Jewish Anti-Zionist Artists Withdraw From Contemporary Jewish Museum Show


A group of anti-Zionist Jewish artists is withdrawing artwork they submitted for the forthcoming California Jewish Open at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) in San Francisco, citing the institution’s “inability to meet artists’ demands, including transparency around funding and a commitment to BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions].” In a statement on Thursday, April 4, California Jewish Artists for Palestine added that the CJM “has been a target of the BDS Movement for having received funding directly from the State of Israel as well as private zionist philanthropists.”

The statement was signed by 11 artists, including seven whose work had originally been accepted into the exhibition and four whose work had not: Micah Bazant, Liat Berdugo, Jules Cowan, Rebekah Erev, Rebecca Maria Goldschmidt, Steph Kudisch, Kate Laster, Ava Sayaka Rosen, Sophia Sobko, Arielle Tonkin, and Irina Zadov.

The California Jewish Open is an open-call exhibition featuring 47 Jewish-identifying artists living in the state and organized around the prompt of how “Jewish culture, identity, and community [can] foster, reimagine, hold, or discover connection.” In a press release on Thursday, the museum acknowledged the artists who withdrew from the show and said the space on the walls where their artwork was to hang would be left blank, in a gesture to “both honor the perspective that would have been shared through these works, and to authentically reflect the struggle for dialogue that is illustrated by the artists’ decisions to withdraw.”

5. Krivoy Kolektiv 1
Krivoy Kolektiv (Aravah Berman-Mirkin, Sophia Sobko, Irina Zadov), “The Four Mitzvot of the Queer Soviet Jewish Diaspora” (2021), digital photographs of hand-embroidered Ukrainian headscarves

While several artworks referencing “Free Palestine” were accepted into the exhibition, the artists note that their contract stated their work would be “presented in proximity to artwork(s) by other Jewish artists which may convey views and beliefs that conflict with [their] own,” leaving open the possibility of “curatorial both sides-ism.”

The group also expressed concern over a stipulation preventing them from modifying or removing their artwork, a condition they think may be linked to a recent incident in which artists altered their work with messages of Palestinian solidarity in the Bay Area Now 9 triennial at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

The group demanded the ability to modify or remove their works and control over curatorial framing of their pieces, as well as transparency in funding and “a full divestment from Israeli governmental and pro-Zionist foundation funding.”

Among these funders is the Helen Diller Family Foundation, which has been criticized in the past for its grants to Canary Mission, a group accused of doxxing anti-Zionist students, and to the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which was labeled an anti-Muslim extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2022.

In response to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment, CJM Executive Director Kerry King said that “the Contemporary Jewish Museum had a transparent dialogue with this group of artists, but ultimately was not able to meet all of the conditions outlined.” She added that the contract was “typical” and that its terms predated the protest at Yerba Buena, and that funding sources are publicly listed for each exhibition. (The artists, however, noted several “anonymous donors” in the highest donation brackets.)

“We cannot tie an artist’s decision to participate to potential funding to support the exhibition and programming that may be secured closer to the opening,” King told Hyperallergic. In response to the artists’ condition that their wall text could appear as they proposed unedited, she told the artists that she wanted to “be transparent” about what the museum could and could not do.

“The CJM was not putting forth that anti-Zionism was antisemitism, but was requesting to work with the artists to jointly develop language that would clearly articulate their intention in a way that was clear and legible to the Museum’s many audiences,” she continued.

Regarding divestment from Israeli governmental funding, the museum told the artists that “this condition cannot be met.” A spokesperson told Hyperallergic that “the Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest has provided small amounts of funding for exhibitions and talks,” adding that the CJM has not received any funding from the Consulate General or any Israeli organizations since 2021.

“It is our connection to Jewishness: activism, diaspora, and the spirit of adaptation that brings us here,” wrote one of the artists, Kate Laster, in the group letter.

“As Jews, we refuse to allow any justification, any weaponization of our generational trauma, or to give our consent to normalize apartheid,” Laster continued. “There is power in refusal — it’s a form of honoring rebellion and imagining what cultural arts ecosystems could be like beyond Zionism.”





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