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Criticism of Israel at Berlin Film Festival Stirs Antisemitism Debate

WorldEuropeCriticism of Israel at Berlin Film Festival Stirs Antisemitism Debate

German newspapers also highlighted a speech on Saturday by Ben Russell, an American filmmaker who jointly won a prize at the festival. He appeared onstage wearing a kaffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian scarf, and decried a “genocide” in Gaza. In an interview, Russell said that the reaction in the news media “had been surprising in its intensity and jaw-dropping in its one-sidedness.”

A fierce backlash was underway in Israel too, Abraham said. He had delayed flying home to Jerusalem, he added, because he had received more than 100 death threats on social media and feared for his safety.

Abraham said that he couldn’t understand why German and Israeli media were characterizing his comments as antisemitic. Onstage, he had called for an end to “apartheid” between Israeli and Palestinian citizens, but he justified using that term by saying that Israelis and Palestinians do not have the same rights, including to vote, or to travel freely.

“If everything is antisemitic, the word loses its meaning,” Abraham said.

Because of the Holocaust, German officials have long felt a special responsibility toward Israel. In 2019, lawmakers passed a resolution urging local governments to deny funding to any group or person that “actively supports” a boycott of Israel, which it officially designated as antisemitic.

Ever since, arts administrators have shut down museum exhibitions, concerts and lectures, or pulled artists from programs if they have signed open letters supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, known as B.D.S.

Yet in the more polarized atmosphere following the Hamas terror attacks of Oct. 7 and Israel’s military operations in Gaza, many artists have complained that the criteria for shutting down exhibits and events have widened, so that they now encompass artists accusing Israel of war crimes, or of genocide.

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