My Word: Theater of the absurd (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By LIAT COLLINS 04/08/12)
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There is a tendency for op-ed writers discussing anything related to
the theater to include two phrases: “All the world’s a stage”
and “The show must go on.”
Having got them out of the way, I can tackle the latest drama
involving Israel – which takes the first phrase to its absurd
extremes and turns the second into a much shakier version of the
Sense and Sensibility scriptwriter and star Emma Thompson, showing a
remarkable lack of both attributes, is the latest big name calling
for a cultural boycott of Israel.
In Britain or not in Britain? That is the question being bandied
around by certain stars of stage and screen, including two-time Oscar
winner Thompson and regular Oscar nominee Mike Leigh, who last week
put their names to a petition expressing “dismay and regret” that
Habimah, Israel’s Tel Aviv-based national theater company, had been
invited to participate in a six-week Shakespeare festival taking
place at London’s Globe Theatre.
The stage was set for the latest boycott calls when Habimah held
performances in the Ariel cultural center, over the Green Line.
“Habimah has a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli
settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory,” says the protest
letter, published in Britain’s Guardian newspaper on March 29.
“We ask the Globe to withdraw the invitation so that the festival is
not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal
colonisation of occupied land.”
This is the call by people who seem to have lost the plot.
The festival, which begins on April 23, Shakespeare’s birthday,
includes 37 international companies performing the Bard’s plays in 37
Apparently, the artists opposed to Israel’s inclusion have no problem
with the participation of such luminaries of human rights as China –
the National Theater of China is scheduled to perform Richard III –
or the Palestinian Ashtar Theater, which will perform Richard II.
I don’t have a problem with their inclusion either. It’s the boycott
that I oppose.
Similarly, I don’t object to Iran participating in the Academy
Awards – although I’m patriotically disappointed that it happened to
beat Israel’s entry, Footnote, to gain the Oscar for the best foreign
language film in February.
I do mind Syria still sitting on the United Nations Human Rights
Council. If leaders in Iran, Syria and the Palestinian territories
were to concentrate on exporting culture rather than a culture of
terror, I’d be the first to give them a round of applause.
Unfortunately, the first connotation of the word “bombing” where I’m
sitting has nothing to do with box-office sales.
Ariel may or may not be part of Israel depending on your political
persuasion, but its taking center stage in the latest boycott effort
shows that it is inarguably part of the Middle East. And for the
record, the vast majority of Israelis do think of it as part of a
Its residents, hungry for culture rather than the bloodthirsty
monsters they are portrayed to be, are a lot like you or me.
No Israeli government – not even the most concessionary – has
suggested giving up major centers like Ariel, the Etzion bloc or
Ma’aleh Adumim, although such protests are obviously intended as
curtain raisers for this step.
It’s strange that instead of using theater to cross cultural divides –
and who better than Shakespeare to demonstrate the timeless
universality of human emotions – the self-appointed elite of the
cultural world prefers to exploit it to create even greater divisions
Assuming the show does indeed go on, it will presumably be the target
of picketing and heckling (and, hopefully, nothing more physically
You may recall that in a different culture clash, a performance by
the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in London’s Albert Hall in
September was so disrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters that the
BBC’s live broadcast had to be abandoned.
In its more than 100-year history, Habimah has not steered away from
controversy. The national theater, which recently returned to its
newly refurbished iconic building in Tel Aviv, is well known for a
repertoire that includes the work of late anti-war satirist Hanoch
Levin, for example.
It’s a free country (yes, despite what you might have read
elsewhere): People in Israel, like those in the United Kingdom,
openly speak their minds.
Israeli artists and intellectuals – who continue to be the heart of
the ever-dwindling number of hard-core left-wingers, come to think of
it – have also condemned performances in Judea and Samaria,
particularly in Ariel and more recently in Kiryat Arba. That’s their
right, even if I happen to think they’re wrong.
People are “free” to speak their minds in the Palestinian
territories, too, but given the latest spate of arrests of
journalists by the Palestinian Authority, it takes a great deal more
courage than someone like Emma Thompson putting her name on a letter
in the Guardian.
Peace-loving protesters and BDS supporters would undoubtedly reject
any suggestion that they have something in common with the terrorists
who try to shoot down peace and coexistence. But, as I have noted
before, such attacks are an inevitable result of the delegitimization
Attacks begin with “settlers” – who are barely considered real
people, not worthy even of a theater – but they do not stop there.
They have a way of developing into attacks that reach the very heart
of the country, or anywhere where Jews can be found.
I wonder if the petition signers really understand their lines, or
are simply repeating what they have been taught to declaim. Perhaps
they just like being in the limelight, and bashing Israel is an easy
way to grab headlines. (Though, Heaven knows, being demonstrably anti-
Israel is hardly news.)
Ironically, in London, Habimah is scheduled to perform The Merchant
of Venice, leading me to wonder, to paraphrase Shylock: If you prick
a settler, will he not bleed?
How absurd this latest drama is can be seen in who are the most vocal
local proponents of the “Israel is an apartheid state” myth. Possibly
those who have the best stage are the Arab Knesset members such as
Deputy Speaker Ahmed Tibi and Haneen Zoabi, whose very presence in
the Israeli parliament says something.
Lately, I have also seen a large number of stories about Omar
Barghouti, who is pursuing his doctoral studies at Tel Aviv
University while continuing to call for boycott, divestment and
sanctions against Israel, and even the very establishment where he is
Shakespeare might not have had a word for it, but I call
And for the actress at the center of the London protests, I have one
four-word question: Et tu, Emma Thompson?
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post. (© 1995-
2011, The Jerusalem Post 04/08/12)
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