Germany - Cancellation of Events

German Organisations Denied Participation in Cultural Festival

Published on Fri Oct 18 2019 - modified on Tue Dec 15 2020

Three German civil society organisations advocating for Palestinian rights were denied participation in the 2019 Bonn annual cultural festival because of their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The groups petitioned the Administrative Court of Cologne challenging their exclusion. The Court ruled in favour of the groups and consequently instructed the city council to allow all three associations to attend the festival.

Between May and July 2019, the City of Bonn sought to exclude the German-Palestinian Women’s Association, the Palestinian Community-Bonn and the German Palestinian Society from the September 2019 city’s annual cultural festival (“Vielfalt! – Bonner Kultur – und Begegnungsfest”) due to their affiliation with the BDS movement. The exclusion was based on the city’s motion entitled “no place for the antisemitic BDS movement in Bonn”, adopted on 14 May 2019, calling upon all municipal institutions to deny public facilities and subsidies to BDS groups and their events.

 Attorney Ahmed Abed, in partnership with the ELSC, filed before the Administrative Court of Cologne an urgent application for interim measures asking to admit the three organisationson the ground that their exclusion constitutes an arbitrary interference with their rights to equality and freedom of opinion and expression.

Included in the application were: i) a legal memo provided by ELSC, claiming the full legitimacy of BDS under International law and underlying that the right to boycott Israel falls within the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, of assembly and of association (Arts. 10 and 11 ECHR); ii) an expert opinion of Israeli historian and philosopher, Professor Dr. Moshe Zuckerman. The latter argues that antisemitism, anti-zionism and criticism of Israel are three distinct categories which must be treated separately, explaining that “criticism, even harsh criticism, of Israel’s policy does not question Israel’s right to exist, as stated in the Bonn resolution, but rather Israel’s right to pursue its repressive and human rights violating policy against the Palestinians”.

On 13 September 2019, the Administrative Court of Cologne issued a judgement instructing the City of Bonn to permit the participation of two associations in the festival. The Court found that their exclusion on the grounds of their support for the BDS movement constitutes “unequal treatment”, (“Ungleichbehandlung”), which is “not even remotely justified”. The Court found the conduct of the city in breach of the principle of equality set out in Article 3 of the German Basic Law, and in violation of the association’s right to freedom of opinion and expression under Article 5 of the Basic Law.

Furthermore, the Court stated that: The motion of the Bonn City Council, as well as the motions of the parliaments of North-Rhine Westphalia (20 September 2018) and the German Bundestag (17 May 2019), do not constitute legislative acts, but are political motions or expressions of political will. These motions alone cannot justify, from any legal perspective, the restriction of an existing legal right”.

Ultimately, the City of Bonn invited all three associations to the cultural festival.

On 30 September, the Court further ruled that the German-Palestinian Society could be excluded from the festival because it did not meet the general criteria of regular presence required under the city’s policy for participation in the festival.


14 May 2019: The Bonn City Council adopts the motion “No Place for the Antisemitic BDS Movement in Bonn”.

May-July 2019: The German Palestinian Society, the Palestinian Community-Bonn and the German-Palestinian Women’s Association apply for participation in the 2019 “Bonn Culture and Encounter Festival”. The associations all participated in previous editions of the festival. The City of Bonn denies the participation of the three associations because of their support of BDS.

23 July 2019: On behalf of the three organisations, lawyer Ahmed Abed, in cooperation with the ELSC, files before the Administrative Court of Cologne the urgent application for interim measures against the City of Bonn’s decision.

13 and 30 September 2019: The Administrative Court of Cologne issues the two decisions instructing the City of Bonn to admit the German-Palestinian Women’s Association and the Palestinian Community-Bonn to the festival.

29 September 2019: The “Bonn Culture and Encounter Festival” takes place. The City Council invites all three associations to participate.

Media Coverage
Related Links

Case Analysis, the Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia University

Another German Court rules in favor of supporters of BDS Movement, AURDIP, 23 September 2019

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