On July 17th, Goethe-Institut of Hamburg disinvited Mohammed El-Kurd from a summit titled “Beyond the Lone Offender – Dynamics of the Global Right,” which was supposed to take place later that month.
According to a statement published on the Institut’s website, El-Kurd was not deemed an “appropriate speaker” for the forum: “in previous posts on social media, he made several comments about Israel in a way the Goethe-Institut does not find acceptable – especially since the upcoming forum aims to discuss, among others, possibilities and ways to improve social discourse.”
El-Kurd had also been invited by essayist Sinthujan Varatharajah and artist Moshtari Hilal to speak at the Goethe event on their panel, “Selling Fascism? Remembering the Unsold” to discuss strategies used by different states to deflect from human rights abuses. After the disinvitation, Varatharajah shared a joint statement with Hilal, in which they officially withdrew their participation and exposed the “blunt act of institutional racism” made by the German institution. Their statement read: “The involvement of El-Kurd was transparent from the beginning. El-Kurd already confirmed his participation when we received a sudden notification from Goethe-Institut’s head office, explicitly refusing the Palestinian writer’s participation in this programme.”
The event's curators also drew attention to the difficulties El-Kurd faced while getting his visa processed at the German consulate — which were especially puzzling, considering that the Institut is financed by the German Foreign Office. “El-Kurd’s difficulties to receive the legal right to visit Germany must be understood in light of Germany’s racist politics of stifling Palestinian dissent in the country,” they added.
Other speakers also promptly withdrew their participation in solidarity with El-Kurd and the Palestinian people. Ijeoma Oluo, an African-American writer, Mohammed Hanif, a British-Pakistani writer, and Turkish-German rapper Apsilon expressed their discontent with Goethe-Institut’s decision on their social media accounts. This wave of solidarity was felt by Goethe, as Daniel Stoevestandt, head of Goethe-Institut Hamburg, later announced a “reduced programme” for the event.
The Freedom Theatre & Palestinian Performing Arts Network — a community-based theatre and cultural center in Jenin Refugee Camp — demanded a formal apology from Goethe-Institut. Their statement highlighted frequent attempts to silence artists and activists speaking about Palestine:
“We raise our voices to demand protection [that] the German government [extend protection] to Palestinian artists and activists, as recently a group of Palestinian artists have been assaulted… while participating in an art exhibition in Kassel, Germany.”
El-Kurd’s disinvitation is not an isolated case. It only highlights an alarming pattern of anti-Palestinian racism in Germany. A similar incident happened to Anne-Esther Younes, a Palestinian-German activist and writer, when, in November of 2019, she was invited to speak at an event organized by the German leftist political party, Die Linke, to discuss right-wing extremism. Younes was disinvited a day before she was set to speak, after the Antisemitism Research and Information Centre (RIAS Berlin) and the Mobile Advice Against Right-Wing Extremism (MBR) organizations sent Die Linke a dossier smearing her as an “antisemitic” and a “terrorist sympathizer.”
Anti-Palestinianism has long received institutional support in Germany. In 2017, Germany officially endorsed the IHRA’s re-definition of antisemitism, which increased surveillance and silencing of Palestinians denouncing Israeli crimes globally. The false definition is regarded rejected not only by human rights groups, but also by its original drafter, Kenneth Stern, who has been raising awareness about its misuse: “Jewish groups have used the definition as a weapon to say anti-Zionist expressions are inherently anti-Semitic and must be suppressed.”
In 2019, the German Bundestag passed a resolution describing the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) as “antisemitic.” Such legislation can now be directed at specific individuals, such as El-Kurd and Younes, but have also been applied to larger groups of people.
In May, after Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by an Israeli sniper, protesters took to the streets around the world to demand justice for her. In Berlin, such demonstration led to the arrest of nearly 170 people, due to a previously imposed ban on any pro-Palestine protests ahead of the commemoration of the Nakba. A court in Berlin upheld the ban during the entire month of May. Even when protests for Shireen were held by Jewish organizations, demonstrators were still arrested.
As a country that nurtures its progressive image, Germany still hasn’t broadened its horizons when it comes to Palestinian rights and the brutal state of apartheid imposed by Israel. Sadly, in a country that perpetrated genocide against the Jewish people, the discourse on antisemitism is now being manipulated to crush human rights activism, dishonoring the victims of the Holocaust and Palestinians alike.