BRAND ISRAEL EXPOSED AS PLYMOUTH PROTESTS ROUND OFF BATSHEVA UK TOUR

One of many posters used around the country contrasting Israeli freedom of cultural expression with the injustices inflicted upon Palestinians.

The last of two nights of peaceful but noisy protest at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth, southwest England, on Saturday, rounded off almost a month of action  directed at Israel’s Batsheva Ensemble – the junior arm of world renowned Batsheva Dance Company which is hailed by Israel’s right-wing leaders as its best “cultural ambassador”.

Rain-soaked but exuberant in Plymouth.

 
Like previous protests in Edinburgh, Salford, Bradford, Brighton, Birmingham, Leicester and London, the Plymouth actions were coordinated by the Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid campaign, part of the cultural boycott movement which aims to expose Israel’s deliberate deployment of art as a political weapon. Israel’s slaughter of more than 160 Palestinians in Gaza as Batsheva’s tour drew to a close gave the campaign added momentum.Plymouth’s small band of Palestine solidarity activists was reinforced by others from nearby Exeter and further afield, mounting demonstrations of at least 40 outside the theatre on both nights, despite vile weather on the Saturday. There were also protests inside the venue. The demonstrations were covered by the local Evening Herald .
 

At least one prospective audience member tore up his tickets after reading a campaign leaflet

 
One local activist said Christians, Jews, Muslims and Atheists, drenched by pouring rain, all stood and shouted together for a common purpose.  “It was
joyful and spirited,” the activist said.  “The beaming face of a friend from Gaza, who was with us, was reward enough. I asked how his family were. ‘Strong’, he said. They will know in Gaza that we support them.”
 
Earlier in November organisers of protests at the Salford Lowry received a message of support and encouragement “from youth in Gaza.”
 “We in Gaza salute your tremendous efforts confronting any group supported by the Israeli apartheid regime,” the message said.  “You are our voice and you give us real hope. Please do everything to grow the movement. No longer can we entertain anyone in the name of brand Israel while the ethnic cleansing, racism and sheer brutality against our people persists everyday of our lives.”
 
During three days of protest at Batsheva’s Sadler’s Wells performances in London Nov 19-21, the company’s artistic director Ohad Naharin  was quoted in Israeli newspaper Haaretz saying he sympathised with protestors but Batsheva did not deserve to be targeted.
 

Zionists in Manchester showed that they see Batsheva as an icon for their Israeli nationalist views.

 However, indications of involvement by some pro-Israel members of the fascist English Defence league, vociferous counter demonstrations by flag-waving Israel supporters and the presence of a high proportion of Zionists in Batsheva’s audiences at every venue testify to the truth of the cultural boycott analysis – whatever the views of individuals associated with an Israeli cultural institution, as long as it does not formally renounce state funding and the cultural ambassador role, it will continue to be treated as an icon by  the state which is repressing Palestinians and will consequently encounter protests.
 
The Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid campaign began in Edinburgh in August when the Batsheva Dance Company appeared at the Edinburgh International Festival. The no2brandisrael website was set up and creative banners, leaflets and artwork were developed to get the Palestinian boycott message out all around the country. There was high-level support from Scottish cultural figures and excellent news coverage.
 
With the appearance of the Batsheva Ensemble, also in Edinburgh, at the end of October, the Don’t Dance coalition moved into action mobilising Boycott Israel Network and Palestine Solidarity Campaign supporters, and members of  a range of local and national faith-based, community and human rights organisations, to protest the entire tour.  
Photos: Rada Daniell
Protesters singing, handing out leaflets and engaging in conversation  with ticket holders generated considerable debate among audiences in every centre. Most were hostile but a significant number asked questions which were respectfully answered and went away better informed than before about Israel’s denial of equality, justice and freedom to Palestinians.
Interventions inside the venues have given theatre managements huge headaches and are bound to make them review any future plans to book cultural groups linked to the Israeli state.
Sadler’s Wells saw five interventions each on Monday and Tuesday, and another two on Wednesday. Security staff were often heavy-handed, dragging, grabbing, carrying and pushing people. This behaviour was reproduced in some other venues but not all.

Organisers in several centres reported positive experiences working with police, although this was not entirely true in Bradford where the Batsheva protests became  the focus for a remarkable expression of community solidarity with the people of Palestine.

 The Sadler’s Wells protests – although no bigger or more effective then elsewhere -attracted the most media interest.

This was probably partly because Sadler’s Wells is London’s prime contemporary dance venue, and partly due to the connection with protests over the Gaza onslaught.

Remarkably, BBC Radio 4 devoted 12 or more minutes of its iPM slot on Saturday afternoon to discussing cultural boycott, initially with a listener who claimed to be baffled and upset by protests targeting Batsheva, and then with Liz Lochhead, Scotland’s national poet (Makar), who has publicly backed the boycott since before the Israeli company’s appearance at the Edinburgh International Festival.
Campaign news releases sent out in advance of the Sadler’s Wells dates were quoted by the Guardian and by the London Evening Standard, which said: “The spectacle begins even before you get inside the theatre — a vocal anti-Israeli picket line against this contemporary dance company because it takes financial support from the Israeli state. “
The Evening Standard headlined its editorial comment on Nov 20  “Israel’s Gaza war and a protest too far,” echoing its own report on the same day referring to Zionist actress Maureen Lipman’s “anger after protestors disrupt show”.
This Guardian review referred to demonstrations outside and inside the performance spaces.
A BBC arts report was reasonably fair and other dance reviewers also covered the protests. 

Many pictures and YouTube clips appears on activist blogs, websites and Facebook pages.  
 
 
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3 responses to “BRAND ISRAEL EXPOSED AS PLYMOUTH PROTESTS ROUND OFF BATSHEVA UK TOUR

  1. I was evicted from Plymouth Theatre Royal with one other activist. We made our protest twenty minutes into the performance. The security guy and police were polite and even friendly. My friend was given a wink and a smile from one of them. We came out to a rousing cheer. We had the better part. Outside the protesters were soaked to the skin. I engaged with a nice policeman and asked him if he had any idea what was happening to Palestninians and he said ‘no’. So I told him and he promised to google and find out more.
    I am proud and priviliged to have been able to take this small action for justice for my brothers and sisters in suffering Palesitne.

  2. Plymouth is in South West England, by the way.

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