There is a tendency for op-ed writers discussing anything related to the theater
to include two phrases: “All the world’s a stage” and “The show must go
Having got them out of the way, I can tackle the latest drama
involving Israel – which takes the first phrase to its absurd extremes and turns
the second into a much shakier version of the cliche.
scriptwriter and star Emma Thompson, showing a remarkable lack of
both attributes, is the latest big name calling for a cultural boycott of
In Britain or not in Britain? That is the question being bandied
around by certain stars of stage and screen, including two-time Oscar winner
Thompson and regular Oscar nominee Mike Leigh, who last week put their names to
a petition expressing “dismay and regret” that Habimah, Israel’s Tel Aviv-based
national theater company, had been invited to participate in a six-week
Shakespeare festival taking place at London’s Globe Theatre.
was set for the latest boycott calls when Habimah held performances in the Ariel
cultural center, over the Green Line.
“Habimah has a shameful record of
involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory,”
says the protest letter, published in Britain’s Guardian newspaper on March
“We ask the Globe to withdraw the invitation so that the festival is
not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of
This is the call by people who seem to have lost the
The festival, which begins on April 23, Shakespeare’s birthday,
includes 37 international companies performing the Bard’s plays in 37
Apparently, the artists opposed to Israel’s inclusion have no
problem with the participation of such luminaries of human rights as China – the
National Theater of China is scheduled to perform Richard III – or the
Palestinian Ashtar Theater, which will perform Richard II.
I don’t have a
problem with their inclusion either. It’s the boycott that I
Similarly, I don’t object to Iran participating in the Academy
Awards – although I’m patriotically disappointed that it happened to beat
Israel’s entry, Footnote, to gain the Oscar for the best foreign language film
I do mind Syria still sitting on the United Nations Human
Rights Council. If leaders in Iran, Syria and the Palestinian territories were
to concentrate on exporting culture rather than a culture of terror, I’d be the
first to give them a round of applause.
Unfortunately, the first
connotation of the word “bombing” where I’m sitting has nothing to do with
Ariel may or may not be part of Israel depending on
your political persuasion, but its taking center stage in the latest boycott
effort shows that it is inarguably part of the Middle East. And for the record,
the vast majority of Israelis do think of it as part of a consensus.
residents, hungry for culture rather than the bloodthirsty monsters they are
portrayed to be, are a lot like you or me.
No Israeli government – not
even the most concessionary – has suggested giving up major centers like Ariel,
the Etzion bloc or Ma’aleh Adumim, although such protests are obviously intended
as curtain raisers for this step.
It’s strange that instead of using
theater to cross cultural divides – and who better than Shakespeare to
demonstrate the timeless universality of human emotions – the self-appointed
elite of the cultural world prefers to exploit it to create even greater
divisions and disharmony.
Assuming the show does indeed go on, it will
presumably be the target of picketing and heckling (and, hopefully, nothing more
You may recall that in a different culture clash, a
performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in London’s Albert Hall in
September was so disrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters that the BBC’s live
broadcast had to be abandoned.
In its more than 100-year history, Habimah
has not steered away from controversy. The national theater, which recently
returned to its newly refurbished iconic building in Tel Aviv, is well known for
a repertoire that includes the work of late anti-war satirist Hanoch Levin, for
It’s a free country (yes, despite what you might have read
elsewhere): People in Israel, like those in the United Kingdom, openly speak
Israeli artists and intellectuals – who continue to be the
heart of the ever-dwindling number of hard-core left-wingers, come to think of it
– have also condemned performances in Judea and Samaria, particularly in Ariel
and more recently in Kiryat Arba. That’s their right, even if I happen to think
People are “free” to speak their minds in the Palestinian
territories, too, but given the latest spate of arrests of journalists by the
Palestinian Authority, it takes a great deal more courage than someone like Emma
Thompson putting her name on a letter in the Guardian.
protesters and BDS supporters would undoubtedly reject any suggestion that they
have something in common with the terrorists who try to shoot down peace and
coexistence. But, as I have noted before, such attacks are an inevitable result
of the delegitimization process.
Attacks begin with “settlers” – who are
barely considered real people, not worthy even of a theater – but they do not
stop there. They have a way of developing into attacks that reach the very heart
of the country, or anywhere where Jews can be found.
I wonder if the
petition signers really understand their lines, or are simply repeating what
they have been taught to declaim. Perhaps they just like being in the limelight,
and bashing Israel is an easy way to grab headlines. (Though, Heaven
knows, being demonstrably anti-Israel is hardly news.)
Ironically, in London,
Habimah is scheduled to perform The Merchant of Venice, leading me to wonder, to
paraphrase Shylock: If you prick a settler, will he not bleed?
How absurd this
latest drama is can be seen in who are the most vocal local proponents of the
“Israel is an apartheid state” myth. Possibly those who have the best stage are
the Arab Knesset members such as Deputy Speaker Ahmed Tibi and Haneen Zoabi,
whose very presence in the Israeli parliament says something.
have also seen a large number of stories about Omar Barghouti, who is pursuing
his doctoral studies at Tel Aviv University while continuing to call for
boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, and even the very
establishment where he is learning.
Shakespeare might not have had a word
for it, but I call it “chutzpah.”
And for the actress at the center of
the London protests, I have one four-word question: Et tu, Emma Thompson? The
writer is editor of
The International Jerusalem Post.[email protected]