NEW YORK – Over 150 American artists, including actresses Julianne Moore and Cynthia Nixon, playwright Tony Kushner and writer Wallace Shawn, have signed a letter in support of Israeli actors who refuse to perform in the West Bank.RELATED:Terra Incognita: Do as we say, not as we didRattling the Cage: A little culture, comradesMy Word: Culture Clash
Backed by the San Francisco-based Jewish Voice for Peace, the letter states that the settlement in Ariel is “clearly illegal,” and that any performance in the West Bank city’s new cultural center would have the effect, intentional or otherwise, of legitimizing Israel’s claim to what they refer to as occupied territory.
“It’s thrilling to think that these Israeli theatre artists have refused to allow their work to be used to normalize a cruel occupation which they know to be wrong, which violates international law and which is impeding the hope for a just and lasting peace for Israelis an [sic] Palestinians alike,” the letter reads.
“They’ve made a wonderful decision, and they deserve the respect of people everywhere who dream of justice. We stand with them.”
The letter’s signatories include actors Ed Asner and Mandy Patimkin,
actress Vanessa Redgrave, playwright Eve Ensler and director Harold
The idea to write the letter came from Israeli artists, Jewish Voice for Peace director Rebecca Vilkomerson told The Jerusalem Post
were getting a lot of heat from Benjamin Netanyahu on down for their
stance, and really felt the need for some support, so they asked us for
help,” Vilkomerson said.
Vilkomerson called the American artist
response “phenomenal,” and said that the letter is “spreading like
wildfire.” Writer Wallace Shawn was one of the original drafters of the
letter, Vilkomerson said, and artists signed on as fellow artists passed
it on to through their personal networks.
“I was very moved by the courage of the actors and other theater workers who were obviously risking their jobs,” Shawn told the Post
of us, including actors, just want to lead a quiet life. And most of us
go through our entire lives without doing anything really courageous,
without risking anything important to us. But when asked to perform in
an illegal settlement for an all-Jewish audience, as if this were one
more ordinary theater, they had the guts to say no.
“To do a play
in that new theater helps to make the settlement seem like a permanent
part of the landscape, but the settlements are obstacles to peace and
morally unjustifiable on top of that,” Shawn said.
are involved in crimes every time we pay our taxes, in my opinion, and
we can very definitely benefit from the inspiring example of these
Israeli actors as we try to figure out what we ourselves can do and
should do to extricate ourselves from our own swamp of evil.”
Shawn said his Jewish background influenced his decision to sign the letter.
of the things I find most inspiring about the Jewish tradition is its
commitment to justice, and yes, I was very aware of that when I signed
this statement,” Shawn said.
Jewish Voice for Peace, Vilkomerson
said, has received “a lot of angry e-mails” due to the letter. “I don’t
know if any of the artists have individually been getting any pushback,
but this is standard – when you criticize any Israeli policy, there
tends to be a strong response,” she said.
fundamentally, a statement supporting Israelis,” Vilkomerson said.
“We’re supporting Israeli artists in what they’re doing.”
Renowned Jewish musician Theodor Bikel told the Post
he signead the letter because to perform in the “occupied territories”
would constitute a tacit approval of the control of the territories and
of the settlers’ actions.
“Artists make a statement by their presence and by their absence,” Bikel said.
feel for the Israeli artists who have expressed not only reluctance,
but refusal, to go into the territories, which many of us consider to be
the single greatest obstacle for peace,” Bikel said.
us who care about Israel – and I do deeply – feel their very presence is
a negation of peace and of a movement toward peace.”
letter, Bikel said, is a statement that the territories should not and
do not apply to contracts obliging an artist to perform in Israel.
for many years I have always very often expressed a feelings against
cultural boycotts,” Bikel said. “But there are certain realities that
intrude on such a stance.
“I’m a peaceful human being, and I hate
violence but I find that whatever emanates from the settlement is
generally either the rhetoric of violence or actual violence,” Bikel
“This is not my kind of Israel.
I’m a life-long
Zionist, and my Zionism will outlive the settlers and their
intransigence. But I want an Israel alongside a Palestinian state, not
an Israel existing in perpetual opposition to it.”