Pop-Kultur must clarify partnership with apartheid Israel

The Berlin festival has a track record of lying to artists to protect its partnership with apartheid 

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a founding member of the Palestinian-led BDS movement, urges participating artists to demand Pop-Kultur Berlin festival publicly clarify its current partnership with the embassy of apartheid Israel.

One artist booked to perform this year has said, “I accepted the invitation to perform with a clear condition that there'll be no financial involvement from the Israeli government. The festival assured me that there will be no country's embassy/government funding this year”.

If Pop-Kultur Berlin festival organisers stand by this promise, it would be a welcome step towards reversing the festival’s shameful complicity in art-washing apartheid Israel’s decades-old regime of oppression against Indigenous Palestinians.

The festival’s own policies of “inclusion” and anti-discrimination would ring truer if it has indeed ended its partnership with apartheid. Upholding this guarantee would also buck the trend of rising anti-Palestinian racism and repression in Berlin and Germany overall. 

However, given the festival’s actual record of dishonesty, racism and unprofessionalism, we call on all participating artists to demand Pop-Kultur publicly state whether it has suspended or ended its partnership with apartheid Israel, or if it is merely attempting to conceal it.

Many artists around the world have criticised Pop-Kultur’s anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab racism, its unprofessional attitude towards festival artists, particularly those of colour, and its cynical attempts at concealing its complicit partnership in order to deter a boycott.

Since 2017, at least twenty artists have cancelled their performances at the festival and distanced themselves from its partnership with apartheid Israel’s embassy. One said it is “an effective show of support for racism, colonial brutality and murder”.

In previous years, Pop-Kultur Berlin’s festival director Katja Lucker has said that the question of ending the partnership with Israel "does not arise". Festival organisers even told artists who disagree with this shocking complicity in apartheid to "stay at home".

Leading Palestinian, international, and Israeli human rights organisations agree that Israel is an apartheid regime oppressing Palestinians at home and in exile. Berlin-based queer groups, and progressive Jewish groups around the world have supported our campaign. 

The current Israeli government is the most far-right, sexist, bigoted and fundamentalist ever. A senior minister describes himself as a “fascist homophobe”. This year alone, apartheid Israel has murdered more than 170 Palestinians, including children in the besieged Gaza ghetto. 

Last year, the festival irrefutably attempted to conceal apartheid Israel’s sponsorship, only updating its website with the embassy’s logo a matter of days before the festival - a cynical move that organisers may repeat.

One artist who nonetheless withdrew from the festival last year said that this deception was “tantamount to entrapment … compromising the ethics and livelihoods of many artists”. With this deplorable record, Pop-Kultur must be pressured to clarify the status of the partnership.

If the festival goes back on its word and announces that its partnership with apartheid Israel has not been suspended, it will surely lose any remaining credibility among progressive artists. In this case, we would urge participants to withdraw, as so many have done since 2017.


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