Actors decry call to ban Habimah play in London

Group of actors condemn a call for UK's Globe Theater to revoke invitation to Habimah National Theater to perform.

Shakespeare's 'Henry VIII' at London's Globe Theater 370 (photo credit: (Luke MacGregor/Reuters))
Shakespeare's 'Henry VIII' at London's Globe Theater 370
(photo credit: (Luke MacGregor/Reuters))
LONDON – A group of actors have condemned a call to ban Israel’s national theater from performing in London, calling it an act of “cultural terrorism” geared more towards the demonization of Israel, the Jewish people and Hebrew language.
Last week, a group of 27 actors called for the Globe Theater in London to revoke an invitation to Habimah National Theater to perform at the Globe to Globe Festival, celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday and legacy.
Writing in The Guardian last Thursday, they said the festival was “associating itself with policies of exclusion practiced by the Israeli state” and called on the Globe to withdraw the invitation so the festival will not be “complicit with human rights violations.”
Signatories included Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson, director Mike Leigh and actor and director Mark Rylance.
Habimah is putting on a Hebrew version of The Merchant of Venice during the festival – part of the Cultural Olympiad preceding the 2012 Olympic Games, which will be held in the British capital from July 27 to August 12.
A letter in Wednesday’s Guardian welcomes the Israeli national theater’s contribution, calling it a symbol of cultural success for Israel but also “of the resilience of a people who have united to overcome continued persecution throughout their history.”
The letter is signed by actors Simon Callow, Maureen Lipman, actor and director Steven Berkoff, playwright Sir Arnold Wesker, playwright and screenwriter Sir Ronald Harwood along with Conservative MP Louise Mensch.
They say the call to ban Habimah is tantamount to “delegitimizing the State of Israel and its success, the Jewish people, and even the Hebrew language itself.”
The signatories noted that Habimah’s productions have always explored the challenges faced by the Jewish people and that its presentation of The Merchant of Venice on the London stage continues that important mission.
“Those who wish to hijack the artistic and cultural work of Habimah for their own narrow political aims simply remind us of the vital importance of such work. No artists should attempt to silence the expression of other artists simply because they are Israeli.”
Instead, they said it is a great example of the shared values between the UK and Israel.
“By trying to suppress the cultural exchange of ideas they demonstrate the continued persecution of Jews and Israelis even occurring in 21st-century Britain. We condemn the acts of cultural terrorism that some may try to carry out during Habimah’s performances,” they stated.
The Habimah performances will be on May 28 and 29. The festival begins on April 23, Shakespeare’s birthday, and will include 37 international companies performing all 37 of the Bard’s plays in 37 languages over a six-week period. The Palestinian Ashtar Theatre company is set to perform Richard II in Arabic at the festival.
The Globe said it had no intention of recalling the invitation and is aware that anti-Israel activists may disrupt the performance. The theater said it was “taking all sensible precautions” to prepare for this.