Monthly Archives: April 2012

BAD WEEK FOR PERES AS BDS VICTORIES MOUNT

Israeli President Shimon Peres appeared in contemplative mood on Israel’s 64th Independence Day, April 25, bemoaning the power of the boycott movement in an interview in Maariv.

After listing Israel’s huge achievements, Peres mused on why such a successful nation should seek peace. Not, evidently, because peace is good for humanity, that would be just silly. No. Israel should seek peace:

“Because if Israel’s image gets worse, it will begin to suffer boycotts. There is already an artistic boycott against us — they won’t let Habimah Theatre enter London — and signs of an undeclared financial boycott are beginning to emerge.”

The good president actually slightly overestimates the success of the BDS campaign against the presence of the Israeli National Theatre at the Globe-to-Globe festival, though it has made great strides.

But within hours of publication of his Maariv interview, Peres’s words seemed quite prophetic.

That very day, delegates to the Annual Conference of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the umbrella group for every trade union in Scotland, voted unanimously for a range of resolutions condemning Israeli apartheid, including supporting the StoptheJNF campaign to expose the role of the racist JNF (Jewish National Fund).

Then on Friday April 27, tireless work from BDS activists paid off massively with the decision of the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer, The Co-operative Group, to “no longer engage with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements”.

The Co-op’s decision, notified to campaigners in a statement, will immediately impact four suppliers, Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, Adafresh and Mehadrin, Israel’s largest agricultural export company.

Coverage of this major development spread rapidly in the British and Israeli media. The Guardian’s coverage, which for a time was the second most viewed item on its website, relied heavily on the statement put out by the Boycott Israel Network.

The Jerusalem Post was among many Israeli outlets to take up the story, and pro-Israel bloggers quickly leapt into action to demand a boycott of the Co-op.

ISRAELI THEATRE BOYCOTT DEBATE GOES MAINSTREAM

An unexplored question to emerge from the furore over the prospect of Israel’s National Theatre, Habima, coming to Shakespeare’s Globe theatre next month, is why liberal thinkers who want to see Palestinians achieve their rights are so reluctant to hold Israel to account for denying them.
Playwright David Edgar, for example, in a Comment piece for the Guardian  elegantly deflected the Nazi and McCarthyite epithets hurled at Mark Rylance, Emma Thompson, Jonathan Miller and other actors, directors and writers opposed to the involvement of Habima in the Cultural Olympiad.
But he fell into the trap of what he himself termed “easy conflations” by allowing Habima’s “Jewishness” to determine his attitude towards boycotting it. The full story, by J-BIG’s Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, appeared on the OpenDemocracy blog on Friday April 27.
In the weeks since the March 30 publication in the Guardian of a letter signed by leading theatre names opposing the invitation to Habima, media debate about the cultural boycott issue has deepened and broadened.
Some of the responses have been predictably dismissive of Palestinian rights. For a grim example of this, see (below a sane letter about Israel’s nuclear capability) a letter to the Guardian on April 21 from five MPs – members of the select committee for Culture, Media and Sport, no less – claiming that it was no crime to perform in the illegal settlements since they were bound to be part of Israel in due course.  This argument was seen off in no uncertain terms in  further letters on April 23.

Hisham's Palace near Jericho, where Ashtar staged Richard ll in preparation for taking it to Shakespeare's Globe

A recent example of excellent mainstream coverage appears on the Economist arts blog Prospero, which gave full attention to the campaign against Habima for its complicity in Israel’s persistent human rights abuses and to the courage of Palestinian theatre company Ashtar, which is to perform Richard ll at the Globe on May 4 &5.

Now the debate is set to ascend to a yet higher level with the  staging by Ashtar of an open discussion with members of the audience for its matinee performance on Friday May4.

The discussion, in the Globe’s lecture theatre, will be open to holders of tickets for that day’s performance.

Some of the signatories to the original Guardian letter will be taking part.

Full details will be available nearer the time.

Tickets for both the Friday matinee and the Saturday evening performance can be booked here.

ARTISTS REFUTE ‘NAZI’ SLURS OVER ISRAELI THEATRE PROTEST

‘Nazi’ slurs published by the Jewish Chronicle are comprehensively rebutted in a letter from prominent theatrical figures.

A challenge to Shakespeare’s Globe for inviting Israel’s national theatre, Habima, to take part in London’s Cultural Olympiad in May has been met with a flurry of allegations of ‘Nazi era book-burning’ (Arnold Wesker in the Jewish Chronicle) and McCarthyism (Howard Jacobson in the Observer) .

This in turn prompted several  of the original 37 signatories to a letter in the Guardian to retaliate, refuting the allegations with a reply published in the Jewish Chronicle on April 12. It is not available on the JC’s website so we reproduce it here:

How sad that Arnold Wesker, Steven Berkoff and Maureen Lipman should suggest that challenging the Israeli national theatre’s fitness to take part in the Olympic Shakespeare Festival at the Globe next month is “tantamount to Nazi-era book-burning” (Theatre ban ‘like Nazi book burning’ sayWest Endstars, April 4).

Can they really have intended to cast this Nazi slur at Mark Rylance, Emma Thompson and the many other theatrical professionals like ourselves who believe that theatre should uphold resistance to injustice, rather than pretend opposition to Israel’s policies while continuing business as usual with an unjust state and its institutions? Doesn’t that cheap insult demean them rather than us?
Our call on colleagues at the Globe to withdraw their invitation to Habima, the Israeli National Theatre, explicitly targets an institution that does the state’s bidding by performing for Israelis illegally settled on occupied Palestinian territory. Habima is directly complicit in human rights abuses, and we think our profession has a responsibility, if not a duty, to speak up on the matter.

We are not targeting individual actors, directors or authors, nor the content of their work, and have no intention of doing so. We are not picking on Israel because it is Jewish, as Berkoff and Lipman allege.

 We are responding to a Palestinian call to insist that Israel lives up to the civilised standards it claims to uphold. In the process, we are celebrating and endorsing those brave Israelis, theatre people among them, who have refused to work in the illegal settlements.

Signed:
 
Niall Buggy, actor
David Calder, actor
Caryl Churchill, playwright
Michael Darlow, writer, director
John Graham Davies, actor, writer
Trevor Griffiths, playwright
James Ivens, artistic director, Flood Theatre
Roger Lloyd Pack, actor
Miriam Margolyes OBE, actor
Alexei Sayle, comedian, writer
Hilary Westlake, director
Susan Wooldridge, actor, writer
Geoffrey Alderman argued that Israel has every right to settle Jews in the West Bank, so Habima was doing nothing wrong. He was quickly slapped down by Adam Keller, of Gush Shalom.
In Wednesday’s Guardian (April 11), Arnold Wesker and a few friends finally put to rest the habitual insistence of Israel’s apologists that “we must not mix culture and politics” by accusing those who queried the invitation to Habima of  “seeking to delegitimise the state of Israel and its success”.
Wesker’s involvement in this row, invoking the sanctity of art, is ironic given his past involvement in the campaign to ban Jim Allen’s play Perdition, which exposed the collaboration of some Zionist leaders with the  Nazis in Hungary. In 1987 the Royal Court Theatre was forced to pull a planned production of the play and it has never been staged in its entirety.
There have been countless items of media coverage since the original Guardian letter appeared on March 30. This commentary from Ben White puts the controversy in context.
Here is a short selection of other coverage, for, against and neutral.