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Hoskote quits panel over ‘anti-Semitic’ letter he signed in 2019 | India News

MUMBAI-BASED POET, cultural theorist and curator Ranjit Hoskote has resigned from the Finding Committee for Documenta 16, the 2027 edition of one of the world’s most prestigious art exhibitions that takes place in Germany once in five years.

Hoskote quit the committee on November 12, following an article published last week in the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, where he was accused of “anti-Semitism” and sympathising with the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement. It was based on his signature on a BDS India petition in 2019 protesting a discussion hosted by the Consulate General of Israel in Mumbai on “Zionism and Hindutva”. Documenta denounced Hoskote for signing the letter that had “explicitly anti-Semitic content”.

BDS is an international movement that aims to mobilise political and economic pressure on Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians. The German Parliament in 2019 passed a resolution designating the BDS movement against Israel as anti-Semitic.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Hoskote said: “My heart breaks for Germany, a country I love and have long regarded as a second homeland. In the aftermath of World War II and the end of the Nazi regime, Germany committed itself to openness, to understanding the Other, to sustaining a cultural life that was welcoming of diverse ideas and perspectives. Documenta embodied these ideals.”

“I am saddened beyond words to see how swiftly this has changed in recent years, with the alarming ascendancy of far-right forces and the normalisation of their divisive, polarising rhetoric. I am aghast at the cynical way in which some German politicians are instrumentalising the Shoah to decree absolute impunity for the Israeli state,” he said.

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“Germany, a state that was looked up to for wisdom and leadership in international affairs, today stands nearly isolated in its intransigent refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. I deeply regret to say that this unconditional embrace of Israel and the branding of any critique of Israel as ‘anti-Semitic’ masks a rising Islamophobia. Can these political leaders not see that this is the road to strife, because it will marginalise and place at risk Germany’s considerable immigrant-origin population, people of Turkish, Arab, Iranian and West African heritage?”

“In the art world, the imposition of such ideas has already legitimised censorship and arbitrary exclusion. Imagine a future edition of the Documenta where every curator and artist is sworn never to question Israel and never to articulate sympathy for Palestinian civilians. That immediately counts out a wide swathe of countries where such a guarantee is impossible to undertake. It also counts out all cultural practitioners who would prefer to retain their freedom of conscience and criticality,” Hoskote said.

Also associated with Documenta 11, when he was invited by then artistic director Okwui Enwezor to chair a panel at the Delhi platform in 2001, Hoskote in his resignation letter said: “It is clear to me that there is no room, in this toxic atmosphere, for a nuanced discussion of the issues at stake. And now — in what strikes me as a doomed attempt to save a situation that is beyond saving — I am being asked to accept a sweeping and untenable definition of anti-Semitism that conflates the Jewish people with the Israeli state; and that, correspondingly, misrepresents any expression of sympathy with the Palestinian people as support for Hamas.”

Referring to the 2019 petition, Hoskote wrote: “My reason for signing this petition was because the event clearly posited an equivalence between (Theodor) Herzl and (V D) Savarkar, and was intended to develop intellectual respectability for an alliance between Zionism and Hindutva… No member of the German commentariat who denounced me has asked herself or himself why the Israeli Consulate General thought it appropriate to equate Zionism with Hindutva in the first place.”

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Meanwhile, another member of the six-person Finding Committee, Israeli artist Bracha Ettinger, has also resigned for reasons reportedly not connected to Hoskote but because of the “dark times” affecting Israel.

During its 2022 edition, Documenta was criticised for showcasing anti-Semitic works. A report by a commission of experts to investigate the allegations against Documenta 15 stated that it functioned “as an echo chamber for Israel-related antisemitism, and sometimes pure antisemitism”.

In a release issued by Documenta, Andreas Hoffmann, Managing Director of documenta und Museum Fridericianum gGmbH, stated: “I would like to thank Ranjit Hoskoté for his willingness to stand by us in these difficult times and believe that his decision to resign is a logical and respectable one… We need to consistently distance ourselves from all forms of anti-Semitism. The events of summer 2022 must not be repeated. This is the only way to achieve a genuine new beginning after the events of documenta fifteen.”

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