Boycotting the Israel Boycotter in Germany
“Petitions are so stupid.”
“He won’t even read your email.”
These were some comments Malca Goldstein-Wolf received when she told people she was going to start a movement to get the director of Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), the Cologne-based affiliate of Germany’s consortium of public broadcasters known as ARD, to pull out of sponsoring an upcoming June concert by Israel’s most famous boycott advocate, Roger Waters. The ex-Pink Floyd front man regularly makes headlines these days as the leader of the cultural wing of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Goldstein-Wolf proved the skeptics wrong. When she reached out to WDR Director Tom Buhrow, sending him a Change.org petition with more than 1,500 signatures, Buhrow decided to end WDR’s sponsorship of the Waters concert. After Germany’s popular tabloid Bild broke the story, four other ARD regional affiliates followed Buhrow’s lead.
“I’m so sick of this growing anti-Semitism, so I decided to do something about it.” — Malca Goldstein-Wolf
While Waters’ summer concert tour in Germany will still go on, Goldstein-Wolf, 48, is pleased that it will do so without help from the German taxpayer.
“I’m just an amateur activist,” she said via Skype from her home in Cologne. “I don’t do things like this normally but I’m so sick of this growing anti-Semitism, so I decided to do something about it. I heard the promotion on WDR, and I couldn’t believe they wanted to support Waters. I thought: ‘Oh, my God. This is impossible.’ So I just sat down and wrote to Buhrow, and I did this petition.”
One columnist for Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper said ARD should thank Goldstein-Wolf for saving the broadcasters from embarrassment. Waters’ concerts sometimes feature politically controversial antics, such as releasing a pig-shaped balloon — based on an image from Pink Floyd’s 1977 album, “Animals” — emblazoned with dozens of illustrations, including a Star of David and corporate logos. Waters has pressured well-known artists scheduled to perform in Israel to cancel shows.
Goldstein-Wolf, who comes from the world of fashion, was born in Frankfurt. Her Jewish father journeyed to Israel from Romania, while her mother converted to Judaism when Goldstein-Wolf was a child. Her husband is the biological grandson of a Nazi whose widow married an Auschwitz survivor and then raised him as his own grandson. Goldstein-Wolf, who visited Israel regularly in her youth, said she considers the Jewish state as the “life insurance for all Jews in the world.”
But according to Goldstein-Wolf, Germany’s true hero in the story is Buhrow for taking a stand.
“I was really kind of desperate when I wrote,” Goldstein-Wolf said. “The answer he gave me was absolutely touching. I would have never even thought about getting such an answer. He has my deep respect for it.”
Buhrow’s email response to her was brief and to the point. “I sense that not many words or arguments will convince you, rather clear action,” he wrote. “I’m notifying you, because it’s important for me that you believe how important your feelings are to me, that I’m responding to your request: the collaboration with the concert has ended.”
The Central Council of Jews in Germany praised ARD’s decision, with its president Joseph Schuster stating: “The swift and decisive reaction of the broadcasters to massive public criticism is an important sign that rampant Israel-related anti-Semitism has no place in Germany.”
Waters’ German promoter, Marek Lieberberg, a son of Holocaust survivors, called ARD’s decision “ridiculous.”
“Two things have to be separated here: private opinion and artistic work” the 71-year-old CEO of Live Nation Germany told a German newspaper. “The canon of Roger Waters and Pink Floyd is and remains brilliant. On the other hand, he has a questionable private opinion about Israel and is quite an open member of boycott movement, which I completely reject. But I cannot and will not deny him his right to freedom of expression.”
While Goldstein-Wolf is proud of this particular victory, she foresees more battles ahead. Most recently, German courts backed Kuwait Airways’ rejection of Israeli passengers. Israel also had to pull out of an exhibition at the Frankfurt Bible Museum showcasing the Dead Sea Scrolls because the German government couldn’t guarantee their return should Palestinian or Jordanian authorities claim them.
For now, though, Goldstein-Wolf will focus her efforts on BDS and artists involved in the movement.
“There’s no option to give up,” she said. “You always have to fight. If you’re really authentic, if you touch people, there’s always a chance to change things.”