Director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum Quits After Spat Over B.D.S. – The New York Occasions
BERLIN — The director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum quit his post on Friday amid criticism that he had become too politically involved in the battle over the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, which was recently designated as anti-Semitic by the German Parliament.
Pressure had been mounting against the director, Peter Schäfer, over what critics said was an inappropriately political stance for the head of a cultural institution tasked with explaining Jewish traditions, history and art. An exhibition that opened last year about Jerusalem was accused of being anti-Israeli in a prominent, unsigned letter, criticism that Israeli officials said they agreed with at the time.
And Mr. Schäfer himself was criticized last year for inviting a Palestinian scholar to give a lecture at the museum and giving a personal tour to the cultural director of the Iranian Embassy.
But it was a post by the museum’s Twitter account last week that sparked the backlash that Mr. Schäfer could no longer withstand. The post promoted an article from a German daily that cited an open letter signed by 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars. In the letter, which was issued before Parliament acted, the scholars urged lawmakers not to sign the resolution declaring the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, known as B.D.S., anti-Semitic.
The resolution “does not assist this fight,” the scholars said. “On the contrary, it undermines it.”
The B.D.S. movement seeks to put economic and political pressure on Israel. It is especially sensitive in Germany, where responsibility for Israel’s right to exist is a cornerstone of foreign policy, and where calls to boycott the Jewish state carry historical associations with the Nazis.
The museum sought to defend the Twitter post, saying that it was only trying to point out the scholars’ argument that the resolution in Parliament would not help in the fight against anti-Semitism. But the post proved the last straw.
“Enough is enough. The Jewish Museum appears to be completely out of control,” the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, wrote in a response published on Tuesday. He went on to question whether it was still “appropriate” to call the museum “Jewish,” and said the council no longer trusted the institution.
In his resignation announcement, Mr. Schäfer said he had decided to quit immediately “to prevent further damage to the museum.” The museum opened in 2001 with the mission to reflect Jewish life and culture, as well as diversity and the diaspora in Germany. It is in the process of developing a new permanent exhibition, as well as a children’s museum, both of which were started under Mr. Schäfer’s direction.
Germany’s culture minister, Monika Grütters, who heads the board of the museum foundation, said she had accepted the resignation of Mr. Schäfer, who took over the position in 2014. Mr. Schäfer’s deputy, Martin Michaelis, will run the museum until a new director can be found, she said.
“All those responsible must ensure that the Jewish Museum of Berlin can return to concentrating on its important work,” she said.
Mr. Schuster, of the Central Council of Jews, said in a statement that he welcomed Mr. Schäfer’s decision to resign, calling it “an important step.”
Cultural institutions have recently become a battlefield for the fight over the B.D.S. movement in Germany. Last summer, the Ruhrtriennale, an international arts festival in western Germany, rescinded an invitation to a Scottish rap group after pressure mounted surrounding the artists’ association with the B.D.S. movement.
Anti-Semitic crimes and hate crimes against Jews have been on the rise in Germany, with crime statistics released last year showing they had increased by almost 20 percent last year compared with 2017.