Berlin mayor decries ‘antisemitism’ over Berlinale speeches on Palestine solidarity

LONDON: Berlin Mayor Kai Wegner has accused the Berlin Film Festival of promoting “antisemitism” following speeches expressing solidarity with Palestine during the closing ceremony on Saturday.

Wegner urged the state-backed festival management to “ensure that such incidents do not happen again.”

In a post on X, he said: “What happened yesterday at the Berlinale was an intolerable relativization. Anti-Semitism has no place in Berlin, and that also applies to the art scene.”

Although Wegner did not specify the particular aspect of the ceremony or the artists he took issue with, he emphasized Berlin’s commitment to freedom and its “firm” support for Israel.

A member of the Christian Democratic Union party, Wegner assumed office as mayor in April 2023. Throughout the recent crisis in the Middle East, he has consistently voiced support for Israel, attributing “full responsibility for the deep suffering in Israel and the Gaza Strip” to Hamas.

During the 10-day festival, numerous artists used the stage to express solidarity with Palestine, including Yuval Abraham, director of the documentary “No Other Land,” who called for a ceasefire as he received his award on Saturday.

Accompanied by Palestinian fellow co-director Basel Adra, he said: “In two days, we will go back to a land where we are not equal. I am living under a civilian law, and Basel is under military law. We live 30 minutes from one another, but I have voting rights, and Basel (does not have) voting rights. I am free to move where I want in this land. Basel is, like millions of Palestinians, locked in the occupied West Bank. This situation of apartheid between us, this inequality, it has to end. We need to call for a ceasefire.”

Abraham, an Israeli journalist, filmmaker, and activist based in Jerusalem, accused Israel of a “massacre” and criticized German arms sales to Israel.

Abraham later posted the Berlinale clip to X, saying that he had received multiple death threats following the broadcast of the speech by Israel’s Channel 11.

“Our film ‘No Other Land’ on occupied Masafer Yatta’s brutal expulsion won best documentary in Berlinale. Israel’s channel 11 aired this 30 second segment from my speech, insanely called it ‘anti semitic’ — and I’ve been receiving death threats since. I stand behind every word,” he said in a post on X.

Other filmmakers and jury members, including American Jewish director Eliza Hittman, also used the closing ceremony to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The festival also faced an attack by anonymous hackers, who accessed the official Berlinale Panorama Instagram account and shared a series of infographics about the war in Gaza.

The posts highlighted Germany’s involvement in the conflict, criticizing what they perceived as the country’s exaggerated historical guilt toward Jews.

“From our unresolved Nazi past to our genocidal present — we have always been on the wrong side of history. But it’s not too late to change our future,” read one of the posts.

The festival promptly removed the posts and announced plans to “file criminal charges against unknown persons” responsible for sharing “posts about the war in the Middle East.”

In a statement, the Berlinale management clarified that filmmakers’ statements were independent and “in no way represent” the opinions of the festival. They emphasized that statements should be accepted as long as they “respect the legal framework.”

On Monday, a governement spokeperson said German officials will investigate how Berlin film festival winners made “one-sided” comments condemning Israel’s war in Gaza at the awards gala.

Amid the widespread anger at the comments at the award ceremony, Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Ron Prosor, said on social media: “Once again, the German cultural scene showcases its bias by rolling out the red carpet exclusively for artists who promote the delegitimisation of Israel.”

At the film festival, “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel discourse was met with applause”, he added.

This year’s Berlinale marked the final edition under the leadership of Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek. The next edition will be led by former London Film Festival head Tricia Tuttle, who was present at the closing ceremony and received recognition from Rissenbeek.

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