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Earlier this year, the Israeli government sent an official letter to the office of Chancellor Angela Merkel demanding Germany cut its funding of the Jewish Museum in Berlin over an ongoing exhibition, Welcome to Jerusalem, which is said to probe Jerusalem’s “extraordinary political tensions, claimed as the capital city by both Israelis and Palestinians.”
The seven-page letter, which was published on Thursday, December 6, by the left-leaning German Die Tageszeitung newspaper (TAZ), lists 12 NGOs and culture organizations that Israel demands Germany fiscally divest from, including the Berlin International Film Festival (the Berlinale), Women Wage Peace, Action Medeor, the Catholic Relief Services, and the Israeli opinion and news website +972 Magazine, which receives funding from the Heinrich Böll Foundation (an independent political foundation associated with the German Green Party). The letter urges Germany to “review its funding guidelines” for organizations that are involved in “anti-Israeli propaganda” or endorse the BDS movement (the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement).
The letter was sent from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office directly to Merkel’s office and to Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development directly, rather than sending it to the Israeli Embassy in Berlin, which would be the diplomatic norm. While it didn’t confirm sending the letter, the Prime Minister’s Office gave a response to the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday, saying, “the prime minister has pointed out to various world leaders the issue of funding Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, which portray Israeli soldiers as war criminals, support Palestinian terrorism and call for the boycott of the State of Israel. Israel will continue fighting these organizations.” A spokesperson for the German government confirmed to Haaretz newspaper that Israel and Germany had discussed the issue of state funding to aforementioned NGOs in the past.
Welcome to Jerusalem at the Jewish Berlin Museum is a year-long themed exhibition exploring historical, political, and religious aspects of the city. The exhibition includes works by both Palestinian and Israeli artists, including Mona Hatoum and Yael Bartana, as well as international artists like Gustav Metzger, Fazal Sheikh, and others. The Israeli government’s letter criticizes the exhibition’s alleged “Muslim-Palestinian” slant, as well as accusing the museum of hosting “regularly occurring events and discussions with prominent supporters of the BDS movement.”
The Jewish Museum said in a statement, “We believe open dialogue on controversial issues is crucial to allow [the museum’s] visitors to form their own position on the matter and judge it for themselves.”
Netanyahu’s demands for Chancellor Merkel come at the heels of the Israeli “Loyalty in Culture” bill, proposed by Culture Minister Miri Regev and supported by Netanyahu. The vote on the bill, which allows the government to pull state funding from arts organizations highlighting Palestinian narratives, was recently postponed after one of its co-sponsors, Finance Minister Moshe Khalon, withdrew his support.