Photo of Joanna Walsh

An Open Letter to the DAAD

Author, artist, and Spike columnist Joanna Walsh rejects a prestigious German fellowship, in light of the widespread cancellation of academics and cultural workers protesting the genocide in Gaza.

To the Head of the Artists-in-Berlin Program and Head of Literature and Film, German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, DAAD),

Firstly, I would like to thank you for your very generous offer of a DAAD Fellowship, which must be the greatest honor of my writing life.

Regretfully, and after much consideration, I cannot accept. Exceptional circumstances guide my decision. Ethical questions are more usually dealt with by artists in their work, but here, they require a direct response.

President of the DAAD, Joybrato Mukherjee’s withdrawal, in his capacity as Rector of the University of Cologne, of Professor Nancy Fraser’s Albertus Magnus Professorship – after she signed an open letter calling for an academic boycott of Israel, in a situation already described in January 2024 as “plausible” genocide by the International Court of Justice – threatens German and European free speech. Academic boycotts have a history as peaceful responses to state-sponsored violence (as in South Africa in the 1980s), and they target state institutions, not, as in Cologne University’s treatment of Fraser, individuals.

Like Professor Fraser, who is herself Jewish, I have signed a number of letters calling for action against the genocide of Palestinians, including one from Irish academics asking for ties with Israeli institutions to be suspended, and I have regularly taken part in large-scale, peaceful demonstrations calling for an immediate ceasefire, which take place almost weekly on the streets of Dublin.

Eva Giannakopoulou, Jonas Staal, and China Miéville’s withdrawals from the 2024 DAAD program only lends weight to my decision. Solidarity on this issue is strong in Ireland, especially amongst artists and writers, and I will not break that solidarity. The Irish government’s position on Gaza is fragile, but nevertheless rare amongst European countries, and I would rather act to support than to undermine it.

I make this decision with deep regret, and with much appreciation for your personal commitment to encouraging voices that “challenge German debates,” but “in order for violence to stop,” to quote the letter Fraser signed, “the conditions that produce violence must stop.” No honor I could receive can stand against the slightest violence to the victims of this conflict, or to the freedom of artists and academics to openly discuss this matter in the EU.

Eventually, I hope that the DAAD is able resolve its difficulties and that I will be able to re-apply under happier circumstances.

With gratitude and regret,

Joanna Walsh