With donations from those who believe in freedom of art and expression
“Oyoun” Cultural Center is waging a legal battle against the municipality of Berlin after the latter stopped its funding

The leftist cultural center “Oyoun” succeeded in raising 72 thousand euros from donors defending freedom of art in Germany to begin a legal battle against the municipality of Berlin, after the city’s Senate’s controversial decision to stop funding the center under the pretext of engaging in “anti-Semitic” activities.

Media outlets reported that in order to begin a lengthy legal battle against the municipality of Berlin, the “Oyoun” Cultural Center needed an amount of 72,000 euros from donors who believe in freedom of expression and freedom of art in Germany, and just a few days passed since the donation campaign was launched, the center was able to collect a larger amount.

Donations are a matter of life or death for the cultural center located in the neighborhood of Neukölln, where a large Arab community lives, after the city’s Senate (the executive body) decided to stop funding the center, as it was providing it with one million euros annually to support its activities, which focus on supporting artistic and cultural projects from the perspective of decolonization and supporting feminist and immigrant voices.

“Oyoun” had announced the closure of its headquarters in Berlin, starting next month, after funding for the center was cut off, after it was accused of engaging in anti-Semitic activities.

In a message on Instagram, the center’s management described this step as more than just a closure, but rather setting a precedent that frightens all state-funded institutions, stressing that its repercussions will affect “the essence of freedom of art and expression.”

Media outlets had previously reported that the “Oyoun” Cultural Center in Neukölln was threatened with losing government funding, because it was accused of hosting “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel” groups, while the center described the harassment it is subjected to as “racist,” indicating that it was working to provide spaces for marginalized Jewish and Palestinian groups.

Taz newspaper indicated that the Ministry of Culture in the Berlin state government accuses the center of working with groups calling for a boycott of Israel and questioning its right to exist.

Taz explains that the reason for the dispute is related to an event organized by the Jewish Voice Association for Just Peace in the Middle East, which held a “mourning and hope event” at the “Oyoun” Center last month, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of its founding.

A spokeswoman for the Culture Department of the Berlin state government confirmed to the newspaper that she had “urgently requested” the “Oyoun” administration in advance to cancel the event that had been planned since the summer, because this group “actively supports the BDS movement” (which is an international campaign calling for boycotting and imposing sanctions on Israel).

The newspaper quoted Louna Sbou, Executive Director of the “Oyoun” Center, as saying, “We see (the Culture Administration’s request) as an interference in our work and in artistic freedom, and it can only be described as racism.” She added that the Berlin Council’s decision to stop funding “contradicts its promise to guarantee financial support until … at least the end of 2025.”

She continued, the decisions of the German authorities do not only mean “terminating the work of a number of artists, but also closing spaces for cultural participation,” adding that these “partly arbitrary decisions are a wake-up call for freedom of expression and cultural diversity in Germany.”

The newspaper reported that early in June 2021, at the request of the state government’s Department of Culture, they canceled an event by Jüdische Stimme, Linke Neukölln and the Palestine Speaks group.

The government exerted pressure on other events about Palestinian views regarding the conflict in the Middle East, and sometimes also when working with Palestinian artists.

For its part, the “Tagesspiegel” website reported that the council has not officially announced the cancellation of funding, but is discussing granting the state-owned building to another association, especially following the rise in criticism towards the center’s activities regarding hosting activities that strongly criticize Israel.

The German website confirmed that the Council promised the Cultural Center support up to 2025, while the Council says that the promise is not binding, and it can end funding this year.

But the matter does not only concern this center. The German authorities in several cities have canceled the invitation of artists, writers, and university professors because of their opinions, and several activities have been banned in recent weeks.

The cancellation decisions on charges of “anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel” have become almost daily news in Germany since the beginning of the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, after a surprise attack by Hamas on the seventh of last October, especially since Berlin considers Israel’s security and support a national “reason of state.”

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