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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.

Eleanor Kilroy

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6 Responses

  1. seafoid on April 21, 2012, 4:24 pm

    Give it another 5 years and see how well Israel’s attempts to whitewash the occupation by means of focusing on “neutral” cultural exports are going.

  2. Sumud on April 21, 2012, 6:32 pm

    “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.

    It is not Ronen’s place to dictate what artists should and shouldn’t do.

    If some of them want to speak truth to power, then that is their choice. If others want to emulate Leni Riefenstahl, that is also their choice. We see what path Ronen is on.

    To go back to the sexual assault metaphor which is so apt in Israel/Palestine – first priority is to end the rape and make the victim(s) safe; only after that we can begin the healing, or “create bridges”. To expect anything else is unreasonable and immoral.

  3. Citizen on April 21, 2012, 7:30 pm

    Seems to me US has been importing toxic Israeli culture for a long time now, both as to our necon-PEP foreign policy and at home by lethally impregnating Home Land Security. Some Heimat we have these days.

  4. piotr on April 21, 2012, 9:27 pm

    I would disagree with frame “toxic culture”. One can cite two dreadful analogs: famous exhibition of “degenerate art” in Nazi Germany, and the slogan “we have a culture of life, they have a culture of death”.

    Second, historically patronage of arts was associated with quite vile behavior. Aristocrats could build beautiful palaces and churches, sponsor painters and writers and oppress serfs. Imagine that a country still practices rule of aristocracy and oppression of serfs and sends an exquisite ballet company under slogan “Brand Livonia”. Say, Cinderella (1893) by Baron Boris Vietinghoff-Scheel. Otherwise innocent ballet becomes a glorification of oppression of peasants (I have no idea if good baron oppressed peasants or not, this is for the sake of argument; Livonia does not practice serfdom etc.)

    Of course, one can make an argument that the main victims of boycotting Livonian ballet would be peasants, as it makes their masters more testy and more prone to smack peasants on the faces or flog them. [Fast forward: a testy master in Jordan Valley.]

  5. pabelmont on April 22, 2012, 8:40 am

    I dare say that if Habima plays London, there will be demos outside educating the public about the crimes of Israel’s 44-year generally oppressive, settler-colonial, expropriative, home destroying, water stealing, international-law-violating occupation.

    I hope that all this will also be hashed out loudly and often and “noisily” (that is, get media coverage) in the days leading up to the Habima event. I don’t know who will constitute the audience for Habima’s Hebrew Shakespeare, but it might consist mainly of supporters of Israel. THEREFORE the demos should occur on other days and around other performances, to target audiences of the non-Hebrew plays, to let them know (again) what the effect of multi-culturalism is.

    BDS is as much about education as about having economic effects.

    • chet on April 22, 2012, 4:44 pm

      “Export of Israeli culture” vs. noisy, media-attracting demos emphasizing why the Israeli production is receiving such vehement opposition.

      Even though the Brits already get regular pro-Palestinian coverage as well as criticism of Israeli actions and policies via The Guardian and The Independent and to some extent, the BBC, the shit-disturbances that are bound to occur will get a great deal of coverage and certainly spur welcome general debate.

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