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Interior of the Jewish Museum, Berlin.

Director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum Resigns Following Backlash over BDS-Related Tweet

Peter Schäfer, the director of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, resigned following backlash to a tweet posted on the official museum Twitter account that critiqued the German parliament’s recent designation of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel as anti-Semitic.

Posted on June 6, the tweet links to a Tageszeitung article on an open letter urging parliament not to pass the motion. Signed by 240 Israeli and Jewish academics—many of whom specialize in Jewish history and studies—the letter reads, “The conflation of BDS with anti-Semitism does not advance the urgent fight against anti-Semitism.” 

The German parliament cited the BDS movement’s “Don’t Buy” stickers as one of the reasons it supported the resolution. It claims the stickers recall the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses; Nazi officers used to stand outside of storefronts holding signs that read: “Don’t Buy from Jews.” The government also vowed to withhold funding from organizations that question or boycott the Israeli state or actively support BDS, reports the New York Times.

The resolution was brought to parliament by the Christian Democratic Union party, the Social Democratic coalition, the liberal party, and the Greens. The far-right Alternative for Germany party also put forward a motion to ban the BDS movement.

Josef Schuster, the president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, responded to the Jewish Museum’s tweet on June 11: “Enough is enough. The Jewish Museum Berlin seems to have spun completely out of control. Under these circumstances, we have to consider whether the term ‘Jewish’ is still appropriate. The museum leadership has lost the trust of the Jewish community.”

Schäfer, who has led the museum since 2014 and whose contract was extended for a year in April, stepped down on Friday, June 14, “to avoid further damaging the Jewish Museum Berlin,” according to a statement. Detractors had previously criticized Schäfer for inviting a Palestinian scholar to lecture at the museum last year, as well as for giving a tour to the cultural director of the Iranian embassy. Israeli officials had also claimed that the 2018 exhibition “Welcome to Jerusalem” “reflected mainly the Muslim-Palestinian narrative.”

Inspired by South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, BDS acts in solidarity with Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation and settler colonialism. The letter quoted in the controversial tweet includes signatories from the University of California, Berkeley; King’s College London; New York University; the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Tel Aviv University; Oxford University; Columbia University; and Harvard University.

“The three main goals of BDS—ending the occupation, full equality of the Arab citizens of Israel, and the right of return of Palestinian refugees—adhere to international law, even if the third goal is undoubtedly debatable,” the letter read. “We are shocked that demands for equality and compliance with international law are considered anti-Semitic.”

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