Berlin scraps controversial anti-discrimination clause

Joe Chialo, the Berlin senator (the equivalent of the French regional councilor) responsible for culture and social cohesion, decided to repeal the anti-discrimination clause which had to be signed by cultural actors in order to receive public funding. Introduced in December 2023, it is removed with immediate effect because it is not “legally unsure”, according to the Berlin Senate. This clause was strongly criticized in the Berlin cultural sphere, with several artists believing that it constitutes an obstacle to their freedom of expression.

The clause requires recipients of public funds to engage in the fight against anti-Semitism, as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IRA). “Cultural institutions and funding agencies have a responsibility to ensure that public money is not used to promote racist, anti-Semitic, anti-queer or otherwise exclusionary expressions”explained Joe Chialo.

The reference to anti-Semitism, a still sensitive issue in Germany, however, did not take into account the fact that there is a debate around the definition of anti-Semitism by the IHRA. According to many artists, the clause could deprive of financial support those who have expressed their support for Palestine, in the context of the war between Hamas and the State of Israel since the attack of October 7, 2023.

6,000 artists signed an open letter at the beginning of January addressed to Joe Chialo and the cultural administration of the Berlin Senate to protest against the introduction of this clause, which they describe as “political interference”. According to them, “it is not up to the cultural administration to determine the social limits of freedom of art and thought, as long as the expression of thought remains within the limits of the legal framework”. They also denounce the fact that the measure was put in place “without prior open debate, consultation or other transparent decision-making”. Among the signatories are Jesse Darling (artist winning the Turner Prize 2023), Natascha Sadr Haghighian (artist who represented Germany at the 2019 Venice Biennale), Marwa Arsanios, Martin Beck and Candice Breitz.

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