Antisemitism and the art world

I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust and my father, an Auschwitz survivor (who recently celebrated his 92nd birthday), always emphasizes this miracle that is the State of Israel and how important it is that we Jews have a home where we can feel safe. Even if that confidence is sometimes lacking, it is far better than exposure to the antisemitic revelations we are seeing in the world.

Racism is despicable in all its manifestations – the idea of ​​disqualifying a group of people because of their skin colour or religious belief is abominable but apparently, people need to have an enemy and if it is currently “unacceptable” to point arrows at people of colour, Jews are always an alternative.

A year has passed since the violent death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement has contributed to correcting historical injustices against blacks. But racists didn’t go away, they just went quiet for a while and now, with the support of Islamic movements, they are attacking Jews wherever they are. The mind does not tolerate Jews being attacked on a street in New York or in a restaurant in Los Angeles. The heart sickens as hooligans demand the killing of Jews in London or a swastika is spray-painted on the wall of the Holocaust Museum in Miami.

The witch hunt is intensified by celebrities in the media with millions of followers and most sadly, Jewish celebrities have also been speaking out against Israel. It’s a snowball that’s growing and I must just point out that this text has nothing to do with political inclinations. I refer only to our right as a people – across the entire political spectrum – to live safely in our country and to protect it.

Jews against Jews

It is especially painful to see Jewish artists contributing to the atmosphere of de-legitimization against Israel. Like Adam Broomberg who was born in South Africa and knows a thing or two about apartheid on the one hand, and on the other hand has family in Israel. He posted a thread on Twitter, emphasising the asymmetry (do we really have to apologize for the fact that no more Israelis were killed from the hundreds of missiles fired at us ??) and at the end he calls on the art world to speak up and condemn Israel. He quotes Martin Luther King as saying that the silence of our friends will be remembered more than the words of our enemies.

A swift collaborator was Jerry Saltz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic who likes to provoke controversy. He shared Broomberg’s post and contributed: “No apartheid state can be justified. I say this is a Jew whose entire family was wiped out by Hitler and Stalin in Estonia.” This is just one example of a host of superficial reactions from people who are unwilling to delve into the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I approached Saltz in an attempt to create a dialogue but he did not reply.

מחאה בגוגנהיים נגד משפחת סאקלר

Patrons under fire

Two years ago, a wave of protests began against the Sackler family – great philanthropists, not only in the field of art. They have contributed billions in the last five decades to new wings in many museums, including the Louvre, the Royal Academy, the Smithsonian Museum, the Metropolitan and the Guggenheim.

Arthur Sackler, a Jewish psychiatrist, made his fortune from marketing drugs, and was a pioneer in the field. Together with his two brothers (also doctors), they acquired a pharmaceutical company in the 1980s. This company is responsible for the production of oxycontin, an opiate analgesic and one of the most addictive drugs in this field. In the 1990s, drug manufacturers misled doctors about the level of risk for opiate addiction and thus encouraged their consumption. The United States is currently in a major crisis of opiate addiction, on the scale of an epidemic that has claimed many lives.

The wave of protests raised awareness to the sources of wealth of the great philanthropists and questioned the legitimacy of their donations. As a result, many museums have decided not to accept any more donations from the Sackler family and to remove their names as donors from museums and university faculties named in their honour.

The current wave of protests is targeting Jewish members of the MoMA’s board of trustees. Protesters targeted collectors and philanthropists like Leon Black and Ron Lauder – the president of the Zionist Congress – and accuse the MoMA of what is known as Artwashing – a concept that implies cleansing through art. As if the Jewish patrons have blood on their hands and wish to wash their hands by donating to the museum. This was the term used against the Sacklers – whose drugs have directly caused the deaths of many. To accuse philanthropists with ties to Israel of responsibility for the deaths of Palestinians is an unprecedented absurdity. Nevertheless, 300 people signed a letter demanding that the museum sever ties with Jewish patrons, and among the signatories was Dr. Ariela Azoulay, an Israeli curator and researcher, a radical left-wing activist who left the country.

Also targeted, this time in London, are Poju and Anita Zabludovicz. Both are ardent supporters of Israel and patrons of art. Anita has set up a museum in London for the couple’s large collection. Because of their ties to Israel, there are artists who seek to detach themselves from their works in the collection. One artist asked to have her name removed from her work.

Here in the poster, in the colours of the Palestinian flag,  is a demand to close the museum of the Zabludovicz collection on the grounds that it is a philanthropy so called stained with Palestinian blood.


In London, an anonymous group of Jewish and Israeli dealers sent a letter to the artnet news portal in protest of the one-sided articles – supporting anti-Israel propaganda – published on the site. Recent articles in the politics section of artnet news ignored the barrages that attacked Israel with thousands of missiles during the recent war, killing both Israelis and Arab civilians. The dealers are asking the publication to provide balanced coverage and avoid publishing content that is defined as anti-Semitic – including stereotypical presentation of Jews as a collective. The fact that they prefer to remain anonymous to protect themselves from becoming targets for anti-semites demonstrated the severity of the problem Jews are facing in the world.

The Zabludoviczs issued a defensive statement addressing the situation in Israel and supporting a two-state solution. They express sorrow over the loss of innocent lives on both sides of the conflict.

We Israelis, who live the conflict, are well aware of its complexity. I believe most of us feel empathy for the suffering of innocent people on both sides, because neither Jews nor Arabs can be treated as one entity. There are good and bad on both sides. But from a distance, the details cannot be seen and the inclusive negative sentiment does great injustice to Israel – the one and only state that Jews can call home.

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