Globe Olympic Shakespeare Festival challenged for inviting Israeli National Theatre

This news release went into circulation on Friday March 29, just in time for Palestine Land Day and the Global March for Jerusalem, with publication of a letter signed by leading actors, directors and playwrights, challenging the Globe Theatre for inviting Israel’s national theatre, Habima, to take part in London’s Oultural Olympiad. Habima is complicit in Israel’s illegal settlement of Palestinian land.

ATTENTION EDITORS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

  •  David Calder, Trevor Griffiths, Jonathan Miller, Mark Rylance, Emma Thompson, Harriet Walter call on Globe to withdraw invitation to Israeli theatre, Habima
  •  Rylance – “support Israeli artists resisting illegal settlements”
  •  Calder – Habima “a cultural fig-leaf” for Israeli brutality

Leading British actors, directors and authors are challenging the Globe to Globe World Shakespeare Festival, part of the Cultural Olympiad, over its invitation to an Israeli theatre company which performs for settlers on illegally occupied Palestinian land.

In an open letter published in The Guardian (March 29), David Calder, Trevor Griffiths, Jonathan Miller, Mark Rylance, Emma Thompson and Harriet Walter, along with 31 others, say the Israeli National Theatre, Habima, “has a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory”.

They call on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, on London’s South Bank, to withdraw the invitation “so the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land”.

Habima is scheduled to perform The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew at the Globe on May 28 and 29 as one of 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 world languages during the seven week festival.

The Guardian letter notes that a number of Israeli theatre professionals have declared that they will not take part in performances in “halls of culture” built in two large Israeli settlements. Habima, however, has pledged to continue doing so.

“I sign this letter in support of those artists within Israel who are resisting the requests to play in the illegal settlements,” said actor Mark Rylance.   He drew a parallel with earlier campaigns supporting change in apartheid South Africa.

“Acting in the illegal settlements seems to me an act of provocation and disrespect. Surely peace will only be born when each person respects the other’s boundaries,” Rylance said.

The Globe’s response to appeals from Israeli, Palestinian and British campaigners for Habima’s invitation to be withdrawn has been to insist that the World Shakespeare Festival must be inclusive and keep channels of cultural communication open.

David Calder, whose roles include Shylock with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Lear with the Globe Theatre Company, said that Habima “placed itself outside the general case of ‘bridge-making culture’ by being prepared to play before a segregated audience of illegal settlers in a theatre from which Palestinians themselves are barred”.

Calder said that leading Israeli company Habima are part of “a cultural fig leaf” forIsrael’s daily brutality.

Notes for editors:

1. FULL TEXT OF LETTER + TOP 13 SIGNATORIES, REMAINING SIGS BELOW, ALL IN PERSONAL CAPACITY.

We notice with dismay and regret that Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in Londonhas invited Israel’s National Theatre, Habima, to perform The Merchant of Venice in its Globe to Globe festival this coming May.

The general manager of Habima has declared the invitation ‘an honourable accomplishment for the State of Israel’ (i).   But Habima has a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Last year, two large Israeli settlements established ‘halls of culture’ and asked Israeli theatre groups to perform there.   A number of Israeli theatre professionals – actors, stage directors, playwrights – declared (ii) they would not take part.

Habima however accepted the invitation with alacrity, and promised the Israeli Minister of Culture that it would ‘deal with any problems hindering such performances’.   By inviting Habima, Shakespeare’s Globe is undermining the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to break international law.

The Globe says it wants to ‘include’ the Hebrew language in its festival – we have no problem with that.   ‘Inclusiveness’ is a core value of arts policy in Britain, and we support it.   But by inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practised by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company.   We ask the Globe to withdraw the invitation so the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land.

Yours sincerely,

David Calder, actor

Caryl Churchill, playwright

Trevor Griffiths, playwright

Mike Leigh, filmmaker, dramatist

Roger Lloyd Pack, actor

Cherie Lunghi, actor

Miriam Margolyes OBE, actor

Kika Markham, actor

Jonathan Miller, director, author and broadcaster

Mark Rylance, actor

Emma Thompson, actor, screenwriter

Harriet Walter DBE, actor

Richard Wilson, actor, director

Full list of further signatories:

David Aukin, producer

Poppy Burton-Morgan, artistic director, Metta Theatre

Leo Butler, playwright

Niall Buggy, actor

Jonathan Chadwick, director

Michael Darlow, writer, director

Annie Firbank, actor

Paul Freeman, actor

Matyelok Gibbs, actor

Tony Graham, director

John Graham Davies, actor, writer

Janet Henfrey, actor

James Ivens, artistic director, Flood Theatre

Andrew Jarvis, actor, director, teacher

Neville Jason, actor

Ursula Jones, actor

Professor Adah Kay, academic, playwright

Sonja Linden, playwright, iceandfire theatre

Frances Rifkin, director

Alexei Sayle, comedian, writer

Farhana Sheikh, writer

Andy de la Tour, actor, director

Hilary Westlake, director

Susan Wooldridge, actor, writer

(i) http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4170210,00.html

(ii) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/29/actors-boycott-west-bank-theatre

2. Habima’s planned involvement in the Globe to Globe festival aroused opposition initially from the Israeli organisation Boycott from Within, who wrote to Globe Theatre Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole in January 2012:

http://boycottisrael.info/content/call-shakespeares-globe-theatre

3. This was soon followed by a Palestinian appeal.

Excerpt from letter to the Globe from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI):

“Just as British theatres in the 1980s avoided inviting South African theatres that were part of the apartheid system and took a stance in opposition to apartheid, so must the Globe today disinvite Habima, a cultural ambassador of Israel and a defender of Israel’s illegal colonies.

All main Palestinian theatre artists and other cultural figures endorse  the cultural boycott of Israel and its complicit institutions as a minimal, peaceful form of resistance to the occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression.”

“We again call on the Globe to cancel this invitation which conflicts with its commitment to human rights.”[1]

4. Israeli, British and theatrical media picked up the story:

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4170210,00.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2012/jan/17/globe-theatre-controversial-israeli-company

http://www.thestage.co.uk/news/newsstory.php/34932/globe-defends-invitation-to-israeli-theatre

5. Habima’s general manager Odelia Friedman declared the invitation to perform at the Globe “an honourable accomplishment for the State of Israel”

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4170210,00.html

6.  A Palestinian theatre group, Ashtar, based in Ramallah in the Occupied West Bank, is to stage Richard II in Arabic on May 4 and  5.  A Habima spokesperson, Rut Tonn, described Ashtar’s appearance in the same festival as Habima as an example of “collaborations which will help with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/55939/israelis-fear-protests-globe-shakespeare-festival

But Ashtar has refuted any suggestion that its appearance in the festival four weeks before Habima’s implies any sort of balance or equivalence, and said in a letter to the Globe:

“They have insinuated cooperation with us to undermine the growing cultural boycott of complicit Israeli institutions.”[2]

7. The Israeli state explicitly utilises culture as a propaganda tool under the auspices of its Foreign Affairs ministry which launched a ‘Brand Israel’ campaign in 2005.

Nissim Ben-Sheetrit of Israel’s Foreign Ministry said: “We see culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between propaganda and culture.”

Artists who accept funding from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs are required to sign a contract which states that the artist “is aware that the purpose of ordering services from him is to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.”

http://www.haaretz.com/putting-out-a-contract-on-art-1.250388

8. Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has highlighted the role of theatre in bolstering the state’s policy of relentless settlement and colonisation and predicted that theatres around the world would lock their doors to Habima.

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/puppet-theater-1.310770

9. The failure of the international community to hold Israel to account for its persistent infringements of human rights, flouting of UN resolution and breaches of international law has led to a Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions modelled on the non-violent campaign to end South African apartheid.

http://pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=869

[1] Full text available on request

[2] Full text available on request

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