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Issue #1471      8 September 2010

“The Israeli theatre is not a puppet theatre”

Hundreds gathered on  August 30 at the Habima National Theatre in Tel Aviv to demonstrate support for its actors who are boycotting performances in the Occupied West Bank settlement of Ariel.

A leading Communist Party of Israel member, MK Dov Henin (Hadash) said in the rally that, “the Israeli theatre is not and will not be a puppet theatre. It is a theatre of people with independent thoughts and consciences.”

Peace Now general-secretary Yariv Oppenheimer also said the rally “wasn’t only sending a message about the occupation, but also about democracy. These actors have the right to exercise their own free will and not perform somewhere they don’t want to.”

When asked to respond to critics who have said that art and culture shouldn’t be mixed with politics, Oppenheimer said, “Of course they mix, and culture and art have a role to play in speaking about issues of values and morals.”

Following media reports that several major theatre houses are scheduled to perform at the Ariel Centre, dozens of very known professional theatre actors and workers issued a public letter in which they vowed not to perform there because it is in the Palestinian occupied territories.

Authors Amos Oz, David Grossman, AB Yehoshua and Sami Michael, as well as Israel Prize laureate, sculptor and architect Dani Caravan signed a petition supporting the boycott, as did additional actors and directors.

The letter was criticised by members of the extreme-right government, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who at the beginning of a cabinet meeting said, “Israel is under an attack of delegitimisation by elements in the international community. This attack includes attempts to enact economic, academic and cultural boycotts. The last thing we need at this time is to be under such an attack – I mean this attempt at a boycott – from within.”

The actors’ boycott of the new Ariel Cultural Centre received a boost with over 250 academics and several dozen authors and artists signing letters in their support. In the academics’ letter faculty members from universities across the country vowed not to lecture or participate in any discussions in settlements, and voiced support for the theatre artists who have said they would refuse to perform in the West Bank city.

“We will not take part in any kind of cultural activity beyond the Green Line, take part in discussions and seminars, or lecture in any kind of academic setting in these settlements,” the academics wrote.

“We support the theatre artists refusing to play in Ariel, express our appreciation of their public courage and thank them for bringing the debate on settlements back into the headlines,” the petition said. “We’d like to remind the Israeli public that like all settlements, Ariel is also in occupied territory”. Signatories of the academic petition included Zeev Sternhell, Yael Sternhell, Nissim Calderon, Anat Biletzki, Ziva Ben-Porat, Yaron Ezrachi, Aeyal Gross, Shlomo Sand, Dan Rabinowitz, Neve Gordon, Efraim Davidi, Ofer Casif, Kalman Altmann, Oded Goldreich and Oren Yiftachel.  

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