Category Archives: dance


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.  


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.


Cultural boycott is controversial, sensitive and difficult, there is no doubt about that. So when a member of the public – a drama teacher who was intending to take a group of students to one of this month’s performances in the UK by Israel’s Batsheva dance ensemble – wrote to campaigners pleading that protesters should “stay away from this dance performance” and “not scare and scream in the faces of these young people”, we were at pains to give a full and respectful answer.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi replied as follows:

Thank you for contacting us regarding your concerns about planned protests focusing on Israel’s Batsheva Ensemble.

I am responding as the Boycott Israel Network’s cultural working group coordinator and national secretary of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, as well as someone who loves and regularly attends dance performances.

I do not know what your sources are for your reading about our campaign, but we are not, as you suggest, people “who could not care less about dance”. On the contrary, we care very much about dance being used cynically to cast a veil over the actions of a government which is anything but artistic in its discriminatory violence against Palestinians. Israel runs a well-funded campaign called Brand Israel which is specifically designed to exploit culture as a distraction from its crimes. The intended message is “Look at our beautiful dancers, ignore our bombs and tanks.”

It’s good to know that you agree with the “basic human right of being able to protest and voice an opinion.” I applaud the fact that you have looked into the appalling situation of the Palestinian people and that you appreciate that they are victims of many atrocities. In that case you must surely know that Palestinian artists and performers suffer from these atrocities at least as much as other members of their community.

Their ability to express themselves through art and culture is severely curtailed – indeed it is deliberately suppressed by the Israeli authorities who use every measure from administrative regulation to extreme violence to prevent Palestinian self-expression. I attach some references pertaining to this (*).

You may also wish to look at the website of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) which explains their call for people of conscience around the world to mount solidarity campaigns such as ours.

Let me assure you we have no wish to deprive GCSE students of the chance to “see a piece of excellent dance so that they can write about it for their GCSE exam”. There are, fortunately for us, untold opportunities in the UK for dance-lovers to have such experiences. This is not the case for Palestinian young people, although Israeli youngsters do not lack for such opportunities.

If you are worried about the trauma your students might suffer by being exposed to someone unfurling a banner or calling out a slogan at a Batsheva performance, may I suggest you give them access to the ample materials explaining why the people of Palestine have called for such actions – not least the daily trauma experienced by Palestinian children such as the students of Hebron attacked by stone-throwing fundamentalist Jewish settlers acting under the protection of Israeli troops, or the children of Bedouin families in the Negev whose homes are constantly being demolished, or the children of Gaza, under siege since 2006 and at the mercy of Israeli bombing raids.

You ask why we do not protest at a Russian ballet performance. I might ask you the same question, but to respond seriously – if an oppressed people comparable with the Palestinians, with no other non-violent means of drawing attention to 60 years of dispossession and injustice, were calling on us to adopt this form of protest on their behalf against cultural institutions linked to the Russian state, we would have no hesitation in doing so. Maybe you are not aware that supporters of Israel adopted just such tactics against the Bolshoi Ballet and other Soviet cultural institutions as part of their campaign to persuade Moscow to let dissident Jews emigrate to Israel in the 1970s and ’80s.

We are thoroughly well acquainted with the personal views of Ohad Naharin, the artistic director of Batsheva, but these do not prevent the most right-wing government Israel has ever had embracing Batsheva as “our best global ambassador”. You can see an analysis of Batsheva’s position here.

If you wish to explore these issues further, and give your students an unprecedented opportunity to consider the many complex ways in which art and politics interact, I would be happy to introduce you to well-informed human rights campaigners in your area who they could meet for a discussion.

(*) Palestine, culture and politics – questions for students of the performing arts to consider (Suggestions from Miranda Pennell)

1) Can ethics be separated from aesthetics?

Consider the early European modern dance of Kurt Joss (The Green Table) and Mary Wigman, or the post-modern works of Yvonne Rainer (Trio A: The Mind is Muscle) to the ‘politics of perception’ attributed to Merce Cunningham by dance scholar Roger Copeland.

2. Examine the two essays on Palestine in:

Dance, Human Rights, and Social Justice: Dignity in Motion [Paperback]

Naomi Jackson (Editor), Toni Shapiro-Phim (Series Editor)

The first essay, ‘Roadblock’ by Maysoun Rafeedi, is short, direct and perhaps suitable for evoking for a young person the context of dance in Palestine from the perspective of a young dance teacher.

3. Explore Israel’s appropriation of Palestinian ‘Dabke’ folk dance in the 1940s and 50s as a Jewish Israeli dance, ‘Debke’. It has now been reclaimed with a popular resurgence of Dabke in Palestine, transforming a simple wedding dance into a form of cultural resistance in the face of decades of dispossession.

4. Read and discuss:

Raising Dust: A Cultural History of Dance in Palestine, by Nicholas Rowe


I am a Head of Drama … planning a school trip to see the Batsheva dance company. Whilst I completely agree with the basic human right of being able to protest and voice an opinion, I believe your protests are so far removed from what is acceptable for this performance.
I am taking 30 young students (between 13 and 16) to see what is going to be an outstanding piece of dance and from what I have read, we should be preparing ourselves for a night of constant interuption from members of the audience who could not care less about dance.
You may call us ignorant for not fully understanding the situation. However, I am fully aware that the Dance company has received money from the Israeli government and, having visited and done extensive research on the atrocities on the Palestinians, I believe I am in a situation where I can safely say that what you are about to stage at Brighton is
These students I am taking are young, impressionable people who want to see a piece of excellent dance so that they can write about it for their GCSE exam. Who are you to deprive them of this? By scaring them with your banners and loud shouts, you are not only jeopardising their experience, but you are using the wrong platform to express your opinion.
This is DANCE- a piece of excellently choreographed physical theatre from dancers from all around the world. Why not protest at Miriinski’s ballet? Surely you have heard of Putin’s human right abuse in Russia?!
The director of Batsheva (if you had bothered to read anything at all about the Dance piece) isn’t even in agreement with his Israeli government.
 To conclude, I urge you to please stay away from this dance performance. To let us watch and enjoy the show so that the students can write about it afterwards. To not scare and scream in the faces of these young people, who will not support you, but will be quite frightened of the commotion.


The final days of the 2012 Edinburgh International Festival were marked by exuberant Boycott Israel demonstrations outside the Playhouse theatre and drama within, as world-renowned dance company Batsheva wrestled with the consequences of being promoted by the Israeli state as its cultural ambassador.
Batsheva’s three performances of ‘Hora’, an hour-long work by artistic director Ohad Naharin, on Aug 30-Sept 1, were disturbed by frequent interjections from protestors calling out “Free Palestine” or “Boycott Israeli Apartheid.”
A mobilisation by a coalition of groups under the umbrella “Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid” generated vociferous debate in the Scottish media in the preceding weeks and won support from leading cultural figures. See a full report on the Boycott Israel Network website.
In one of the video clips recorded during the protests, Naharin – who has been attacked by the Israeli Right for his radical views – can be seen listening gravely and nodding as leading activists explain how significant it would be if Batsheva were to publicly dissociate itself from Brand Israel  – a PR project which misuses culture to deflect attention away from the Occupation and other injustices against the Palestinian people.
Beside him, the company’s general manager Dina Aldor is emphatically shaking her head.

Ohad Naharin (left) and Dina Aldor outside Edinburgh’s Playhouse on September 1, 2012.                                                  Photo: Jon Pullman

The moment highlights the dilemma of artists attempting to engage as people of conscience with injustice in their own societies while being required to act as flag bearers for the entity perpetrating the injustices. This must have been a familiar dilemma for culture professionals during the apartheid era in South Africa.

In Edinburgh Naharin sought out boycott activists and told them that his company was not part of Brand Israel; that Batsheva’s funding had no political strings attached.
He said calling for boycott of an artistic organisation could be legitimate, but “should only take place when the art organization itself collaborates in promoting the situation that is being protested against.”
Within the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign initiated by Palestinian civil society, the rationale for targeting elite Israeli cultural institutions is that they are – whether they like it or not – inextricably bound up with Brand Israel, begun by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2005.
Scottish Jews for a Just Peace, one of the Edinburgh campaign coalition partners, explained the branding idea rather well , quoting Arye Mekel, the ministry’s deputy director general for cultural affairs: “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits. This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”

Hence the appearance at the Edinburgh Playhouse of both the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, and culture minister Limor Livnat who declared:  “Batsheva Dance Company is one of our flagship cultural institutions”.

Friends of Batsheva organisations in the US and Australia invite donations specifically to ‘contribute towards a positive image of Israel globally’ and ‘to support the company in its position as Cultural Ambassadors of Israel on the world stage.’
Batsheva is just one of the institutions enmeshed in the Brand Israel system. Treating any of them as normal merely reassures Israelis and their government that no change is needed.
Israel’s apologists, while attacking boycott campaigners for sullying the purity of art with the grime of political action, attempt to explain away Brand Israel by portraying it as no more sinister than British Council garden parties in foreign lands –  just a bit of innocent bridge-building.

Zionist frontmen/women, such as actress Maureen Lipman, are wheeled out to express astonishment that anyone could wish to limit the freedom of expression of artists out of sheer bigotry, just because they are from Israel. The unsubtle subtext here is that all boycott campaigners are antisemites – even the Jewish ones.

Let’s set aside the fact that Zionists vigorously pursued their own cultural boycott campaign against Soviet targets in the 1980s, disrupting ballet and orchestral performances in pursuit of their political goal of bringing dissident Soviet Jews to Israel.

The freedom of expression people like Lipman claim to uphold is a distant dream for Palestinians.

Palestinian artists face daily humiliation, racist discrimination, checkpoints, strip-searches, legal impediments to what they may or may not address in their work, and direct attacks on cultural facilities and events.

The notion of Israeli art building bridges is to most of them laughable, an insult. This emerged clearly during the visit to London in May 2012 of the Palestinian theatre group ASHTAR and again in recent discussion about Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ decision to breach the boycott.

Most leading Israeli artists confronted with a clash between culture and conscience (to quote the strapline for the Scottish Sunday Herald’s four-page review of the Batsheva drama) have responded by willingly embracing their cultural ambassador role, like the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, or by pathetically claiming, like theatre director Ilan Ronen, that they have no choice but to perform in the illegal settlements if they want to collect their government subsidy.

Batsheva’s Ohan Naharin differs from them in that he is on record as criticising successive Israeli governments for allowing the commission of crimes against the Palestinian people. In 2005 he was presented in a Canadian newspaper La Presse as “a pro-Palestinian who strongly opposes the Israeli occupation.”

Reports at the time cited sources in the Foreign Ministry attacking Naharin, saying his statements “seriously harm the image of Israel, especially in view of his being an Israel Prize laureate”. Naharin was quoted as saying his prize was an award from the citizens of Israel, not from the stewards of the state.
But this did not prevent Livnat in Edinburgh, representing the most right-wing government Israel has ever had, proudly embracing Naharin’s company Batsheva as a standard bearer for the Israeli state.
In correspondence with campaigners Naharin said Israel was very divided. He drew a distinction between the people who abuse power and people who are giving hope, saying “We are the Israelis who belong to growing number of people who can make the difference and bring a change.  … I don’t think you are helping the Palestinian cause. You are maybe helping yourself to feel better about the situation… while hurting us.”
These arguments are similar to those deployed by Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, when defending its invitation to the Israeli national theatre Habima back in May. Some members of Habima were reported to have signed a pledge not to perform in the illegal settlement town of Ariel. So Dromgoole argued that the company should not be targeted, even though it had staged performances in Ariel’s Hall of Culture.

Many leading British theatre professionals disagreed and supported a boycott call, making the issue a high-profile talking point in the serious media. PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, has reiterated many times that BDS action targets only institutions identified with the state. It is not a vehicle for witchunting individuals. Unfortunately for Batsheva, the flipside of this is that an institution cannot escape being judged complicit by virtue of the views of individuals within it, however influential they may be.

Dance scholar and author Dr Nicholas Rowe, who has extensive experience of working with dance in the occupied Palestinian territories, said that Israeli artists have to make stark choices if they are not to play the part of ‘political puppets.’

According to guidelines from PACBI, negatively distancing itself from Brand Israel is not enough to exempt an Israeli cultural institution from being targeted. It must end its complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights and international law. This would mean, at the very least, explicitly renouncing any cultural ambassador role and any funding from bodies that promote Brand Israel.
Cultural boycott is becoming increasingly effective in one of its main aims – to generate a high level of public discussion and awareness of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality.
High profile campaigns have targeted the Israel Philharmonic during the 2011 Proms, Habima at Shakespeare’s Globe earlier this year, and now Batsheva. Even reviewers who chose to focus on the dance and play down the protests could not help but mention them. The company’s junior ensemble is scheduled to return to the UK for an eight-city tour in October/November. “Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid” stands ready to re-enter the fray.

According to Boycott Israel Network co-convenor Hilary Smith: “The tough choice for artists who are sincere in their commitment to justice and self determination for the Palestinians is to refuse to tour, to join Boycott from Within (an Israeli group supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions) and to work for real change.”

Achieving change is the desirable goal which will determine decisions to be made about tactics during the forthcoming Batsheva UK tour. Hopefully it will also influence decisions being made in the company’s boardroom in Tel Aviv.