Category Archives: batsheva

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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ANGER AT GAZA SLAUGHTER TARGETS SADLER’S WELLS

NOVEMBER 18 – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ANGER AT GAZA SLAUGHTER TARGETS SADLER’S WELLS
  • PROTEST OVER GAZA DEATHS MOVES TO THEATRE HOSTING ISRAEL’S BATSHEVA DANCE ENSEMBLE
 
  • BATSHEVA ACCUSED OF ACTING AS CULTURAL FIGLEAF FOR ATROCITIES
 
  • SADLER’S WELLS BEEFS UP SECURITY IN PREPARATION FOR PRO-PALESTINE PROTESTS
  • ACADEMICS CONDEMN THEATRE MANAGEMENT REFUSAL TO ENTER DIALOGUE
November 18 – Protests at the growing Palestinian death toll caused by Israel’s bombardment of Gaza will move from outside London’s Israeli Embassy to the city’s premier contemporary dance venue at Sadler’s Wells, Islington on Monday.
nationwide campaign,  Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid, has already interrupted 11 dance performances by Israel’s Batsheva Ensemble in six cities up and down the country and is now targeting the Israeli troupe’s three planned performances at Sadler’s Wells on Nov 19, 20 & 21.
Campaigners say their protest is not directed at individual Israeli artists, but at the government which deliberately uses culture as cover for its human rights abuses and violations of international law.
 
“We target artistic institutions which are intrinsically linked to the Israeli state through funding and the ‘Brand Israel ’ initiative,” the campaign leaflets say. They quote an Israeli Foreign Affairs ministry spokesman outlining, in the wake of the previous onslaught on Gaza which killed more than 1300 Palestinians, 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.”
Although Batsheva’s artistic director Ohad Naharin has publicly opposed Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, his company isembraced by Israel ’s far-right government as their finest cultural ambassador.
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.
“With Israel escalating its attacks on Gaza, killing dozens including civilians, with children among them, 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. “We do not accept that art may be used as a figleaf for killings and collective punishment of a civilian population.”
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 theirnationality,” 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,  even more relevant now that Gaza is under Israeli attack, 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 in Scotland  before moving on to Manchester and Bradford .
In Brighton 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 five  protestors disrupted the performance on each of the two nights, and on the second night they managed to drop a banner from the Circle.

Demonstrators massed outside the Leicester Curve on Friday Nov 16

A performance in Leicester on Friday night attracted a hundred or more local people angered by the assault on Gaza. As in every other venue, the show was interrupted on a number of occasions by protesters calling out pro-Palestinian slogans.
After Sadler’s Wells there are two more Batsheva Ensemble tour dates, in Plymouth on Nov 23 & 24.
ENDS