Despite fawning praise in press, Batsheva receives a cold welcome in Brooklyn for complicity in occupation

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Ohad Naharin’s career began, perhaps forebodingly, in the Israel Defense Forces. 

According to The New York Times, “[Naharin] spent his early years on a kibbutz; later, when an ankle injury made him ineligible for combat in the Israeli army, he joined an army entertainment group.”

The Batsheva Dance Company, based in Tel Aviv and of which Naharin is artistic director, is presently on a tour of the US and Canada. The Israeli government-sponsored tour is based on Naharin’s latest piece entitled “Last Work.”

 “The 2017 North American Batsheva tour was made possible by the generous support from Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs in North America,” reads the BAM program notes.

Coinciding with the opening of “Last Work” in Brooklyn, the Film Forum and Film Society of Lincoln Center debuted a documentary called “Mr. Gaga: A True Story of Love and Dance.”

The film’s trailer touts it as a story “About love. About movement,” seeming to avoid the political in favor of an exposition of Naharin’s unique Gaga dance style.

As the Batsheva Dance Company winds its way across North America, the media has clamored to laud the show on its artistic merits, glossing over the political implications of the group’s visit. Articles in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune offer timid critiques of the show but fail to mention politics altogether.

But the irony of showcasing uninhibited movement on stage as a product of a country where the every movement of the occupied Palestinians is restricted was not lost on the hundred or so protestors outside BAM on opening night of “Last Work.”

Organized by Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, the protest was MCed by Adalah-NY’s founder Riham Barghouti and member Hani Ghazi; featuring Dave Lippman and Alexis Stern singing about whitewashing the Israeli occupation; the Brooklyn-based Freedom Dabka Group bringing Palestinian culture to the streets outside BAM; all with accompaniment from the radical marching band Rude Mechanical Orchestra.

(Photo: Jake Ratner)

Brand Israel

A January 19th open letter to the Batsheva Dance Company from Adalah-NY, co-signed by 19 other groups including Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews Say No! and Brooklyn for Peace reads in part, “If Ohad Naharin stands against the occupation, as he says he does, we invite him to show this by ending Batsheva’s complicity with it. We ask that you disavow your role as Ambassador of the State. Your position as an Israeli cultural icon gives you a platform to speak up for what’s right.”

Batsheva as of yet has not responded to Adalah-NY’s letter.

“It’s part of the Israeli ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian identity, of the Palestinian people. Not only do they not recognize that Palestinian people exist, they don’t want to recognize that our identity, our culture, our heritage even exists,” said Rani Allan, a member of Adalah-NY and president of both the Arab Studies Club and Palestine Solidarity Alliance of Hunter College.

Citing the El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe, a Palestinian dance company consistently kept from performing by Israeli authorities, the military occupation, Allan continued, “really hinders their ability to live freely, to perform freely, to do any sort of work they want to do, just because they’re Palestinian.”

Therefore, Allan concluded, “It’s not like we are the ones who politicized art like Batsheva. They are the ones who politicized themselves. And that’s why we issued a letter asking them to disassociate themselves from the Israeli government, from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and they never responded back.”

“Brand Israel” is a marketing campaign dreamed up in 2006 by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and an American public relations firm that seeks to showcase Israel’s softer side. At the time, one of the marketing executives working pro-bono for the Israeli government stated the goal of “Brand Israel” was to convey the country “as a productive, vibrant and cutting-edge culture.”

In fact, the Batsheva Dance Company might not exist without “Brand Israel,” as the majority of Batsheva’s 18 dancers—including Naharin himself—began their careers on scholarships from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, a $100 million enterprise committed to supporting “artistic life in Israel by awarding grants.” The AICF has offices in New York, Tel Aviv, Berlin and Toronto.

(Photo: Jake Ratner)

“Bam, bam, don’t you know, Batsheva has got to go!”

Standing in the freezing cold outside BAM on Saturday night, Mohammad Hamad, a member of Adalah-NY, explained the fervent public relations campaign of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

“The purpose of the Brand Israel campaign is to deviate tension from occupation, from the state violence that Palestinians experience on a daily basis and to deviate [the world’s] attention to how Israel is similar to other progressive, advanced, developed societies,” Hamad said. “So it’s really just a blanket to cover what they’re doing; the colonization of more and more land.”

Just 100 feet away from Adalah-NY’s protest, a small contingent of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), an FBI-declared “violent extremist Jewish organization,” accused by the Southern Poverty Law Center of committing violent acts against Arabs, held a counter-protest in which they yelled Jewish nationalist and anti-Arab slogans.

“We have always experienced counter protests, however this is the first time to have a counter protest openly by the JDL specifically,” said Rani Allan. “They were inactive for awhile, and now I guess with the Trump administration they want to become more active because they see that there has been a rise in fascism, a rise in open racism.”

Between Adalah-NY’s protest and the JDL’s counter-protest, a few ticket holders and patrons of Batsheva’s performance spoke with protestors, inquiring about the nature of their grievances.

Erica Ojeda, a dancer who for the past week had attended workshops lead by Batsheva’s Omri Drumlevich, questioned the cultural boycott as a valid means of protest.

“I understand where sort of it’s coming from, but I also think to boycott a dance performance, a dance piece, that maybe they haven’t seen, they haven’t heard the music,” said Ojeda, “I think it’s not fully grasping the concept.”

Fatima, who is Palestinian and a member of Samidoun: Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, responded to Ojeda’s concerns.

Israelis “came there from a large mixed group, mostly of European descent. When they came they situated themselves in the place of the Palestinians. The Palestinians were forcefully removed,” explained Fatima. “And when they did come, the culture was appropriated from the Palestinians.”

“That’s why everybody is out here today. In addition to stealing the land they steal the culture,” Fatima said.

About Jesse Rubin

Jesse Rubin is a freelance journalist from New York. Twitter: @JesseJDRubin

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8 Responses

  1. JWalters
    February 7, 2017, 8:10 pm

    My thanks to all those boycotting this dancing false-front for ethnic cleansing. We all need to boycott all the needless wars “Made in Israel”.

    • Misterioso
      February 8, 2017, 3:56 pm

      Ditto.

      Israel and its supporters seem oblivious to the fact that it is now viewed by the majority of people around the world as a fascistic pariah. Israel is on a downward slide from which it will never recover. The Zionists’ party is coming to an end. It’s only a matter of time.

  2. JLewisDickerson
    February 7, 2017, 10:47 pm

    RE: “all with accompaniment from the radical marching band Rude Mechanical Orchestra.” ~ Rubin

    ■ GET DOWN! RIGHT NOW! I’M SERIOUS, Y’ALL! ! !

  3. JLewisDickerson
    February 7, 2017, 11:02 pm

    RE: the Jewish Defense League (JDL), an FBI-declared “violent extremist Jewish organization,” accused by the Southern Poverty Law Center of committing violent acts against Arabs

    FROM WIKIPEDIA [Alex Odeh]:

    [EXCERPTS] Alex Odeh (April 4, 1944 – October 11, 1985) was an Arab-American anti-discrimination activist who was killed in a bombing as he opened the door of his office at 1905 East 17th Street, Santa Ana, California. Odeh was west-coast regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).

    Born into a Palestinian Christian family in Jifna, the West Bank, Odeh immigrated to the US in 1972.[1] He was a lecturer and poet who recently had published a volume of his poetry, “Whispers in Exile”.[2]…

    . . . Four weeks after Odeh’s death, FBI spokesperson Lane Bonner stated the FBI attributed the bombing and two others to the JDL.. In February 1986, the FBI classified the bombing that killed Alex Odeh as a terrorist act. In July they eased away from their original position, saying the JDL was “probably” responsible for this attack and four others, but that final attribution to the JDL or any other group “must await further investigation.” . . . The JDL denied any involvement in Odeh’s killing.[7][10]

    . . . Immediately after the 1985 assassination the FBI identified three suspects, all of them believed to be affiliated with the JDL, who fled to Israel. In 1987 it was revealed that Israel was hindering the FBI investigation. Floyd Clarke, then assistant director of the FBI, claimed in an internal memo that key suspects had fled to Israel and were living in the West Bank town of Kiryat Arba. . .

    . . . In 2007, the FBI revealed they had received information from a deceased informant, believed to be former Jewish Defense League member Earl Krugel who had been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for 2001 plots to bomb a Southern California mosque and office of an Arab American congressman. It is believed that Irv Rubin, who died in prison while awaiting trial on the same charges, revealed to Krugel the names of those responsible for Odeh’s death and Krugel shared those with the FBI before he, too, died in prison. The bombers are believed to be Manning and two individuals now living in Israel.[14] . . .

    SOURCE – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Odeh

    • JLewisDickerson
      February 8, 2017, 12:31 am

      P.S. (((UPDATED 2-08-17))) FROM WIKIPEDIA [Alex Odeh]:

      [EXCERPTS] Alex Odeh (April 4, 1944 – October 11, 1985) was an Arab-American anti-discrimination activist who was killed in a bombing as he opened the door of his office at 1905 East 17th Street, Santa Ana, California. Odeh was west-coast regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).

      Born into a Palestinian Christian family in Jifna, the West Bank, Odeh immigrated to the US in 1972.[1] He was a lecturer and poet who recently had published a volume of his poetry, “Whispers in Exile”.[2] . . .

      . . . Four weeks after Odeh’s death, FBI spokesperson Lane Bonner stated the FBI attributed the bombing and two others to the JDL. . . In February 1986, the FBI classified the bombing that killed Alex Odeh as a terrorist act. In July they eased away from their original position, saying the JDL was “probably” responsible for this attack and four others, but that final attribution to the JDL or any other group “must await further investigation.” . . . The JDL denied any involvement in Odeh’s killing.[7][10]

      Immediately after the 1985 assassination the FBI identified three suspects, all of them believed to be affiliated with the JDL, who fled to Israel. Floyd Clarke, then assistant director of the FBI, claimed in an internal memo that key suspects had fled to Israel and were living in Kiryat Arba, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. In 1988, the FBI arrested Rochelle Manning as a suspect in a mail bombing which killed a secretary, Patricia Wilkerson, in Manhattan Beach, California. It also charged her husband, Robert Manning, who they considered a prime suspect in the Odeh bombing. Manning had previously been convicted of a 1972 bombing of the home of an Arab activist in Hollywood, and was a suspect in three other bombings in 1985, one of which killed a Neo-Nazi. Both Rochelle and Robert Manning were members of the JDL. Rochelle’s jury deadlocked, and after the mistrial she left for Israel to join her husband. The U.S. government requested [Robert] Manning’s extradition in 1991. After an unsuccessful two-year legal battle in the Israeli courts to prevent his extradition, [Robert] Manning was extradited in 1993.[4] [11] [Robert] Manning was charged with the bombing attack that killed Wilkerson and convicted; in February 1994, Judge Dickran Tevrizian sentenced him to 30 years to life in prison.[12][13]. . .

      . . . On August 27, 1996, the FBI announced a $1 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Odeh’s killers. JDL members heckled the FBI spokespersons announcing the reward.[13][14] The reward is still in force.[15]

      In 2007, the FBI revealed they had received information from a deceased informant, believed to be former Jewish Defense League member Earl Krugel, who had been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for 2001 plots to bomb a Southern California mosque and office of an Arab American congressman. It is believed that Irv Rubin, who died in prison while awaiting trial on the same charges, revealed to Krugel the names of those responsible for Odeh’s death and Krugel shared those with the FBI before he, too, died in prison. The bombers are believed to be Manning and two other JDL activists, Keith Fuchs and Andy Green, who also fled to Israel and are believed to be living in Kiryat Arba.[16][17] . . .

      SOURCE – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Odeh

      • JLewisDickerson
        February 8, 2017, 1:19 am

        P.S. ALSO SEE: “The California Murder Case That Israel Is Sweeping Under the Rug” | By Robert I. Friedman | latimes.com | May 13, 1990
        In 1985, Alex Odeh was killed by a pipe bomb in Orange County. The FBI has three suspects, but they are in Israel; extradition is unlikely.
        LINK – http://articles.latimes.com/1990-05-13/opinion/op-61_1_pipe-bomb

  4. Marnie
    February 8, 2017, 1:08 am

    No matter the facade, be it the smug, cold smile of Ayelet Shaked or the dancing fools from Batsheva Dance Company, there’s no hiding the true face of ‘israel’.

    I’ve been watching the news coming from the u.s. and I can’t get over how much tRUMP and Netanyahooo hate the people they were elected to serve. Brian Williams and guests were talking about tRUMP’s need for an enemy (Muslims) and they even observed that he may in fact want a terrorist attack to occur in order to get everyone on his side. Duh! That’s the way we roll in ‘israel’ – if you can’t lie about terrorism you have to pray for an attack and hopefully if you engage in enough ‘friction activity’ you’ll get blowback, I mean terrorist attacks. Wake up america!

  5. Annie Robbins
    February 8, 2017, 10:47 am

    began their careers on scholarships from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, a $100 million enterprise committed to supporting “artistic life in Israel by awarding grants.”

    that’s a staggering amount of money. talk about privilege. especially considering how many people in israel live without running water, electricity, or public transportation.

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