Munich’s Jewish Museum calls Negev forests ‘settlement policy,’ sparking outcry
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Munich’s Jewish Museum calls Negev forests ‘settlement policy,’ sparking outcry

State-run institution uses loaded term to describe afforestation near Beersheba; employee protests the use of ‘anti-Semitic imagery’; JNF Germany: Display ‘painful, intolerable’

Trees in the northern Negev, December 12, 2008. (Anna Kaplan/ Flash90)
Trees in the northern Negev, December 12, 2008. (Anna Kaplan/ Flash90)

JTA — Following an Israel-related controversy that forced the resignation of the director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum, the one in Munich is accused of engaging in incitement against the Jewish state.

The allegations concern an exhibition that opened in May that describes construction and landscaping in the Negev as Israeli “settlement policy,” a term that is commonly used for the disputed territories in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

At the museum, the term is used to describe activity outside Beersheba, which is internationally recognized as part of the State of Israel. The Israel Hayom daily published an article on the subject Friday.

The exhibition states: “The violent and devastating effects of Israel’s settlement and cultivation policy in the the Negev (Arabic: Naqab) towards the local Bedouin population are made evident in Fazal Sheikh’s Desert Bloom series (2011).” The text accompanied pictures of forests in the Negev.

The Jewish Museum Munich’s exhibition titled “Say Shibboleth!” speaks of “forced evacuations of ‘unrecognized’ Bedouin villages, narrating the intricate policies and actions which have been employed to displace the local communities for whom the desert has been both a home and source of livelihood for generations.”

Jewish Museum Munich (Chumwa/Wikimedia Commons via JTA)

This, the text reads, is part of “the Israeli imperative to ‘make the desert bloom,’ for which the Jewish National Fund (JNF) had flattened Bedouin villages, uprooted trees and gardens, leveled the terrain, and carved long incisions into the soil. The alteration of the land through militarization, industrialization, settlement and afforestation demonstrates just how unnatural a ‘natural’ border can be.” The museum’s management stands behind the text despite condemnations of it by JNF, according to Israel Hayom.

Last month, the director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum resigned a week after the museum tweeted a link to a story advocating the right to boycott Israel. The Berlin museum had previously hosted Judith Butler, an anti-Zionist professor, as well as Iranian representatives.

Like the Berlin Jewish museum, the one in Munich is not owned or run by the Jewish community, but by German state authorities.

One of the artists linked to the display, an Israeli citizen named Boaz Levin who was born in Jerusalem, is described as having been born in “Israel/Palestine.”

Jaffa Flohr, the president of JNF Germany, condemned the language on display at the Munich exhibition as “intolerable,” adding that in it, “A German museum supported unfounded attacks against JNF, and when this is a so-called Jewish museum, and a respectable one, it makes this even more painful.” She urged the museum to distance itself from the display, which JNF in Israel said was “Libelous.”

In this May 12, 2015 file photo, a Bedouin man walks through the village of Umm Al-Hiran in the Israeli Negev desert (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov, File)

Flohr warned that the museum is becoming an “arm of one-sided incitement against JNF and the State of Israel.”

One of the museum’s employees, a non-Jewish man who spoke under condition of anonymity, told Israel Hayom he favors exploring “the problems of the Bedouin population in the Negev but the wording of this exhibition is aggressive and makes use of popular anti-Semitic imagery, common among Germans who don’t necessarily know the reality in Israel. This isn’t criticism, this is incitement.”

Reached by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by phone, a spokeswoman for the Jewish Museum Munich declined to comment immediately about the controversy, adding that the institution’s director may do so at a later time.

The museum did not immediately reply to questions sent to it by email.

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