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Recruiting Brecht to Whitewash Occupation
by Richard Silverstein -
Tikun Olam
August 26, 2010

Poor Bertolt Brecht. Heís rolling over in his grave after learning that Israelís cultural commissars are exploiting him to whitewash the Occupation. Haaretz reports that four maor Israeli theater companies will grace the boards of the new cultural center in Ariel, satirically referred to in one blog post on the subject as ďthe capital of Samaria.Ē It will be the first time any major Israeli company has performed in the Conquered Territories. Ironically, one of the plays to be performed is The Caucasian Chalk-Circle by Brecht.

The plot of the play ironically mirrors the Israeli Occupation in some respects: it portrays two Soviet-era agricultural communes fighting over farm land in their village, from which Nazi troops will soon be retreating. Neither group can agree which one should take over the land once it is liberated. In the end, a singer who dramatizes the conflict determines that the group that makes best use of the land should be awarded it, rather than the group which controlled the land before the Nazis occupied it.

But as is only fitting, this portion of the prologue has been excised from the current Israeli production so thereís no danger the good citizens of Ariel will have to grapple with such moral questions.

The Israeli Amorite blog has written eloquently about the scandal:

Just how perverted have the Israeli bourgeoisie become? Can the architects of Israeli culture sink to a much lower level of degradation? For years the term ďcultureĒ has served to whitewash the brutality and violence of the Israeli elite. We have become used to killers who speak about spirituality, to arms dealers playing the piano. To the military radio station playing protest music. This is indeed the trick: if we are so fine, so liberal then no one will ever call us simply a military camp ruled by war criminals. But to draft Brecht in order to make kosher the theft of lands and the colonial project of Ron Nachman [Ariel`s mayor]?

Is it possible that there can be an Israeli actor, producer or director who cannot blanch at the irony of performing Brecht in a theater built on land stolen from its indigenous inhabitants? Can there be anyone who does not know of Brechtís radical politics and the fact that he would be storming the theater to protest this abomination were he alive to do so?

Arielís mayor disingenously professes not to have a clue why there should be any controversy:

Nachman says he does not see the opening of the cultural center as a political statement. ďAhead of the opening of the peace talks, I invite the Palestinian Theater to perform here. Achinoam Nini (ďNoaĒ ) is not the only one who can sing with Arabs. My vision was to bring culture, music and theater for all residents of Samaria, from Petah Tikva to Amman.Ē

Perhaps he should invite Jordanís King Abdullah to the inaugural concert since the centerís purported geographical reach goes all the way to Amman. Why wouldnít he want to grace Arielís new hall? He believes in peace after all, doesnít he?

Two of the main actors of one of the main companies have refused to perform in the Ariel productions. One of them released this statement:

ďI would be glad to perform in settlements in several shows that have messages Iíd like to deliver in many communities. But settlers and settlements are not something that entertains me, and I donít want to entertain them.Ē

This caused Nachman to schrey about a cultural boycott. And isnít that just the point? Until now, the Israeli theater community has in effect boycotted the settlements. Now, with the new cultural center perhaps the government pressured the companies to break the boycott or risk their government subsidies. Faced with such financial pressure, many producers might buckle. One of the actors interviewed for the original story acknowledged such considerations and said that despite his opposition to settlements he would not rebel against this decision in light of government control of the theaterís pocketbook.

But this seems short-sighted to me. Arenít they thinking about their subscribers and supporters back home in Tel Aviv, Jeruslaem or Haifa? What will these liberal Israelis think of their beloved actors treading the stage at Ariel? In fact, many would see this as a sell out of their political and artistic values. One cannot separate the two although undoubtedly the theater personnel justifying their participation would claim they can. But the idea that this series of performances is NOT political is a fraud and a charade.

Nachman wants Israeli liberal culture to buttress his settler enterprise. And the Israeli arts community appears only too willing to go along for the ride.

Ironically, construction of the center is proceeding furiously, even at night in order to meeting the November 8th opening night. Night-time work is necessary because the Palestinian construction workers are currently observing Ramadan and will not work during the day while they are fasting.

H/t Assaf Oron.


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