Preparations for the Documenta in Kassel are in full swing. The pillars of the portico in front of the Fridericianum, one of the main exhibition locations, were inscribed by the artist Dan Perjovschi with the themes of this year’s world art show: wobbly signs on a black background, like on a blackboard. Peace, solidarity, sustainability, support are themes that the Indonesian curatorial team Ruangrupa orbits at documenta fifteen.

They didn’t invite the stars of the art market, hardly any individual artists, but collectives and initiatives from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East.

Since January, there have been allegations that members of the Documenta team and invited participants are anti-Semitic or have affiliations with the Israel boycott movement BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). In the Bundestag resolution of May 2019, the federal government classified their boycott calls and activities against Israel as anti-Semitic. Public houses are requested not to offer a forum to BDS supporters. The Documenta, as the most important art exhibition in Germany and worldwide, is thus in need of explanation.

The attempt to de-escalate went horribly wrong. Ruangrupa designed three online panels that had been suggested by Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth to exchange German and international viewpoints on anti-Semitism, but then canceled at short notice. The group declared the “German discourse on anti-Semitism and racism” as a failure. Apparently there were conflicting ideas about what should be discussed at all.

Josef Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, had previously written to the Minister of State for Culture. The Central Council did not feel represented at the event, saw its expertise as unused and the topic of anti-Semitism neglected. The first panel was to begin with a former Documenta lecture by the US philosopher Edward Said, the second to explore blind spots in the post-colonial discourse, and the third to address anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim racism.

The podiums would have been occupied by German, Israeli, Arab scientists and thinkers, including the founder of the Forensic Architecture research group Eyal Weizman, who critically examined Israeli settlement policy, and the Jewish President of the German Historical Museum, Raphael Gross, who, as part of an exhibition had the Nazi traces of the first Documenta editions worked up; with anthropologist Sultan Doughan, who researches Islamic extremism and Holocaust remembrance, with Israeli sociologist Natan Sznaider, an expert on postcolonialism and anti-Semitism – one of those who later canceled his participation.

Ruangrupa would have managed an interesting scientific event with this content setting. But for a discussion with the Jewish communities, as a confidence-building measure, it was unsuitable.

In the wake of the allegations against Ruangrupa, Claudia Roth initially asserted in general that “anti-Semitism has no place at the documenta”. She was thought to be in a dilemma. The Greens politician did not sign the Bundestag resolution on BDS in 2019. Like 15 other Green MPs, she did not think it was right to exclude BDS sympathizers in general. In connection with the Documenta, she emphasized that artistic freedom must be protected. Only the limits of artistic freedom, especially in Germany, she had not named, the clear recognition of Israel’s right to exist – which the BDS questions.

Now the Minister of State for Culture has taken a position. After meeting the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, on May 11, she issued a statement clearly supporting the Central Council. The report was written jointly by your authority and the Central Council. A clear signal.

“The clear commitment against anti-Semitism in its various forms and the protection of artistic freedom, but also the question of its limits must be discussed together and with reference to both Germany and the international dimension,” it says. “This also includes the conversation and debate about post-colonial discourse and the image of Israel and anti-Semitic tendencies behind it for some people.” Boycotts against Israeli artists in the cultural sector should be countered together.

The question remains as to how, where and with whom these things will be discussed within the framework of the Documenta? What does it mean to oppose the boycotts? And who will bring Ruangrupa back on board? The collective had formulated its position in an open letter on the Berliner Zeitung website. In it they speak of “public prejudice” against them and address specific allegations. The starting point for the allegations was a post by anonymous bloggers who call themselves the “Alliance against anti-Semitism Kassel”.

They were directed against members of the Documenta search committee and the Documenta team, who had signed a protest against a blanket exclusion of BDS supporters. From this, the general suspicion of anti-Semitism was derived. The malice in some feuilletons and forums against the documenta makers from Indonesia in the further course reveals racist moods that have to be discussed at upcoming events.

It is a pity that Ruangrupa did not sign the letter in the Berliner Zeitung with their names, only with “ruangrupa, the artistic team of documenta fifteen and some of the curators of the failed forum”. Knowing who is speaking would have provided more trust.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany wants to be sure that “no anti-Semitic works of art are exhibited and no anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel are propagated” within the framework of the Documenta. Can Ruangrupa guarantee that? In an open process, they invited collectives and projects, which in turn determined further participants. These include FAFSWAG, which campaigns for queer Pacific people of color, and the Britto collective, which works on waste prevention in Bangladesh.

This also includes “The Question of Funding”, a group of cultural workers who were accused in the Kassel blog mentioned above of sympathizing with an Arab nationalist and promoting the cultural boycott of Israel with their actions.

“The Question of Funding” wants to develop alternative financing models for Palestinian cultural institutions using blockchain, local agriculture and local trade and present the system in Kassel. That, too, can be perceived as a threat to Israel. It remains a tightrope walk.