by Jonathon Blakeley
Thursday, April 26th, 2012
This is a story of three Theatres. The Habima Theatre of Israel, The Globe Theatre of London UK, and the Ashtar theatre in Ramallah, occupied Palestine. The Ashtar Theatre has recently received rave reviews, with an ‘Arab Spring’ version of Shakespeare’s classic tale – Richard 2nd, and are due to perform this May at the Globe theatre.
Many were shocked in the UK, when the National Globe Theatre also invited Israel’s Habima National Theatre to perform in May. This then kicked of a storm of ‘disavowals and denouncements’ on the Guardian Letter’s pages. All terribly British. See below.
1. Dismay at Globe invitation to Israeli theatre Thursday 29 March 2012
We notice with dismay and regret that Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London has invited Israel’s National Theatre, Habima, to perform The Merchant of Venice in its Globe to Globe festival this coming May. The general manager of Habima has declared the invitation “an honourable accomplishment for the State of Israel”. But Habima has a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory. Last year, two large Israeli settlements established “halls of culture” and asked Israeli theatre groups to perform there. A number of Israeli theatre professionals – actors, stage directors, playwrights – declared they would not take part.
Habima, however, accepted the invitation with alacrity, and promised the Israeli minister of culture that it would “deal with any problems hindering such performances”. By inviting Habima, Shakespeare’s Globe is undermining the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to break international law.
The Globe says it wants to “include” the Hebrew language in its festival – we have no problem with that. “Inclusiveness” is a core value of arts policy in Britain, and we support it. But by inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practised by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company. We ask the Globe to withdraw the invitation so that the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land.
I was sad to see the letter (30 March) from many eminent theatre workers – including David Calder, Mark Rylance, Harriet Walter, Roger Lloyd Pack, Cherie Lunghi and Jonathan Miller – asking Shakespeare’s Globe to withdraw the invitation to Israel’s Habima theatre to perform The Merchant of Venice in its Globe to Globe festival this coming May. I think it’s wrong-headed – could the signatories think again?
They argue that, by inviting the Habima, the Globe is showing support for the illegal settlements in the Palestinian occupied territories. But by inviting the National Theatre of China to perform Richard III, is the Globe also showing support for the occupation of Tibet?
So what is this story all about? A bunch of theatre lovies getting all politically hot and bothered about Israel, and upset that our National theatre’s invitation could be seen as an endorsement of Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Strangely the BDS is nowhere to be seen in all of this. One would be forgiven in thinking that boycotting Habima would be a prime target for the BDS. However as Omar Barghouti studies at Tel Aviv University the BDS have probably got other things on their agenda than hassling the Habima Theatre Company. One could be even forgiven for thinking that just maybe, BDS might help to promote a Palestinian Theatre company, like the Ashtar theatre in Ramallah.
Many of us at deliberation, believe that the principles of BDS are still quite correct and valid, and that sanctions can be effective, but wonder whether some of the leadership of the BDS movement have become compromised or even perhaps, are controlled opposition. ~JB
It is ironic that when a bunch of Actors and Producers attempt to protest at the Habima invitation, they are then later denounced, and their crime? Restricting free speech. And what about the Palestinian Theatre Company in this story? Well they are still coming in May as well as Habima, conveniently Habima has received lots of free publicity, but the Ashtar theatre has not been so lucky. Until now…. So spread the word!!!