Palestine protest at art event: You’re just performing

Palestine protest at art event: You’re just performing

Palestine activists disrupted an action by the artist Tania Bruguera at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. She ended the performance early.

It didn’t last 100 hours: the initiator Tania Bruguera ended the art event in Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin early Photo: Christoph Soeder/dpa

The performance of Hannah Arendt’s “Elements and Origins of Total Domination” at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin was actually supposed to provide “space for difficult discussions”. The 100-hour reading entitled “Where Your Ideas Become Civic Actions” was an art event by the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera. From Wednesday to Sunday evening, a large number of people, in addition to herself, had the opportunity to read texts related to Arendt’s analysis of Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism.

The action dates back to 2015. Bruguera was under house arrest in Cuba because she wanted to let people speak about their visions of the future on Revolution Square in Havana. In protest against this, Bruguera and around 50 people read from Arendt’s main work for 100 hours straight in her house and discussed it with the audience.

They broadcast the reading onto the street using loudspeakers. The Cuban authorities responded by using jackhammers. The action ended in Bruguera being arrested for several hours.

Now they wanted to discuss the situation in Germany after October 7th with the help of Hannah Arendt. Since the Hamas terrorist attack, German cultural institutions have increasingly canceled artists’ events, among other things because of dubious statements regarding Israel.

In protest against this, various accusations have already been made; There was talk of “McCarthyism” and “Nazi Germany”. The connection with communist Cuba, which repeatedly puts artists in prison, was new.

50 activists with slogans

At the beginning of the campaign in the Hamburg train station, Bruguera read out a list of such cancellations and terminations. The list has been circulating on the Internet for several months, initiated by the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East. Together with the two directors of the Hamburger Bahnhof, Bruguera also read out excerpts from the German Basic Law, such as the rights to freedom of art and freedom of expression.

A group of 50 activists took advantage of the fact that you could register for the reading yourself as a reader on Saturday afternoon to shout slogans instead of reading. The people held up pieces of paper that together spelled out the words “Palestine will set us free.”

About six hours later, according to the museum, 20 members of the group returned to disrupt the contribution of Mirjam Wenzel, director of the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt. A member of the group filmed the action and the video can be seen on Instagram. For over fifteen minutes, activists shouted things like “Zionists are fascists” and “Zionism is Nazism.” They shouted in the face of a woman who was possibly Israeli: “Israel is not real.”

Tania Bruguera, who sought to speak to the group, shouted down that she was giving Zionists a platform. To a woman who tried to intervene and said that shaming people wouldn’t help, they shouted together: “Yes, that helps, yes, that helps!”

Activists leave the hall cursing

When Tania Bruguera finally raised her voice and told the troublemakers that they didn’t know who she was and “how much she had done for Palestine,” a young anti-Zionist shouted, “You’re still a white person.” Amid shouts like: “Fuck this institution,” “Fuck this racist Nazi country,” the group finally left the hall. The morning after, on Sunday, Bruguera decided to end the performance early.

Doubts that the event would be a “space for difficult discussion” were raised by the preponderance of anti-Israel voices among the more prominent speakers on the list. Opposite Mirjam Wenzel, whose commitment to Israel includes her attesting to a “lack of empathy” with Jews in the cultural sector on October 11th, there were a number of well-known opponents of Israel, such as Masha Gessen, Deborah Feldman and Tomer Dotan-Dreyfus.

Even Udi Raz from the Jewish Voice was on the list. The doctoral student at the FU Berlin recently called the President of the FU, Günter Ziegler, an “anti-Semite like he is in the book”. Ziegler would “terrorize” “non-Aryans” like him. The President files a complaint.

On Saturday evening, about two hours before the disruption, Candice Breitz read a letter entitled “Dear white Germany” at Hamburger Bahnhof. It was the artist’s first appearance at a state-funded German cultural institution since October 7th, which sometimes reacted so violently to canceled events that further cancellations followed.

Movement is radicalizing

In her letter, she revealed the same focus on appearance that was present in her exhibition “Whiteface” at the Berlin Galerie Fotografiska. For the South African artist, who herself once lived under apartheid, skin color always seems to be the only variable of political relevance. She did want to “talk” to the German public, but only on the basis of the accusation that she was being “gaslighted”. In doing so, she cut off the other side before the conversation even began.

Under these circumstances, the disruptive action seemed like an activist exaggeration of what was intellectually presented by the readers. As one activist put it: “You are just performing.” They would act.

The fact that the anti-Zionist aggression was then directed against an action that was already predominantly critical of Israel seemed to surprise even the artists and initiators themselves. The anti-Zionist movement also seems to be becoming more and more radicalized in Germany. Only recently, the Jewish FU student Lahav Shapira was beaten until he was hospitalized by a pro-Palestinian fellow student.


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