UK-WIDE PRO-PALESTINE DANCE PROTEST REACHES SADLER’S WELLS AS GAZA CASUALTIES MOUNT
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
- ISRAEL’S BATSHEVA CHALLENGED IN ITALY AS WELL AS ALL UK VENUES
- SADLER’S WELLS BEEFS UP SECURITY IN PREPARATION FOR PRO-PALESTINE PROTESTS
- ACADEMICS CONDEMN THEATRE MANAGEMENT REFUSAL TO ENTER DIALOGUE
November 15 – A nationwide campaign which has already interrupted 10 dance performances by Israel ’s Batsheva Ensemble in five cities up and down the country reached London ’s Sadler’s Wells this week, with activists saying mounting Palestinian deaths in Gaza added urgency to their protests.
Supporters of the Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid
campaign handed leaflets to audience members entering the theatre for this week’s evening shows, explaining why there will be protests when the Israeli troupe performs there on Nov 19, 20 & 21.
“We target artistic institutions which are intrinsically linked to the Israeli state through funding and the ‘Brand Israel ’ initiative,” the leaflets said. They quote an Israeli Foreign Affairs ministry spokesman outlining its explicit intention to send abroad cultural icons to “show Israel ’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”
It receives funding from the Israeli state, Israeli arms companies and the racist Jewish National Fund which works openly to dispossess Palestinians and replace them with Jewish immigrants.
Campaigners say their protest is not directed at individual Israeli artists, but at the government which deliberately uses art as cover for its human rights abuses and violations of international law.
A group of Italian artists has written
in similar vein to the artistic director of the Turin Dance festival, which is due to host the Israeli company, and there were demonstrations at Batsheva performances in Rome on November 8 & 9.
“With Israel escalating its attacks
on Gaza, killing at least a dozen civilians in recent days including two little girls and a number of boys on a football field,
we intend our protests to reclaim for the Palestinians a tiny piece of the cultural and physical space which Israel has stolen from them,” said Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, cultural working group coordinator for the Boycott Israel Network
, part of the UK Don’t Dance coalition.
Sadler’s Wells management has emailed ticket-holders telling them to expect “groups of peaceful demonstrators” at the Batsheva Ensemble performances, with the possibility of “some form of disruption inside the venue”. Bags will be searched on arrival and people should be ready for delays, the email said.
The theatre’s chief executive and artistic director Alistair Spalding refused to meet academics from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP
) who had asked to discuss the invitation to Batsheva with him.
Spalding insisted the Israeli company was no different from other international institutions: “the vehicle for the creative expression of their artistic directors and not .. representatives of the governments of their countries.
“I have a firm belief in cultural engagement rather than exclusion and … will present the work of choreographic artists whatever their nationality,” Spalding said.
Prof Jonathan Rosenhead, chair of BRICUP, said that Sadler’s Wells commitment to cultural engagement seemed not to extend to dialogue with principled critics. Spalding had failed to address any of the arguments BRICUP had made, said Rosenhead.
He referred in particular to the conditions under which Palestinian culture has to operate, described by a Palestinian dancer as “ Israel ‘s three-tiered system of occupation, colonisation and apartheid [which] ruthlessly suffocates the livelihoods of Palestinian communities, including our right to artistic and cultural expression.”
BRICUP has issued an open letter to Batsheva’s Naharin, asking “What does the artistic freedom of yourself and your dancers mean, when it’s used as international cover by a state that’s essentially trying to force out the indigenous Palestinian population?”
Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid began its campaign with protests at performances by the main Batsheva Dance company in the Edinburgh International Festival
at the end of August , winning support from considerable Scottish cultural figures including the national poet (Makar) Liz Lochhead.
Hundreds of campaign supporters have made their presence felt at every stop on the current tour by Batsheva’s junior Ensemble, beginning inScotland
before moving on to Manchester and Bradford
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas wrote to the Dome Theatre management reminding them that: “Israel’s sponsorship of arts and cultural events is one deliberate way in which it is actively seeking to repair the reputational damage inflicted by its treatment of Palestinians, so Palestinian civil society has called for a full cultural boycott of all cultural performers and exhibitors that are institutionally linked to the Israeli state.”
There were more protests on November 13 & 14 in Birmingham where
a letter from a Palestinian Christian organisation questioning the hosting of Batsheva at the Hippodrome was presented to the Bishop of Birmingham, the Right Rev. David Urquhart, who is one of the theatre’s directors. Kairos Palestine, which sent the letter, has received no reply.
The next Batsheva Ensemble tour date is in Leicester on Nov 16, followed by Sadler’s Wells on November 19 to 21. The tour ends in Plymouth on Nov 24.