The resignation of Berlin Jewish Museum director Peter Schäfer is a small victory in an important campaign against the continued efforts by German authorities to use “Jewish museums” as a weapon against the State of Israel.
So-called Jewish museums in Germany have in recent years become a sort of kosher seal of approval for the Israel criticism industry. If in the past radical left-wing Israeli and Jewish activists would absolve Germany of culpability for its Nazi past by claiming Israel was now the Nazis’ successor, this role has gradually been handed over to Jewish museums.
It must be noted that the Berlin Jewish Museum is not a Jewish museum. It is a German museum, funded by the German government and the Berlin Municipality. It was officially established with the aim of presenting 2,000 years of rich German Jewish history and showing visitors the Jews’ significant contribution to the country.
But the museum’s management quickly and knowingly began promoting anti-Israel political and educational activity, which significantly increased in recent years under Schäfer’s leadership. The museum has cooperated with supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and defended BDS by citing the need for freedom of expression.
Why should a Jewish museum defend a boycott movement that even the German Parliament has described as anti-Semitic, as it did in a recent tweet recommending an article on protests by Israeli and Jewish academics against—what else—the Bundestag’s decision to denounce BDS. There is one very simple reason: The museum’s management received absolute support for its anti-Israel activities from its financiers. It is for this reason that Schäfer’s resignation is but the first phase in the campaign to put the Jewish museum back on track.
For the next phase, either Germany’s Culture Minister Monika Grütters, who serves as museum chair, must resign, or German Chancellor Angela Merkel should fire her. Following the exposure of the museum’s anti-Israel activities last year, Grütters threw her support behind Schäfer and repeatedly—officially, in writing, and within the framework of her role as museum chair—denied the museum’s support for BDS activists and promotion of an anti-Israel agenda.
In a letter to former Green Party Bundestag lawmaker Volker Beck just a few days ago, Grütters continued her inane denials. “There is no doubt that the Jewish museum does not grant or provide a stage to the stated enemies of the State of Israel,” she wrote.
This absolute backing from a minister in the German government gave Schäfer and others in the museum’s management team the impression they could continue their anti-Israeli line and become a center for the defense of BDS. That is why Grütters must be sent packing: to send a message that the German government understands it cannot use Jewish museums as part of its dual approach to Israel that sees it declare its support for Israel while funding efforts towards its destruction.
Another figure that needs to be sent packing is former Berlin Jewish Museum program director and radical left-wing Jewish activist Cilly Kugelmann. During her tenure, the museum was transformed into a center of anti-Israel activity under the guise of “Jewish culture” and “critical internal Jewish dialogue.” Although she does not serve in an official role in the museum, she continues to influence what happens inside it, including the highly controversial Jerusalem exhibit she helped curate.
Any museum Kugelmann is involved with will necessarily be a body that advances her anti-Israel positions. All ties between Kugelmann and the Jewish museum should be cut and care should be taken to ensure Schäfer is not replaced with another Jewish or Israeli radical left-wing activist.
Following a long period of silence, Germany’s Central Council of Jews belatedly released a statement saying the museum had gotten “totally out of control.” While this statement contributed to Schäfer’s resignation, the council should have been open in its criticism much earlier on and served as one of the leaders of the campaign against the Jewish museum.
After all, the term “Jewish” was being abused for political purposes and the promotion of the German government’s two-faced Israel policy. We must hope that the heads of the Jewish community have learned their lesson, as this problem has apparently begun to spread, having recently permeated the Munich Jewish Museum.
One good word about Israeli Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff: He acted with determination to thwart the BDS activities of the Berlin Jewish Museum and thereby assist in raising public awareness of this serious issue in Germany. Israel must continue to tell Germany’s government in a clear and direct manner: You either are our true friends, or you aren’t. This phenomenon that sees you fund anti-Israel activities at the United Nations has a name: hypocrisy. If this clear message doesn’t come from Israel, the Germans will continue their hypocritical policies.
Eldad Beck is an Israeli journalist and author.
This column first appeared in Israel Hayom.