Lankum cancellation in Leipzig highlights German minefield on Israel

Cancellation of concert by Irish folk band known for pro-Palestinian stance adds to growing body of performances and talks axed ‘due to current events’

Even in the fading light, the Lankum poster on the tatty Leipzig billboard is clearly a collector’s item.

The poster is advertising a concert at the city’s TransCentury Update festival last Sunday that didn’t go ahead. In a statement cancelling the gig at short notice, the festival organisers said: “Lankum represents a political stance that we as a venue and festival do not represent.”

The cancellation didn’t make headlines in Germany but caused waves in Ireland and among the fan base of the group, known for its pro-Palestinian stance and a headliner at the upcoming “Gig for Gaza” at Dublin’s 3Arena.

Last Wednesday, the Lankum poster near the Leipzig festival venue, the left-leaning UT Connewitz, had been partly obscured by a poster with a large star of David, promoting a talk with an Israel-born sports journalist.


The venue itself is a shabby-chic 110-year-old cinema with a balcony and, around the screen, a neoclassical portico. On the walls, posters promote an upcoming “Shofar” event where “free jazz groove meets Jewish liturgy”.

Lankum was not alone in falling out with TransCentury, with reports of a disagreement with another band and a parting of ways with another local venue after it allegedly ejected a fan wearing a traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarf.

Lankum declined requests for comment. Coming from Ireland’s performing arts world, where pro-Palestine support is visible and vocal, it seems the band passed through the looking glass in Leipzig – and into a very different reality.

Just 10 days after Hamas killed around 1,200 people and took 200 more hostage, the Frankfurt Book Fair announced it was postponing an award, sponsored by the federal government, to Palestinian novelist Adania Shibli.

The book fair said in a statement it “stands completely with Israel” and promised to hold the award ceremony later, in a “less politically charged atmosphere”. More than 300 writers, including Colm Tóibín, signed an open letter in protest. A month on, the book fair told The Irish Times this week there was no news on a new date.

The last weeks have seen a growing body of anecdotal evidence of performances and talks cancelled “due to current events”, involving German-based singers, photographers and other artists with Israel-critical or pro-Palestine views.

Berlin’s Volksbühne theatre cancelled a planned talk with former British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, stating he had not adequately distanced himself from anti-Semitism in the party.

Cultural spaces in receipt of public money have reported increased pressure to cancel events, particularly if there are any links to the Boycott Divest Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Three years ago, after a heated debate, Germany’s Bundestag adopted a motion condemning BDS as an anti-Semitic organisation. This is in line with Israel’s view, disputed by BDS, that the organisation is pursuing a radical agenda with the real goal of eliminating Israel.

Tensions over BDS and anti-Semitic stereotypes overshadowed this year’s Documenta, one of the world’s most influential art fairs – and have endangered its next exhibition.

Last week, Ranjit Hoskote, an Indian curator and member of the Documenta selection committee, stood down when it emerged he had signed a BDS statement in 2019.

In a resignation letter he expressed his “highest regard for the Jewish people” but said Documenta was asking him to accept a “sweeping and untenable definition of anti-Semitism that conflates the Jewish people with the Israeli state and that, correspondingly, misrepresents any expression of sympathy with the Palestinian people as support for Hamas”.

The remaining committee members resigned days later, expressing doubt that Germany has, “in the current circumstances . . . space for an open exchange of ideas and the development of complex and nuanced artistic approaches that Documenta artists and curators deserve”.

Similarly, more than 100 Jewish intellectuals resident in Germany have signed an open letter flagging an “obsessive-compulsive, paternalistic philo-Semitism” in their adoptive homeland that worries them as much as anti-Jewish violence.

“We reject any conflation of anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel,” they added. “We fear that, with the current suppression of free expression, the atmosphere in Germany is becoming more dangerous – for Jews and Muslims – than ever before in the recent history of this country.”

Israel-born singer Nirit Sommerfeld said she had been cancelled regularly for her Israel-critical views since 2016. In her case, she said, pressure had come from within her local Jewish community in Munich.

“The bottom line is: whenever you criticise Israeli politics you are labelled ‘anti-Semite’ or, in my case, also a ‘self-hating Jew’,” she said. “If they don’t find arguments you get the BDS-label – no matter if you support BDS, are active or indifferent about it.”

Onstage in Berlin on Thursday evening, Lankum acknowledged being cancelled in Leipzig, adding: “We’re against the killing of innocent civilians. We are against religious fanaticism.” The audience cheered.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin