ISRAELI DANCE TROUPE ENCOUNTERS NATIONWIDE BOYCOTT PROTESTS

 

Posters used by Manchester campaigners at the Salford Lowry on November 2 and 3

 

Israel’s Batsheva dance company, the focus of vociferous pro-Palestinian boycott activity during the Edinburgh International Festival two months ago, continues to attract protest during a UK tour by its junior ensemble.

 

Although its artistic director Ohad Naharin is a critic of Israeli policy towards Palestine, Batsheva is hailed by the current right-wing government as its “best global ambassador” and the company is financed by Israeli arms companies, the Israeli State, and the racist Jewish National Fund which works openly to dispossess Palestinians and replace them with Jewish immigrants.

 

This is why the Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid campaign has mounted protests at Batsheva Ensemble shows in Edinburgh, Manchester and Bradford, with more to come in Brighton, Birmingham, Leicester, London and Plymouth. There will also be protests in Italy later this week when the Batsheva Dance Company is due to perform in Rome.

 

Every performance has met with lively demonstrations outside the theatres as well as short but effective interruptions inside. This is despite extravagant attempts by venue managers to weed out Palestine sympathizers, covertly aided – or more likely pressurised – by zealots of the StandWithUs pro Israel  propaganda outfit.

The latest protests occurred on Tuesday and Wednesday in Bradford where 100 or more Palestine sympathisers gathered outside the Alhambra theatre on each night. A member of the Green Party explained their involvement in the protests in eloquent detail.

Demonstrators have written to the West Yorkshire police complaining of unnecessarily heavy-handed policing, but there have been no arrests. There has, however, been at least one assault on a peaceful protester by a pro-Israel audience member. Campaigners are considering bringing charges.

Such is the level of Zionist exasperation at the growing support for the boycott movement, modeled on the campaigns which helped end apartheid in South Africa, they have resorted to bringing charges of “racially aggravated conduct” against protest organisers. These have been justly brushed aside by the authorities in Edinburgh but have surfaced again in Brighton where Batsheva is due to perform next week.

This is clearly part of a campaign of intimidation against people of conscience trying to draw attention to Israel’s human rights abuses and violations of international law. Having no arguments to counter their critics, Israel’s apologists take refuge in smear tactics, ignoring the fact that throwing around the charge of antisemitism where it has no foundation devalues it and desensitises the public to genuine anti-Jewish racism when it arises.

 


Norma Turner who helped organise protests at Manchester’s Lowry on November 2 and 3, said there had been many Jewish people among those on the protests there. This had defused the usual “antisemite” slurs and facilitated a great deal of positive dialogue between campaigners and people entering the theatre. Attendance seemed to be low and discounts were on offer.

 

“A number of ticket holders decided against attending the performance after hearing us explain about the cynical Brand Israel project,” said Turner.

 

Brand Israel is a PR exercise started in 2005 by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs deliberately using culture as mask to beautify Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. The boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is Palestinian’s non-violent response.

 

Activists have been accused of behaving like hooligans but this was clearly not the view of the Lowry management, who handed out hot drinks to protesters braving a rainy and windswept November night. This was despite the fact that managers had previously refused to engage with campaigners about Batsheva’s presence.

 

In London too, where the Israeli ensemble is due to perform at Sadler’s Wells on November 19/20/21, the venue management has so far refused to engage with  academics from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) who have requested a meeting. BRICUP has also issued a powerful open letter to Batsheva’s Naharin.

Naharin has emailed the Don’t Dance campaign and been quoted arguing that boycott action is of no benefit to the Palestinian people. He said it was motivated by “frustration and revenge” whereas Batsheva aimed “to build not to destroy”. We need “to try and create a dialogue” to replace “conflict” in a hugely complex situation, he said.

Mick Napier, chair of Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, wrote in response  “Far from ‘conflict’ impeding dialogue with protestors, it seems that only the fear of protests … induced Naharin to communicate in August, promising to discuss with his Board and get back to Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid. This budding ‘dialogue’, however, was still born, possibly because Batsheva hoped vainly that protests would fizzle out.” Napier said the Don’t Dance campaign has still not had a report-back from the Batsheva board.

 

In recent correspondence with one campaigner, Naharin wrote sarcastically that people in the West Bank must be celebrating because someone shouted out during a quiet part in one of the Batsheva Ensemble performances. The truth is that yes indeed, they are. Palestinians are so desperate for the world to take note of the injustices they suffer that a voice calling out on their behalf in a dance theatre in Scotland is something to celebrate.

 

Evidence of this can be seen in a YouTube clip from a group of young women in Gaza, not a slick, professional piece of Hasbara (propaganda), such as we are constantly fed by Israel’s foreign policy and media outlets, but a heartfelt statement of stifled Palestinian cultural expression contrasting bleakly with the freedom of Batsheva’s pampered dancers.

 

For more Palestinian cultural voices speaking for themselves, see:

 

Images and sounds of Gaza’s vibrant subculture in “Not a dreamland”

Remi Kanazi video debuts blistering new poem against the injustice of normalization

 

RAFEEF ZIADEH performs “Shades of Anger” and “We Teach Life, Sir”

 

There have been a few media reports of the Batsheva protests.

 Morning Star

Salford Star

This one avoids the underlying issues entirely:

 

 

 

 

4 responses to “ISRAELI DANCE TROUPE ENCOUNTERS NATIONWIDE BOYCOTT PROTESTS

  1. naomi, Mick and the rest of you who think that boycotting our shows are helping the Palestinian cause,

    when we have a problem and we wish our actions to be effective we need to get to the source of what create the problem. it is clear that non of what create the suffering of the Palestinian is effected by boycotting us. you bring up arguments about innocent victims and the brutality of the Israeli army facts that need to be told again and again, yet, connecting it to Batsheva existence is absurd. Batsheva was formed in 1964 by Martha graham and Batsheva de Rothschild (before the six days war when Israel went in to the west bank..) very quickly it became an important enough art institution to justify getting state money just like any other art organization where a country recognize the idea of funding cultural institutions as part of a democratic system.

    in the 22 years as an artistic director we have had many governments, many prime ministers and many culture ministers, one of them was Shulamit Aloni. an amazing woman who contributed directly and indirectly to the on going effort of many Israelis to bring the occupation to an end . it is beyond my control who is seated in our government or who is a current minister of culture. for sure it will change again… we are not a propaganda of any government even if it chose to decorate itself with our success….

    it is true that i wish that the call to boycott us and disturbing our shows will stop, yet, unlike what Mick Napier think it is not the main reason for my communication with you. it is wanting to take a part in helping to create a more effective ways to help the Palestinians. and it is because of my great sadness and guilt witnessing what is going on in the west bank. in one of my communication i wrote in the past that i am not only willing to give up land for peace i am will give up my house….

    my company will survive the demonstrations, we even manage to deliver a meaningful show despite the disturbances. it is sad that by the end of this tour so little will be achieve to further the Palestinians cause.

    i wish you would see that we are part of those people and spirit that exist in Israel that can bring a change… it is not obvious to see. much easier to go the way you have chosen to and to my great sadness i know that writing this will do little to alter your position…

    ohad naharin

  2. Ohad Naharin – perhaps you should have a look at the website for Australian Friends of Batsheva, an organisation which you personally helped to launch. Their mission statement clearly states that supporting Batsheva “Contributes towards a positive image of Israel.” globallhttp://www.aice.com.au/mission-statement.php
    A quick google of the organisers of American Friends of Batsheva shows that some of these are active supporters of Israel too.
    Batsheva should take responsibility for its role in detracting from Israel’s human rights abuses of the Palestinian people.

  3. Ohad, you say that when we have a problem and we wish our actions to be effective we need to get to the source of the problem. But the problem for most of us who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people is that it’s difficult ‘to get to the source’ since it’s armed to the teeth and in any event won’t let a lot of us in. It’s true that single actions like boycotting Batsheva will not immediately affect the injustices perpetrated on the Palestinian people. However, the cumulative effects of continuous actions, whereby we are informing the public about things of which they often know very little, if anything, will eventually bear fruit. Israel has not set out to rebrand itself for nothing: it knows that BDS is gaining ground and having an effect. I’m sorry that we have to do what we are doing, but we have no other option. We have to continue what we are doing, which is informing civil society of the real situation, until governments are forced to act. Why don’t you, like other artists in Israel, refuse to play in the colonies and seek funding elsewhere? Unlike the campaign against South Africa, there is not a blanket ban on all things Israeli: it is the fact that you are funded by the government, arms companies and the JNF, all pernicious organisations, which makes Batsheva a target. I know that there are Israelis who support our actions and I know it is extremely difficult for you, but until you can separate Batsheva from these organistions, we have no alternative but to boycott. Finally, although Israel may have had good people in government in the past, this doesn’t get away from the fact that successive Israeli governments, from Israel’s inception, have carried out the same policies of ethnic cleansing and land expropriation and the policies only appear to be getting worse and worse.

  4. Dear Ohad
    Thank you for writing so passionately about your commitment to dance and about your wish that things in the benighted country that Israel has become could be different. Thank you for telling us about your feeling that as an artist you have no option but to take the support of the Government because artists have to get what funding they can in these difficult times. Like all artists you feel that through your art maybe it would be possible to give expression to ideas that will resonate. Also I want to congratulate you on your willingness to talk to us about these issues, because so often those who support the narrative of Israeli Jewish privilege resort to threats, abuse and dishonesty. You are showing us that we can talk even if we do not agree.
    You say that the protests will not help the Palestinians. If we are talking about change by the Israeli government, then you are absolutely right. The ignorant among them who genuinely believe in their divine rights to oppress another people, will regard what we do with suspicion. Since they believe that they can do no wrong, they will believe that we are targeting Batsheva because we are anti-Semites. The more intelligent among them will recognise that they have a problem, but rather than trying to change, they will attack the protestors and redouble their efforts to distract the world from the reality of Israel’s criminal behaviour.
    It would seem that they hope that the soaring cultural menu on offer will encourage the world to shut their eyes and let this beauty wash over them. Sadly Batsheva has been chosen to market this flawed perspective. It is called ‘Brand Israel’. The company is caught in a vice and as such I feel strongly for you all, but in the end you have made a choice and thus you are left with few options.
    There is an English saying: He who pays the piper calls the tune’. The Government of Israel funds Batsheva and hopes that when the world sees Israel only as a country capable of artistic endeavour, and not of the brutality of occupation, and privilege, the return on its investment is guaranteed. We wish to challenge this perspective.
    You ask whether action against Batsheva helps the Palestinians. The Palestinians are not helped by their imprisonment behind illegal walls and the denial of freedom that Israel’s policies promote. They need the empowerment that equality and self determination guarantee. This is what Israel refuses to countenance. Therefore Palestinians say, ‘while we are not free, your endorsement of these policies will be targeted’. And by taking the government’s shilling, you are implicitly endorsing its agenda.
    Israel’s promotion of its own culture to the exclusion of recognition of the culture of Palestine which existed long before the advent of Jewish settlers, denies Palestinian reality. By responding to Palestinian demands, we are saying Palestinian culture is valid. Therefore we will not be silent, nor will we be complicit in the silencing of justified Palestinian demands. Thus are we showing that the voice and the reality of Palestine have a constant presence. In a cultural context we are making Palestinians visible again. Therefore this has a real resonance in the Palestinian psyche. We firmly believe that this helps build Palestinian morale, which Israel daily tries to destroy. And while doubtless there are Israelis who are committed to change, we note that they are unable to influence the body politic which shows an increased subservience to racist dominion.
    Finally I need to say that I am doing this because I am a Jew, horrified by the theft of my Jewish heritage by interlopers who identify Judaism with oppression, with mendacity, with expropriation, and with privilege. I want to say to all who care to listen that this is not what Judaism should be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s