Italy’s Culture Minister Rules Out Excluding Israel from Venice Biennale

Gennaro Sangiuliano says that Israel has the 'right to express her art' amid the ongoing conflict.

The Italian Minister of Culture, Gennaro Sangiuliano. Photo: Stefano Montesi - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images.

Italian Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano has shut down calls to exclude Israel from the Venice Biennale over the escalating humanitarian crisis caused by Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.

Sangiuliano’s comments were shared in a statement on the Italian Culture Ministry’s website and were made in response to an open letter published by Art Not Genocide Alliance (ANGA) on February 26 calling for Israel’s exclusion from the Biennale. The group noted that the prestigious art event had banned apartheid South Africa from participating in 1968 until 1993; additionally, the curator of the last edition issued messages of support for Ukraine after Russia’s invasion in 2022.

But for Gaza, Sangiuliano suggested that excluding Israel would amount to suppressing “freedom of thought” and “creative expression.”

“The diktat of those who think they are the holders of the truth and, with arrogance and hatred, think they can threaten the freedom of thought and of creative expression in a democratic, free nation like Italy is unacceptable and shameful,” Sangiuliano said in his statement.

“Israel not only has the right to express its art, but it has the duty to bear witness of its people precisely at a time like this when it has been attacked in cold blood by merciless terrorists,” he continued. “My deepest solidarity and closeness goes to the State of Israel, its artists, and all its citizens.”

ANGA responded with a statement after Sangiuliano’s remarks, noting that more than 13,000 people have committed to the campaign to exclude Israel from the Venice Biennale.

“The Biennale cannot be a ‘space of freedom, meeting, and dialogue’ when providing a platform for Israel as its apartheid state commits genocide against Palestinians in Gaza,” the alliance said.

ANGA added that culture is not a bridge between people and nations “when one nation is involved in the elimination of another, the citizens of which are kept behind a dividing wall.”

“We insist on dignity, humanity, and accountability on the global stages of culture. We stand against the genocide in Gaza, and the killing of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, and call for Israel to be held to the same standard as its peers, in culture as in law,” the alliance said. “Freedom of thought and creative expression are only threatened when artists turn away from reality.”

Sangiuliano, a former journalist, resigned his position as the director of Italy’s state-owned news channel TG2 in 2022 to join the far-right populist government of Georgia Meloni. He was previously involved with a political party with ties to neo-fascism.

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