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Choose Your Theatre: London or Ariel
Vardit Shalfy
Ha`aretz, May 2, 2012

Translated from Hebrew by Adam Keller

A theater which chooses to perform in West Bank settlement must take into account that such an act carries the price of ostracism. Therefore, the Habima Theatre cannot complain about the campaign to exclude it from the Shakespeare Festival in London, due to its having appeared in Ariel

Habima was invited to the prestigious Globe to Globe Festival, due to be held later this month in London, with theaters from all over the world invited to perform all of Shakespeare`s plays. Prestige turned into embarrassment when 37 well-known professionals from the British theatre world (including actress Emma Thompson and playwright Mike Leigh) signed a petition calling on the festival`s organizing body, Globe Theatre, not to host Habima. The reason: Israel`s national theatre is performing in West Bank settlements. A heated debate in the British press ensued. Those who oppose the boycott, at home and abroad, have resorted to the old stand-by argument: Among those invited to the festival, Israel is not the only country that violates human rights. So why pick on Habima? But even if we ignore the childishness of the argument (saying `others do it` does not justify committing the offence), it is evident that this response is based on disinformation and demagoguery.

Habimas critics in Britain do not claim that the theatre is unworthy of participation in the festival because it is Israeli, nor do they claim that is unworthy because it represents a country that violates human rights. They object to Habima`s invitation because it performs at the Ariel Cultural Centre. In other words, it is not the state that Habima represents that is on trial, but the theatre itself, as the regimes collaborator in implementing its policy.

The Habima Theatre is an active participant in the oppression of the Palestinians, because by performing at the Ariel Cultural Centre, as it does elsewhere in Israel` (even though Ariel is not in Israel, not even according to the laws of the state itself), it actually takes part in the huge effort invested by the government to normalise the settlements.
Is there another theatre among the 37 invited to the festival which is complicit in such a direct manner in the violation of human rights? Does the Chinese theatre troupe, for example, assist the regime in oppressing the Tibetan people? The answer, most likely, is no. Therefore, in the opinion of Habimas critics, the Chinese theatre troupe should not be excluded from the festival.
Habima is not the only theatre in Israel which is complicit in violations of human rights. All repertory theatres in Israel perform in the settlements. The administrators of these theatres try to stress one point in their defense: money. They argue that the government compels them to perform in the settlements by cracking the budgetary whip. In fact, support by the Ministry of Culture amounts to no more than 30% of the theatres` budgets. One can also ask whether it is moral and legitimate to perform anywhere and in front of any audience simply for a budgetary excuse. Would theatre administrators accept an invitation to perform at a homophobic conference? An event organized by rabbis advocating the exclusion of women? A pedophile convention?

Do financial considerations make it acceptable to travel, en route to performance, on an Apartheid Highway where travel is allowed to Israelis only? To perform at a glamorous brand-new Hall of Culture inside a well-funded, green settlement, within touching distance of a refugee camp whose residents live under Israeli military rule? Not only do residents of refugee camps have no access to the performance of theatre plays, they are also often denied the rights to running water and basic health care facilities.

And did the theaters really have no choice but to surrender to the dictate of Culture Minister Limor Livnat? What would have happened had they embarked on a public struggle, lowering the curtain on their stages for one night or a week; petitioning the Supreme Court against the arbitrary cuts in their budgets; calling for emergency donations from inside the country and worldwide in in order to compensate for the loss of government subsidies? Quite possibly, had they shown some determination, the minister and her friends would have turned back from their attempt to hit the theaters in the pockets.

But the managements of the theatres have chosen to cave in to the ministerial threat and agree to perform at a place whose very existence is a violation of International Law and of the Fourth Geneva Convention (to which Israel is a signatory). Everything has a price. One cannot hold international law in contempt and expect international acclaim at the same time. Theatre managements who decide to perform in a settlement must take into account that in the future they may pay a price and be ostracized. In the next festival to which they are invited (if at all) such a theatre can expect a reception similar to that which Habima is getting in London: protests, petitions, angry letters to the editor and demonstrations during the performance. In other words, theatre directors must choose: Ariel or London.

[The author is one of the initiators of the letter by Israeli actors and theatre professionals opposing performances in Ariel.]

[See also
Ethan Bronner quotes from President Peres` Indenpendence Day speech: `Why make peace? Because if Israels image gets worse, it will begin to suffer boycotts. There is already an artistic boycott against us they wont let Habimah Theater enter London and signs of an undeclared financial boycott are beginning to emerge. bz]

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