News

Israeli Foreign Ministry: Exporting toxic culture

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

“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.

6 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

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.

“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,… Read more »

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.

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… Read more »

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… Read more »