How political artists do away with nations

Criticism of Israel is not as taboo in Germany as a pair of “shock” artists think it is


By Benjamin Weinthal, June 10, 2010
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There is nothing more dreary than contemporary art that sets out merely to be provocative when it is in fact conventional and reactionary. A case in point is the Danish artistic group Surrend's anti-Israel poster showing maps of the Middle East in which the state of Israel does not exist, with the term "Final Solution" at the top. Not only does this mirror the jingoistic foreign policy of the Holocaust-denying regime in Iran, but it also resonates with many Germans.

The poster, created by the Danish Jew, Jan Egesborg, and his fellow Dane, Pia Bertelsen, has in recent weeks been plastered around selected Berlin neighbourhoods.

What Egesborg and Bertelsen understood to be a form of heroic, artistic resistance to a perceived ban on any criticism of Israel in Germany, was actually just one more manifestation of a widespread hostility towards the Jewish state. This can be seen, for example, in the seizing and banning of the display of Israeli flags by the authorities in such German cities as Kessel, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Bochum, Mainz --- and Berlin. And in September, a student in Bochum was fined 300 euros for waving an Israeli flag as a counterprotest at an anti-Israel rally where demonstrators declaimed inflammatory, hate-driven rhetoric against the Jewish state.

Initially, Egesborg called for religious cleansing in Israel. "There is no other answer but for the Jews of Israel to find a new homeland, perhaps in the USA, Germany or Denmark", he said. Faced with criticism of his poster for its potential to incite wild enthusiasm among neo-Nazis, pro-Iranian regime supporters, and German leftists, Egesborg retreated from purging rhetoric, contenting himself with describing Israel as a historical mistake.

Egesborg's anti-Zionism is the new form of conversion for European Jews, an echo of the times before the founding of Israel in 1948, when sizeable numbers of Jews across Europe converted to Christianity as a means of conforming to mainstream society.

By contrast, Egesborg seeks to use his Jewishness to rebut charges of antisemitism. This is a clumsy defence: any human being is capable of misanthropy, and a Jewish human being is certainly capable of making anti-Israel statements that appear to meet the European Union's definition of contemporary antisemitism.

The shock value of Surrend's Final Solution poster is in fact minimal, given the support so easily garnered by the Danish duo from all walks of life in Germany. The FAZ journalist Lorenz Jäger defended the poster prompting pro-Israel blogger Lizas Welt to satirise him as a Judenjäger, a play on his name (Jäger means hunter and Jude means Jew), in turn prompting Jäger to take legal action.

Surrend also received an endorsement from Wolfgang Benz, the controversial head of the publicly funded Berlin Centre for Antisemitism Research, who, commenting on the poster on German television, argued: "Antisemitism is different from anti-Zionism…but it's so practical to denounce anything one doesn't like as antisemitism." But Benz has other troubles, currently finding himself under attack for praising his Nazi academic mentor, Karl Bosl.

Sadly, Surrend's poster, aimed to shock, is not all that shocking to the Germans, and will be positively pleasing to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Benjamin Weinthal is a journalist based in Berlin and a fellow of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies

    Last updated: 1:24pm, August 13 2010

    COMMENTS

    Lisa Abramowicz

    Fri, 06/11/2010 - 13:05

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    Regarding the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza. The famous Swedish writer Henning Mankell took part in it and defended it even after the violent actions of the activists on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship was exposed. Therefore I think it is of general interest to know Mankell’s views on Israel.

    When the Swedish part of the Ship to Gaza campaign was launched in Stockholm August 15th 2009, Henning Mankell made an speech his views on Israel, how it was established and how he viewed the state now, comparing it to South Africa during the apartheid days and how he sees the future for the Jewish state.

    I have translated as literally as possible from the Swedish text http://www.shiptogaza.se/sv/henning-mankell-om-gaza, still is present at the Swedish Ship to Gaza website:

    On Israel as a state and its establishment:

    “It’s like experiencing a ghost raising from its grave. It’s like watching the South African Apartheid system arise again from the historical scrap heap where it was finally dumped around 15 years ago…

    But one cannot of course compare South Africa with Israel and Palestine. There are historical differences that in many ways are decisive. The Israeli state was established after World War II when the shattered Jewish people had all bloody aces on hand. After what Nazism had done to all the groups of “untermenschen” of which the Jews had formed such a large group.

    One can consider or play with the thought that if it today in 2009 had been possible to so quickly and easily establish a state as Israel (was established). On occupied land where other people were to be expelled. Of course not….

    It is important to never forget this, that Israel is created on the basis of an occupation. Nothing else. The whole present structure of the state is based upon developing this occupation. ..

    On the two-state solution and suicide attacks “

    “What will the future look like? There I think the people gathered here today aren’t all agreed. Many, perhaps most people here, think a two-state solution is the future solution that must be implemented to dismantle the terrorist Israeli state. (For me that the more or less desperate bomb attacks, suicide attacks and the like, is an expression of the Palestinian resistance, no more no less: resistance against an occupation power. It is not more noteworthy than the fact that Norwegian resistance liquidated renegades or quislings during the Nazi occupation. If one is oppressed, one responds with resistance).

    ….My alternative (to the two-state solution) is: what you can call the rainbow-state after South Africa. A land where open elections will lead the popular majority, the Arabs or Palestinians to get to a position of power. But those who have previously oppressed them will be granted full civil rights – without privileges – in the country.”

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