Protesters outside the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (Photo: Thomas Altfather Good)
New York, NY, March 7, 2012 – Eighty New York human rights activists and cultural workers gathered tonight to protest Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company’s performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Calling on attendees to boycott Batsheva due to its complicity with Israeli human rights violations, activists sang, chanted, played music, and danced. Parodying a piece of Batsheva’s newest show, Hora, Adalah-NY was joined by the Columbia University Palestinian Dabke Brigades and the Rude Mechanical Orchestra in a costumed Star Wars-themed dance representing the struggle between good and evil. Protesters chanted, “Their range of motion cannot hide / Their support for apartheid!” and “BAM, you’ve got to draw the line / Freedom for Palestine!”
Batsheva was met with a similar protest in San Francisco on February 24, where activists explained Batsheva’s role in the Brand Israel campaign, launched by the Israeli government as a way to “show Israel’s prettier face” and divert the international community’s attention from Israel’s egregious violations of Palestinian human rights. Two previous Batsheva tours were met with similar protests and boycott actions in 2010 and 2009, and other protests are expected to take place during their current tour.
Last month, Adalah-NY exchanged letters with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, asking BAM to cancel the performance. BAM asserted that Batsheva is not performing to “further a political agenda,” and Adalah-NY responded that Batsheva was identified as “the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture” by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from which it receives funding. Adalah-NY further noted Batsheva’s total silence in the face of the egregious actions being carried out by the Israeli government.
On February 21, 2012, thirty human rights organizations from New York, San Francisco, Austin, Chicago, Arizona, Montreal, and Toronto, locations on Batsheva’s current tour schedule, sent a letter to Batsheva demanding that they take a stand against the violations of human rights being perpetrated by their government that impact all segments of Palestinian society, including cultural workers. In the letter, Palestinian dancer Hana Awwad stated, “Exhibits and performances by Palestinian artists are systematically banned, sabotaged, and closed down by the Israeli occupation. Artists themselves are targets of violence, arbitrary arrests, and deportations.” The letter goes on to state that Batsheva’s silence in the face of such violations would continue to subject them to boycott initiatives. Batsheva did not respond.
The boycott of Israeli cultural institutions is part of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement launched in 2005, which calls on the international community to place pressure on Israel by ending political, economic, cultural and academic relations with Israel until it ends its colonization, occupation and apartheid policies.
Attendees were handed mock programs, whose cover identifies Batsheva as a “cultural ambassador for Israel.” Inside, the program explains why the group is being boycotted, and celebrates artists who have respected the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) call, including Gil Scott Heron, Roger Waters, and Cassandra Wilson. Upon reading the program, one attendee remarked, “If I had known, I wouldn’t have bought my ticket.” Dozens of others stopped to watch from the steps of BAM. At 7:35 p.m., five minutes after the performance was scheduled to begin, BAM staff informed protesters that the music and chanting had delayed the start of the show.