Berlin Senate scraps controversial “anti-discrimination clause” for arts funding amid protests

The Berlin Senate is dropping the controversial "anti-discrimination clause" for cultural grant recipients following pushback from artists around the world.

The Senate Department of Culture and Social Cohesion cited "legal concerns" for scrapping the policy ​​with "immediate effect" in a statement on Monday, 22nd January. Introduced on 21st December, 2023, the "anti-discrimination clause" required cultural institutions seeking public funding to follow the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which includes a focus on the state of Israel. 

"Let there be no doubt: I will continue to fight for a Berlin cultural scene that is free of discrimination", Senator Joe Chialo said in the press statement (via The Art Newspaper). "But I must take the legal and critical voices that saw this clause as a restriction on the freedom of art seriously". 

Strike Germany, which called on international artists to boycott state-funded cultural events, said the change is "only the beginning". "This change is the result of actions taken by a large number people on the ground in Berlin, and around the world", the movement's organisers wrote on Instagram. "By adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, the policy would have penalized those who criticize the state of Israel — at a moment when Israel is engaged in a genocidal assault on Palestinians in Gaza". In an interview with Resident Advisor, Strike Germany members said, "With this implementation, IHRA is clearly a tool meant to silence critics of Israel and not a meaningful engagement by the government with Germany's long history of anti-Semitism".

Strike Germany's statement then broadened focus, as the German government endorsed the IHRA definition in 2017: "But this is no time to rest. The proposed clause only affected Berlin, while similarly restrictive funding conditions are being drafted across Germany. The IHRA definition is still a federal guideline and continues to limit the access and rights of cultural work." 

In the weeks since the clause was announced, artists have been pulling out of upcoming Berlin cultural events in protest. DJs like Manuka Honey, Jyoty, Kampire and Scratcha DVA have withdrawn from CTM Festival, which starts this Friday, 26th January. Filmmakers like Suneil Sanzgiri and Ayo Tsalithaba have removed their work from the Berlinale programme, and at least five artists cancelled their participation in digital arts festival Transmediale, Art News reports. Strike Germany's open letter has nearly 1,500 signatures from artists and cultural works, including Nicolás Jaar, Bill Kouligas, Kelman Duran, Van Boom, Asmara and WTCHCRFT. Another open letter to Senator Chailo and the Berlin Senate Cultural Administration received more than 4,000 signatures from "cultural producers" in Berlin.

New York’s dweller festival also recently confirmed that they would not host an event in Berlin this year, having previously hosted a line-up of all Black artists in Berghain and Panorama Bar. "We made this decision a while ago due to the way German institutions were treating those opposing the current genocide in Palestine," the team wrote in a statement shared on social media. Earlier this month, French-Lebanese DJ Arabian Panther accused Berghain of cancelling his performance at the venue due to his support of Palestine.

On Monday, CTM announced a number of new acts and programme updates as a result of the line-up withdrawals. Sharing the news that the clause was being dropped, CTM curator Michail Stangl wrote on X: "Just in: the Berlin Senate is dropping the highly contested and completely counterproductive anti-discrimination clause. Good work everyone."

Last October, nearly 300 DJs, producers, venues and collectives connected with the London scene signed an open letter in solidarity with Palestine.