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”.
- 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.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.
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.