Micheál Martin

Micheál Martin

LAST WEEKEND’S article in the Irish Times by novelist Sally Rooney represented one of the relatively few public criticisms of the US’s policy on Israel by a high-profile Irish writer.

Coincidentally, in the paper’s Ticket supplement the same day, there was an article by Una Mullally on the ‘Gig for Gaza’ in Berlin, organised by Irish musician Julie Fogarty in response to the actions being taken against certain artists by the German government over Gaza. Germany also happens to be where the Irish Government has unwisely decided to spend over €2.5m on promoting Irish culture this year.

Zeitgeist Irland 24 was launched in Berlin in January by Tánaiste and foreign affairs minister Micheál Martin alongside beleaguered arts minister Catherine Martin. Described as “a celebration of the richness and diversity of contemporary Irish culture”, the aim is to “build on our global reputation for cultural excellence”.

The trouble is that Germany is the last place the Irish Government wants to be spending money, given the backlash by artists in the country against the clamping down on events held in support of the Palestinian people and on artists who speak out on Gaza.

The temperature was turned up last December when the Berlin senate introduced a controversial “anti-discrimination clause” for all arts funding, requiring recipients of state arts grants to renounce “any form of anti-semitism according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism”.

The trouble is that the IHRA definition is so broad and ambiguous, conflating criticism of the state of Israel with anti-semitism, that it was deemed a discriminatory move by the senate. Following vocal protests by the artistic community, Berlin backed down and scrapped the clause earlier this year.

Meanwhile, some high-profile international artists have also signed a petition (‘Strike Germany’) urging a boycott of German cultural institutions, including the likes of French Nobel Prize-winning novelist Annie Ernaux. Echoing recent withdrawals by Irish artists at the SXSW festival in the US, several artists and DJs withdrew from Berlin’s CTM Festival in support of the boycott movement, while Bosnian author Lana Bastasic (winner of 2020 EU prize for literature) cut ties with her German publisher, protesting its “failure to be vocal about the ongoing genocide in Gaza” and for keeping schtum “on the systemic and systematic censorship happening in Germany”.

In this cauldron, the Irish arts and foreign affairs departments are desperately trying to “deepen Ireland’s cultural engagement with Germany”, using a big chunk of taxpayers’ money for the purpose. As Micheál Martin noted: “My department is delighted to present this curated season in collaboration with a diverse range of German cultural institutions, venues and festivals.”
Gott in Himmel!

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