Documenta Denounces Selection Committee Member for Signing ‘Anti-Semitic’ BDS Letter

For the second time since the October 7 Hamas attack that killed 1,400 Israelis, Documenta, one of the world’s top art festivals, publicly spoke out against an individual affiliated with it for engaging with pro-Palestinian causes.

On Friday, the German art exhibition denounced Ranjit Hoskoté, a member of the selection committee for its 2027 exhibition. Hoskoté, an Indian poet and critic, had been the subject of a report in Suddeutsche Zeitung published Thursday that resurfaced a letter protesting Zionism and Hindu nationalism, an ideology known as Hindutva, that he had signed in 2019.

The letter was put out by the Indian division of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, a group that advocates for Palestinian rights. In Germany, BDS has faced particularly severe pushback, with some politicians even seeking to render it illegal.

Documenta is still reeling from its 2022 show, which faced widespread allegations that works in it were antisemitic and that Israeli artists had been excluded, while Palestinian ones were let in. The curator of the show, the Indonesian art collective Ruangrupa, repeatedly denied these allegations, but a committee appointed by Documenta to investigate the claims said in a report that the show had become an “echo chamber” of anti-Israel sentiment.

In October, Documenta accused two Ruangrupa members of liking, then unliking, social media posts made in support of Palestine, an activity it called “intolerable and unacceptable.” The art exhibition used similar language on Friday to describe Hoskoté’s signing of the BDS India letter.

“The signing of the above-mentioned statement by a member of the search committee of the artistic management of documenta 16 is not remotely acceptable for us as documenta and Museum Fridericianum gGmbH due to its explicitly anti-Semitic content,” Andreas Hoffmann, Documenta’s managing director, said in a statement. “We did not know Ranjit Hoskoté’s signature on the statement from 2019 until yesterday. We were also not aware of the statement itself.”

Documenta’s statement said it planned to “discuss further questions” with Hoskoté. He did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

In a follow-up Suddeutsche Zeitung article published on Friday, German culture minister Claudia Roth said the letter Hoskoté signed was “clearly anti-Semitic and full of anti-Israel conspiracy theories.” She threatened once more to pull funding from Documenta.

The 2019 letter decried “growing ties” between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israel as a “collusion” of Zionism and Hindutva. The latter ideology, the letter says, is a “mirror image” of Zionism, which seeks “a settler-colonial, apartheid state where non-Jews have unequal rights.”

The Suddeutsche Zeitung piece, by writer Nele Pollatschek, alleged that Hoskoté was a “BDS supporter” because he had signed that letter. Hoffmann claimed that all selection committee members had to ensure they had no affiliation with BDS prior to working on Documenta 16.

While Hoskoté has not stated that he supports BDS, he has in at least one prior interview spoken out in favor of Palestine. In 2021, he told News9live that he did not support a boycott of Israeli cultural production. However, he said, “The correct sanctions-based approach to calling the Israeli State and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to order is a macro-scale economic one – to hit the hegemonic political interests within that country where it hurts.”

Documenta’s statement about Hoskoté comes as members of the German art community face scrutiny for supporting Palestine and Palestinian artists.

In October, Palestinian artist Emily Jacir said a talk she’d planned to give in Berlin had been canceled. That same month, a conference about antisemitism and racism that was co-organized by artist Candice Breitz was canceled, with an agency run by the German government saying that it was no longer possible to “lead and moderate this debate constructively.”

Some German art spaces have continued to support Palestinian artists amid pressure. The Kunstverein München in Munich faced calls to cancel a show by the Palestinian artist Noor Abuarafeh; some had raised questions regarding posts about the Hamas attack that she made to her private Instagram account, according to Monopol. The museum plans to keep the exhibition open, and said in a statement that it did not view the show’s “closure to be an appropriate response to this conflict.”