"Berlinale" returns to the arena of accusations of anti-Semitism

The Berlin International Film Festival prides itself on its political reputation, but allowing filmmakers to express their personal views on the Israel-Hamas war at the closing awards ceremony on Saturday has now sparked controversy among German politicians and Israeli officials. At the event, some filmmakers criticized Israel for its ongoing offensive in Gaza, which has killed an estimated 30 people, mostly women and children, according to the enclave's Hamas-controlled health authority.

While various people called for a cease-fire in Gaza, perhaps the speech that drew the strongest criticism from a number of German politicians came from American director Ben Russell, who accepted the award wearing a symbol of Palestinian solidarity.

"Of course we're also pro-life here and we're against genocide and for a ceasefire in solidarity with all our friends," Russell said to cheers from the audience. The filmmakers were also criticized for not referring to Hamas' role in the conflict and the October 7 terror attacks, in which an estimated 1 Israelis were killed and more than 200 people, including women and children, were taken hostage by the militant group. islamic. Hamas is classified as a terrorist group by Israel, Germany, the US, the European Union and a number of other governments.

Jerusalem-based Israeli filmmaker Yuval Abraham and his Palestinian colleague Basel Adra also made statements that came into the spotlight amid the controversy. On Saturday, they received the award for their documentary "No Other Land" on behalf of their Israeli-Palestinian collective.

"No Other Land" documents how residents of the village of Adra in the occupied West Bank have fought for years against the destruction of their homes by Israeli soldiers and armed Jewish settlers. As they received the award, Adra said it was difficult for him to celebrate while his compatriots in Gaza were being "massacred" and called on Germany to "respect the calls of the UN and stop sending weapons to Israel".

Israeli journalist Abraham noted that although the two stood as equals on stage, they would return in two days to a country where his Palestinian colleague would face institutionalized discrimination, with no voting rights and limited to his movements based on his Palestinian license plates. Abraham then called for an end to "this apartheid, this inequality". The filmmakers' statements were later condemned by the mayor of Berlin, Kai Wegner.

"What happened yesterday at the "Berlinale" was an unacceptable relativization. There is no place for anti-Semitism in Berlin, and this also applies to the arts," he wrote in X. Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to Germany, harshly criticized "the so-called 'cultural elite'.

"Once again the German cultural scene shows its bias by rolling out the red carpet exclusively for artists who promote the delegitimization of Israel," he wrote in X, adding that "the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel discourse was met with applause."

A lawmaker from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democratic Party, Helge Lindh, described the applause from the audience on Saturday as "shocking". "I am ashamed to see that in my country today people applaud the accusations of genocide against Israel", he said to the daily "Die Welt".

"Agitation against Israel and Jews at German cultural events has become an alarming regularity," said Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. "I expect that the political leaders will finally give clear positions and consequences for the promotion of culture. "Berlinale" is supported by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the State of Berlin.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Culture in Berlin, Joe Chialo, said that the awards ceremony was "characterized by self-righteous anti-Israel propaganda".

Claudia Roth, the federal commissioner for culture and media, said on Monday that there would be an investigation into on-stage criticism of Israel's offensive on Gaza during the awards ceremony.

Roth has said the investigation aims to determine whether the Berlinale lived up to its claim of being a place for diversity, different perspectives and dialogue.

Roth has also said that he wanted to clarify "how it can be ensured in the future that 'Berlinale' is a place free from hatred, hate speech, anti-Semitism, racism, hostility towards Muslims and all forms of misanthropy". But Roth and Berlin Mayor Wegner are pictured in a Bild tabloid photograph applauding Adra's words after the Palestinian director received his award for No Other Land.

On Sunday evening "Berlinale" distanced itself from the statements of the filmmakers, stressing that they did not reflect the position of the festival, but also noted that expressions of opinion at cultural events can and should not be prevented in principle.