Peter Schäfer, the director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum, resigned from his post on Friday, June 14, after the museum faced criticism from Twitter users including Israel’s Ambassador to Germany, for sharing an article in defense of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which calls for a cultural, economic, and political boycott of Israel.
Schafer came under fire after the Jewish Museum shared an article by the left-leaning German newspaper Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), on its Twitter account on June 6. The article discussed an open letter released in May against a then-proposed resolution in the German parliament to condemn the BDS movement as anti-Semitic. The open letter, signed by 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars, urged German lawmakers to vote against the resolution, saying that it “does not assist this fight [against anti-Semitism],” but rather “undermines it.” Later in May, the resolution passed in German parliament.
The museum later tried to contain the situation with another tweet, saying the museum’s previous post is not positioned against the parliamentary decision, but only meant the bring forth the argument made by 240 scholars, the New York Times reported.
“Enough is enough,” head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, said on Tuesday in response to the Jewish Museum’s post. “The Jewish Museum appears to be completely out of control,” he wrote, adding that he’s no longer sure it is still “appropriate” to call the museum “Jewish.” Schuster went on to say the museum has lost the council’s trust. Israel’s Ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, joined the criticism, calling the museum’s sharing of the open letter “shameful.”
Criticisms of Berlin’s Jewish museum around the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be traced back to the exhibition Welcome to Jerusalem at the museum in December 2017. The exhibition highlighted Jerusalem’s political and religious tensions from the perspectives of both Israeli and Palestinian artists, and was accused of “anti-Israel activity” by critics.
In December of 2018, TAZ reported that the Israeli government sent an official letter to the office of Chancellor Angela Merkel demanding Germany to cut its funding of Berlin’s Jewish Museum, as well as 11 other NGOs and culture organizations. While it didn’t confirm sending the letter, the Prime Minister’s Office told the Yedioth Ahronoth that, “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.”
Schäfer, a known Jewish studies scholar, joined the Jewish Museum in 2014. In his resignation letter, he said he decided to resign immediately “to prevent further damage to the museum.” In a statement, Schuster welcomed Mr. Schäfer’s decision to resign, calling it “an important step.”
Germany’s culture minister, Monika Grütters, who also chairs the Jewish Museum’s board, said she had accepted Schäfer’s resignation. Grütters added that the museum’s deputy director, Martin Michaelis, will run the institution until a new director is appointed. “All those responsible must ensure that the Jewish Museum of Berlin can return to concentrating on its important work,” she said.
The Jewish Museum Berlin has declined Hyperallergic’s request for comment.