Austria - Disinvitation

Palestinian Academic Challenged Austrian Institutions’ Censorship Based on the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Published on Fri Aug 26 2022 - modified on Fri Sep 09 2022

Dr. Walaa Alqaisiya was brutally disinvited from the Spring Curatorial Program: Arts Geographies, taking place between 23 May and 1 June 2022 and organised by the Mumok Museum, the Academy of Fine Arts of Vienna and cultural organisation Verein K. Thanks to collective efforts and solidarity, Walaa pushed back and pressured the cancelling institutions, with the result of having the program removed from their premises. This showed them that such discriminatory conduct cannot be without repercussions.

Walaa Alqaisiya is a respected Research Fellow sponsored by the European Commission under the Marie Curie Fellowship framework. She is affiliated with three major universities worldwide: Cà Foscari University of Venice, Columbia University in New York and the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics (LSE). As an academic specialised in gender and queer studies as well as de-colonialism, she was invited to speak at the Spring Curatorial Program that presented itself as focusing on those areas. Walaa was expected to give a lecture based on her forthcoming book Decolonial Queering in Palestine on 30 May 2022.

9 days ahead of the lecture, she received an anonymous email warning her that local groups were trying to get her disinvited. After the main curator of the program reassured her, Walaa finally received a phone call only four days before the event to announce that her lecture was cancelled.

Walaa was later informed that the decision ensued from the pressure exerted by the Austrian Union of Jewish Students and KESHET Austria, which alleged that Walaa’s scholarship was antisemitic. In their complaint, they mentioned the IHRA definition of antisemitism adopted by Austria as well as anti-BDS resolutions adopted in Austria and Germany. They alleged that “the Lecturer openly supports the antisemitic organisation BDS and explains its agitation as an important global struggle against the ‘international ties of Israeli settler-colonialism’ …she is an obvious proponent of Israel-related antisemitism“. Several groups also joined a smear campaign on social media, baselessly depicting Walaa as “antisemitic”.

The ELSC reached out to its support network and sent a letter to the contributors and the curators of the program, condemning the violation of Walaa’s fundamental rights:

The exclusion of Walaa Alqaisiya is a blatant violation of her fundamental right to freedom of expression and academic freedom, enshrined in article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Moreover, this case is illustrative of Anti-Palestinian racism – a form of anti-Arab racism that aims to silence, exclude, erase, stereotype, defame or dehumanise Palestinians or their narratives, in violation of the right of non-discrimination established by article 14 ECHR.

Many organisations, such as the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES), the European Association of International Studies (EISA), the International Association Studies (ISA), SeSaMo (Società per gli Studi sul Medio Oriente), Academia for Equality, also raised their concerns about this censorship, as well as contributors to the program such as Françoise Vergès, Kate Sutton and Raino Isto. More than 370 artists, writers and academics, including Judith Butler, Roger Waters, Angela Davis and Dirk Moses voiced their outrage in the wake of the last-minute cancellation. Local groups also supported the scholar in Viennese streets, such as Jewish group Judeobolschewiener*innen.

Although the Academy officialised the cancellation on the 30th of May in a confusing statement, blaming the abstract of the lecture that was approved months ago by the organisers, the mobilisation from civil society pushed othe curators to remove the remainder of the program from the premises of the cancelling institutions and to issue a statement in support of Walaa.

Nevertheless, the Fine Arts Academy and the MUMOK as organisers of the program have not reconsidered their position nor have they apologised. Walaa Alqaisiya is still waiting for a public apology from the Rector of the Fine Arts Academy and further explanation about the decision-making process that led to her disinvitation.

Walaa wrote in the LSE Middle East Center blog:

The cancellation of my lecture, led by pro-Israel groups and their political and virtual networks including queer-affiliated ones, captures the colonial-settler logics of feminist/queer sense that proliferate within European institutions, both academic and artistic. Their silencing of Palestinian voices and narratives works in tandem with the political conditions marking ongoing Palestinian erasure.

Read Walaa’s story in her own words in the LSE blog: “The Discursive Bounds of Zionism Or How Palestine Gets Cancelled

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