On 22 November 2023, the Berliner Tagesspiegel reported on the official termination of the “controversial cultural center in Neukölln, Oyoun”. In the Berlin Senate’s Committee for Culture, Senator for Culture Joe Chialo (CDU) confirmed that the Senate’s Department for Culture and Social Cohesion is actively committed to the implementation of the Berlin state’s concept for the prevention of antisemitism and the opposition to any form of antisemitism. It has now been decided ad hoc to terminate the funding for the cultural center because the de-colonial, queer-feminist and migrant-organised cultural center Oyoun rented its premises to the “Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East”, an association which the Senate regards as antisemitic. Oyoun has repeatedly been accused of antisemitism because it refused to cancel a Jewish event by a Jewish organisation, citing the Senate’s policy of antisemitism prevention. To underscore the bizarre logic of the cultural senator, Chialo (CDU) doubled down on his decision, stating: “When I say against any form, then I also mean any hidden form of antisemitism.”
The event in question had already been planned and announced months earlier as an anniversary celebration for the 20th anniversary of our association, Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East. However, in the shadow of the Hamas attacks, the kidnappings and the continuing bombardments of the civilian population in Gaza by the Israeli military, it was clear to the members of the Jewish Voice that there was nothing to celebrate on this 20th anniversary, rather it was upon us to mourn the many victims, hostages, the traumatized and the dead. Thus we decided to use these premises, which we had already rented, in oder to mourn together in solidarity with people of Jewish and of Palestinian origin, to provide comfort to one another and to position ourselves together in opposition to the crimes at that time being committed by the Israeli army.
The press office of the Berlin Senate seemed to have recognised that the accusations of antisemitism that had been leveled against the cultural center were bereft of any logic and were also not legally enforceable. Suddenly the official stance became that the funding for the Oyoun cultural center was expiring at the regular time and the decision not to fund the center was unrelated to the Jewish organisation’s event. However, the leadership of Oyoun commissioned a legal opinion which revealed that the four-year project funding for the center until 2025 had already been officially decided upon, before the controversy. Without this commitment for funding, cultural center’s organisers would not be able to plan events and projects for the following year 2024.
In this vein, we call on the Berlin Senate for Culture and Social Cohesion to officially apologize to the operators of Oyoun for this massive encroachment on artistic freedom and freedom of speech. This sudden announcement to close the de-colonial, queer-feminist cultural center run by People of Colour has nothing to do with the rule of law and must be clearly called out, named and criticised for what it is: state censorship against BPoC. We can observe a deliberate division between social minorities and people with experience of migration. By pitting BPoC employees of Oyoun against people of Jewish origin, the Berlin Senate of Culture reveals that its resolute stand against “all antisemitism” is characterized by considerable blindness and ignorance and obviously only applies to those who fit the prefabricated German template of the “Jew in solidarity with Israel”. The Berlin councillors are thus reproducing antisemitic stereotypes according to which there is only “the one Jew” and this Jewish figure is synonymous with Israel.
The Berlin Senate for Culture and Social Cohesion should be aware that the diverse, de-colonial, migrant and queer-feminist community in Berlin and Neukölln, in which a growing number of Jewish people now feel significantly safer than in the German majority society, will not allow itself to be divided and played off against each other. The fight against “all antisemitism” can only be credible if it respects the plurality of Jewish voices and protects them all from state interference. It can only be effective if it does not become blind to the fight against all racism – including anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian racism.
The success of the appeal for donations that Oyoun launched after the funding freeze in order to defend itself against state repression and arbitrariness of the Berlin Senate, a call which has now generated 85,400 euros, should be read as a wake-up call by the Berlin Senate for Culture and Social Cohesion. Berlin’s de-colonial, queer, multi-ethnic community, which firmly includes people of Jewish origin in its ranks, will fight. The well-attended “Threads of Resilience” festival speaks volumes in this regard.
We, as the Jewish Voice, fight with people with migrant backgrounds and minorities who have been marginalised and confronted with racism for safe spaces, for dialogue, for freedom of art and freedom of expression. We stand firmly by the cultural center Oyoun, which courageously and resolutely opposed the unlawful censorship of the Berlin Senate and demonstrated to all Berliners what a resolute stand against “all antisemitism” should look like in practice.
Oyoun must remain – as it was originally intended!
This statement first appeared in German on the Jüdische Stimme website. Translation: Jüdische Stimme. Published with permission