In June, WELT reported on a speech by Palestinian activist Tareq Baconi at the House of World Cultures (HKW). Before a left-liberal audience, Baconi conjured up anti-Semitic motifs and expressed himself clearly anti-Zionist. The audience acknowledged this with excited applause; The historian Jan Grabowski and the journalist Konstanty Gebert told WELT that they were “horrified” by the incident, which they sharply condemned – an impression that they recently reinforced in a guest comment.
The reporting on the incident at the HKW conference prompted the deputy leader of the CDU parliamentary group in the Berlin House of Representatives, Stefanie Bung, to ask the Berlin Senate. The request is exclusive to WELT. In that question, she asked the Senate not only to comment on the Baconi case, but also on Bonaventure Ndikung, the HKW president-elect and BDS supporter who accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing.”
The Senate responded to Bung’s request to be informed about all events in the vicinity of the HKW. However, he does not want to draw any concrete conclusions – and only seek talks with those responsible in the federal government “if necessary”. At the same time, the state government emphasized that it would “consistently oppose any form of anti-Semitism”.
WORLD: Ms. Bung, with your request you pointed out to the Berlin state government, which is not at all responsible for HKW, that a speech held in Berlin had anti-Semitic motives and was clearly anti-Zionist. What were your motivations?
Stefanie Bung: Every day there is propaganda, hostility or even physical attacks on people because of their skin colour, religion, gender or origin. This applies worldwide – and also for here, in the middle of our colorful and culturally diverse city of Berlin. These attacks on individuals always leave behind injuries – mental, physical – and are usually not discussed in the main political limelight. But I’ve never been able to look away and get on with business as usual – and the question of the causes of hatred and violence against individuals has occupied me for a long time. In my capacity as a Member of Parliament, it is my duty to draw attention to the fact that the Senate is looking the other way in this specific case and to ask uncomfortable questions. So far, the question remains unanswered as to why hate speech against Israel could be spread at the “Hijacking Memory” event in the House of World Cultures in June 2022 and why this was not sanctioned accordingly by the state government.
WORLD: Are you surprised that the Senate almost shrugged?
Bung: This issue isn’t just about the lack of response from the Senate. The point is that these attacks are directed against our peaceful and tolerant coexistence. We must not accept that.
WORLD: What reaction would you have hoped for from the state government?
Bung: A clear signal that there is no place in Berlin for propaganda against Israel or anti-Semitism.
WORLD: In its reply, the state government affirms that it will “consistently oppose anti-Semitism in every form” and that it will work together “in a spirit of trust” with the Jewish community. Wasn’t that such a signal?
Bung: The Berlin Senate has apparently not understood that the proclaimed “trustworthy cooperation” with the Jewish community cannot be the best if hatred and hate speech can take place in Berlin without consequences. Just imagine this from the point of view of the Jewish community: In the House of World Cultures, an outstanding state institution, hate speech against Israel can take place that is known to lead to attacks on Israelis in Berlin. Those who boast of unity must do more than pretend understanding and instead resolutely discourage anti-Israel action.
WORLD: What consequences do you think the state government has to draw?
Bung: The question is what happens if there are no consequences for defaming the state of Israel in a state cultural institution? From my point of view, it is then time to shake those responsible up. Incidentally, the Senate still owes an answer to my question about any criminal proceedings against the responsible speaker.
WORLD: Ultimately, however, it is not the Senate, but Federal Minister of Culture Claudia Roth, who is ultimately responsible for the house where the speech took place, she is a member of the supervisory board there. How much responsibility does she have?
Bung: The situation at Documenta fifteen showed that anti-Semitic actions and the motivations of those involved are not always easy to grasp in the art world. In my opinion, Claudia Roth was somewhat hesitant in her positioning towards the curator and probably had good reasons. Horse and rider were not as easy to name as in the case of the hate speech in HKW. It is completely incomprehensible that the Berlin Senate has not met the Minister of State for Culture and patron of the HKW for a long time in order to suggest the necessary, possibly also personnel, consequences in the HKW. Ultimately, it is also about Berlin’s reputation as a cosmopolitan cultural metropolis. In any case, to ignore the incident is unacceptable. I will therefore continue to urge the state government not to hide behind declarations of solidarity, but to engage in direct exchange with the HKW and the Minister of State for Culture and to take a clear stance.
WORLD: What does the HKW speech – and how the Senate deals with it – tell us about the safety of Jews in Berlin, about the state of Berlin as a home for so many Israeli visitors, Jewish institutions?
Bung: The brutal pogroms against the Jewish population in Berlin during the National Socialist period are repeatedly cited as a reason for the special responsibility towards Israel. By now we should all be aware that hatred towards Israel and Judaism has also continued. Every member of Berlin’s Jewish community is aware of the fine line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and it is not without reason that many Jewish institutions in this city are guarded day and night. To ensure that the protection and security of all citizens in Berlin are not endangered, we must be vigilant and resolutely oppose any form of hate.