Sabine Schormann, the general director of the non-profit Documenta GmbH, has spoken out about the anti-Semitism scandal after days of silence and after she apologized for illness during a debate in the Bundestag culture committee last week.
A statement by Schormann appeared on the Documenta website on Tuesday evening.
The comments on the status of the anti-Semitism scandal are several pages long. From Schormann’s point of view, contrary to many accusations to the contrary, “appropriate measures were taken”. One marvels.
Many questions remain unanswered, who are the experts now?
After Schormann’s presentation, the Documenta Archive was commissioned to look out for further anti-Semitic content together with the curators and artists. This is exactly what the director of the Anne Frank educational institution, Meron Mendel, should actually do; Mendel dropped out last week in exasperation.
Schormann writes that Mendel’s refusal not only led to the withdrawal of the prominent Documenta artist Hito Steyerl, but also “put an enormous strain on the relationship of trust with Ruangrupa and the artists”. She could not understand his representations in various media.
According to the managing director, the appraisal of other works is already underway.
A “network of external consultants from different scientific fields” has been established. Among them are “renowned female specialists who, as is usual in science, primarily carry out their work outside of the public eye”. Results and in-depth questions would be discussed in other panels. So far, however, neither results have been announced, nor was it known that work was already being done. Why aren’t we told any names?
Mendel demands correction by the supervisory board
Mendel says Schormann throws “smoke candles” and twists the facts. He was unable to begin his task, neither were works of art presented to him, nor did Schormann’s team put them in touch with the curators. He does not know who the other experts should be.
Another point of contention: Mendel accuses the Documenta management of paternalistically shielding the Ruangrupa group of curators. Ruangrupa was initially not even invited to the first anti-Semitism discussion on June 29. Schormann writes in her statement, “quite the opposite: we issued this invitation of our own free will and ruangrupa immediately complied with it”.
Mendel replied in a statement to the Tagesspiegel: “The head of communication at the Anne Frank educational center, Eva Berendsen, and I tried in several phone calls between June 22nd and 24th to get Ruangrupa invited. This request was repeatedly rejected by the Documenta management with various explanations, until we finally had to threaten in writing to cancel the event.” Mendel is now demanding that the Documenta Supervisory Board correct Schormann’s statements. He was shocked that she was spreading untruths.
Advisor to the House of World Cultures
But there are a few names in Schormann’s statement. It’s surprising that she didn’t mention this sooner. According to the statements, there was certainly early expert advice after the anti-Semitism allegations made against Ruangrupa in January, as suggested by the federal government, as suggested by Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth.
“A team of five consultants” was deployed,” says Schormann. The author and curator Emily Dische-Becker took over the coordination on the recommendation of Roth’s authority, among others.
This in turn named other experts, including Anselm Franke, who, like Emily Dische-Becker, worked as a curator at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and will soon become a professor for curatorial studies in Zurich, and the author Ofer Waldmann, “speaker and advisor on German and European-Israeli issues,” as Schormann’s text puts it.
Middle East conflict and the role of Germany
The task of the five: “comprehensive advice on (also media) questions related to anti-Semitism and the Israeli-Palestinian relationship as well as comprehensive support in the planning, implementation and organization of the planned expert forums”. Those forums that were canceled after protests by the Central Council of Jews in Germany about the composition of the podiums.
And who are the three? They would hardly call themselves anti-Semitism experts. Emily Dische-Becker co-organized the “Hijacking Memory” conference at the Berlin House of World Cultures, which was sharply criticized by the Central Council. There it was about the instrumentalization of Holocaust commemoration by the new right, example Putin, example AfD. Opinions on this are divided.
Daniel Botmann, Executive Director of the Central Council, had accused the conference of putting the Holocaust into perspective. A number of researchers, including Jewish researchers, who took part in the conference have meanwhile contradicted Botmann’s criticism, assessing the conference as “successful” and the topic as “important”.
Far beyond the Documenta, there seems to be an inner-Jewish controversy about how the fight against anti-Semitism should be conducted, which criticism of Israel’s Palestine policy is anti-Semitic and which is not.
Counted: Documenta contributors have supported BDS calls
This brings us to the subject of BDS. The newspaper “Die Welt” examined 2,267 employees, curators and artists involved in the documenta for their affinity with the Israel boycott movement. She comes up with “at least 84” contributors who have signed “calls to boycott Israel,” such as the 2021 “Letter Against Apartheid.”
The curator of Documenta 14, which took place in 2017, Adam Szymczyk, also signed it. The “Letter Against Apartheid” criticizes attacks by the Israeli military on the Gaza Strip, and describes Israel as a colonial power and an apartheid regime. Terms that are also controversial among critics of Israeli settlement policy.
According to “Welt”, some of the Documenta participants signed the appeal “We can only change what we confront”. You can read about the signatories, which include many heads of major German cultural institutions and, as reported, Charles Esche, head of the museum and member of the selection committee, on the manifesto’s website. They oppose the BDS resolution of the Bundestag and the blanket exclusion of BDS supporters.
Anti-Semitism, always only with the others
Perceiving the nuances is hardly possible in the context of a heated debate. But it is necessary to talk seriously about how much influence BDS actually has in the German cultural scene, what exactly anti-Semitism is. And to also perceive it in yourself, not just in others.
The documenta supervisory board will meet on Friday. The chairman is Kassel’s mayor Christian Geselle, who also canceled at short notice last week at the Bundestag’s culture committee.
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