Israeli Foreign Ministry: Exporting toxic culture

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“Artists should create bridges where there is conflict,” complained Habima’s artistic director, Ilan Ronen, to the Observer two weeks ago, in response to the boycott of Israel’s national theatre company that performs in the illegal West Bank settlement of Ariel. Habima’s bridge-making offer should be treated with suspicion as it is courtesy of the Israeli state; on Thursday The Jewish Chronicle boasted that the Israeli Foreign Ministry, informed by the JC about a £10,000 funding shortfall at Habima, “has promised to make sure that any financial difficulties are covered to make sure the company is able to perform in London”.

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London said that the Foreign Ministry was the “biggest exporter of Israeli culture to the world” and would ensure that the performance went ahead.

For those living under Israel’s military occupation and apartheid system, Ronen’s cultural bridges are booby-trapped, wired to blow Palestinian calls for a just peace sky high.

Founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), Omar Barghouti responded that “receiving money from the Israeli Foreign Ministry (which openly brags about being the largest “exporter” of Israeli culture) makes Habima’s performance even more definitively boycottable, if that’s possible, as it turns them into a cultural ambassador of the state, not a mere theater company, according to the PACBI guidelines.”

To date, Shakespeare’s Globe has refused to withdraw its invitation to Habima, citing the values of ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘internationalism’. The artists including Emma Thompson who signed the March 29 Guardian letter explained that while ‘inclusiveness’ is a core value of arts policy in Britain which they support, “by inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practised by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company.”

Habima theatre company is clearly a tool in the Israeli state’s expansionist policies – what better way to cover the barbarism of your state enterprise than to give it the cloak of ‘culture and art’? Yet Ronen remains in denial about their complicity, stating to the Observer, “like other theatre companies and dance companies in Israel, we are state-financed, and financially supported to perform all over the country [Israel and the oPt]. 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… We are supported by the state, but not representing it. We are completely independent, artistically and politically.”

Should the international arts community embrace and pity a company that accepts money on the understanding it disregards international humanitarian law to perform ‘all over the country’. There is only one way that Habima can prove its independence, and that is by making a public announcement that it refuses to be complicit in the Israeli state’s brutal and racist dispossession of another people.

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