The Whitworth Gallery, lobby groups, and the right to speak about Palestine

In response to pressure from lobby groups that seek to deny the basic facts of Palestinian experience, last week the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester removed a statement that formed part of ‘Cloud Studies’, an exhibition on environmental violence by Forensic Architecture.

We wholeheartedly welcome the gallery’s subsequent U-turn and the reinstatement of the group’s statement of solidarity with Palestine, within days, following public outcry and thousands of letters of protest.

We believe this case is instructive as to the modus operandi of the UK’s pro-Israel lobby groups. It also illuminates the damage done when UK institutions accept at face value the claims of some self-appointed groups to represent the view of an entire ethnic group, and are unwilling to acknowledge the political nature of complaints about Palestine-related speech.

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Brian Eno: Artists must call out Germany’s anti-Palestinian witch-hunt

A 2019 parliamentary resolution has had a chilling effect on critics of Israeli policy. Now the cultural sector is speaking up.

  • This article was published in The Guardian under the title ‘Artists like me are being censored in Germany – because we support Palestinian rights’.

I am just one of many artists who have been affected by a new McCarthyism that has taken hold amid a rising climate of intolerance in Germany. Novelist Kamila Shamsie, poet Kae Tempest, musicians Young Fathers and rapper Talib Kwelli, visual artist Walid Raad and the philosopher Achille Mbembe are among the artists, academics, curators and others who have been caught up in a system of political interrogation, blacklisting and exclusion that is now widespread in Germany thanks to the passing of a 2019 parliamentary resolution. Ultimately this is about targeting critics of Israeli policy towards Palestinians.

Recently, an exhibition of my artwork was cancelled in its early stages because I support the nonviolent, Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The cancellation was never publicly declared, but I understand it to have been the consequence of cultural workers in Germany fearing that they and their institution would be punished for promoting someone labelled as “antisemitic”. This is the work of tyranny: create a situation where people are frightened enough to keep their mouths shut, and self-censorship will do the rest.Advertisement

But as my own story is relatively minor, I’d like to tell you about my friend, musician Nirit Sommerfeld.

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