do with German history.

The Young Fathers view themselves as anti-establishment. They send out tweets against right-wing demonstrations, they appear at rallies organized by the Unite Against Fascism group, they demand that Britain rid itself of nuclear weapons and they champion the cause of taking in refugees. There haven’t been any accusations so far of the group expressing themselves in any anti-Semitic way on their records or during their live performances, but they have joined at least two campaigns of the BDS movement.


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