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.

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.

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“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 Prince.

The idea to write the letter came from Israeli artists, Jewish Voice for Peace director Rebecca Vilkomerson told The Jerusalem Post.

“They 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.

“Most 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.

“We Americans 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.

“One 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.

“This is, 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.

“I 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.

“Those of us who care about Israel – and I do deeply – feel their very presence is a negation of peace and of a movement toward peace.”

Signing the letter, Bikel said, is a statement that the territories should not and do not apply to contracts obliging an artist to perform in Israel.

“Look, 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 said.

“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.”

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