April 08, 2012

Two reasons to boycott Habima: either will do

Check this out in today's Observer:
Author Howard Jacobson has weighed into a debate over whether Israel's national theatre company, Habima, should be banned from performing at the Globe in London as part of next month's Cultural Olympiad event, saying art should never be censored.
Habima was invited to perform The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew as part of an ambitious programme to stage 37 Shakespeare plays, each in a different language, during the six-week festival. Yet a letter signed by 37 leading actors, directors, producers and writers – including Emma Thompson, Mike Leigh and Mark Rylance – published in the Guardianlast week, called for the invitation to be withdrawn because Habima had performed in Israeli settlements.
The letter, also signed by Miriam Margolyes, Richard Wilson and Jonathan Miller, said: "We ask the Globe to withdraw the invitation so that the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land. By inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion preached by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company."
The thrust of the article is clearly sympathetic to Jacobson's and Habima's position because it goes on to quote Habima's artistic director thus:
"It's a disgrace. We don't see ourselves as collaborators with the Israeli government over its West Bank policy. We don't remember artists boycotting other artists.
"They don't know the true facts about our theatre activity. Somehow, they have been manipulated, they are getting it wrong. It is important to emphasise, we express our political views in many of our projects. But like other theatre companies and dance companies in Israel, we are state-financed, and financially supported to perform all over the country. This is the law. We have no choice. We have to go, otherwise there is no financial support. It is not easy. We have to be pragmatic." Of the 1,500 performances given by the company every year, he said that about "four or five" were in the Ariel settlement in the West Bank. "It is a little bit out of proportion to represent us this way.
"We are supported by the state, but not representing it. We are completely independent, artistically and politically."
Now there's a flat contradiction here.  Either,
we are state-financed, and financially supported to perform all over the country. This is the law. We have no choice. We have to go, otherwise there is no financial support.
ie, we represent the State of Israel or, We are completely independent, artistically and politicallyie, we choose to perform in the occupied West Bank.

As it happens, it's just a tiny bit more complex because Ronen also claims that
company members who asked not to perform were not required to, and they were not pressured or demoted, rather they were protected and consciences were respected. "It is a difficult situation, not ideal," he said, declining to say how many of the company refused to work in the West Bank. 
Aha, so it's "this is the law" but only for theatre companies, not theatrical individuals.  Maybe I missed it by reading too fast but I don't see Maggie Brown challenging the self-contradiction anywhere in the article but, in fairness, she seemed to be praising the passion with which Howard Jacobson denounced the idea of a boycott.

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