Top German cultural institute revokes invitation to controversial Palestinian writer

The German state-run Goethe Institute uninvited a Palestinian poet and writer from speaking at a conference later this month due to his past comments on Israel, whereupon other participants pulled out in protest.

Muhammad Al-Kurd was to speak on a panel as part of the institute’s “Beyond the Lone Offender – Dynamics of the Global Right” summit, scheduled for June 23-26, in Hamburg. The gathering aims to examine “the impact of far-right movements and their global entanglements.”

The panel in question was to be hosted by artist Moshtari Hilal and essayist Sinthujan Varatharajah, both based in Berlin, who invited Al-Kurd as a speaker for a roundtable titled “Selling Fascism? Remembering the Unsold.”

On Friday the institute posted a statement on Twitter saying it had canceled Al-Kurd’s participation.

“After some consideration,” the institute decided that Al-Kurd “was not an appropriate speaker for this forum,” it said.

“In previous posts on social media, he had made several comments about Israel in a way the Goethe Institute does not find acceptable, especially since the upcoming forum aims to discuss, among others, possibilities and ways to improve social discourse.” the institute explained.

It noted that “the necessary internal coordination” only took place after Al-Kurd had already been scheduled to speak.

In a joint statement posted to Varatharajah’s Twitter account, Hilal and Varatharajah wrote that they were pulling out of the event and that “our cancellation is in response to Goethe Institute’s attempts to intervene in our curatorial decisions and by way of it, enforce a climate of anti-Palestinian censorship.”

“Goethe Institute’s veto against Al-Kurd calls into question the very purpose of this conference,” they said, and was “adding to a climate of anti-Palestinian racism.”

“This cannot be tolerated or supported by us in any way,” they wrote.

They accused the institute of “explicitly” deciding that “the violence that affects Palestinians may not be named and discussed in a program on the dynamics of the global right in Germany, effectively devaluing Palestinian oppression as unworthy of discussion.”

Saying the Goethe Institute was Germany’s “cultural embassy,” they noted that the German consulate had ignored requests by Al-Kurd to process a visa for his visit. Germany, they claimed, was embracing “racist politics of stifling Palestinian dissent in the country.”

The institute said that “though we disagree with the reasoning behind their canceled participation, we regret and respect their decision.” It added that it had made an offer for further talks that had so far not been accepted.

Al-Kurd and his twin sister, Muna, from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, were given a place on Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in 2021 for their activism. They were both arrested in June 2021 on suspicion of participating in rioting in the flashpoint neighborhood but were later released.

Al-Kurd has been accused of deploying antisemitic tropes in his poetry and social media. He is the Palestinian correspondent for The Nation.

In January he posted on Twitter, “Fuck Israel and fuck the genocidal death cult that is Zionism.”

More recently, on June 3, after a 17-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by the IDF during clashes near the security barrier, he tweeted “Zionism is death.”

Two days earlier he commented on a claim that the BBC had allegedly altered its own report to remove references of violence by right-wing Israelis, writing: “Why do the rules of journalism bend to coddle defenders of Zionism and their delusional beliefs about the murderous, blood-thirsty Israeli regime?”

He has also posted anti-American messages, writing in August last year: “The United States military is a murderous, terrorist organization.”

US President Joe Biden “is not a failure, he is a successful war criminal,” Al-Kurd wrote.

The following day, referring to US war veterans, he wrote, “May their PTSD never heal.”

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