Monday, April 23, 2012

Globe MPs' letter gives the game away


A GROUP of MPs who have lent their names to a letter defending the Globe theatre's invitation to Israel's Habima theatre for a Shakespeare festival have perhaps unwittingly blown the cover on the pretence that this was purely about cultural freedom from political interference, or that those opposing the invitation were merely motivated by prejudice.

In their letter, published in the Guardian on Friday, April 20, the MPs write:

We notice with dismay that dozens of prominent members of the UK theatre and film industry are calling for a boycott of Israel's national theatre, Habima, in London's Globe to Globe festival, on the grounds that Habima have performed in established cultural halls in two large Israeli settlements (Letters, 30 March). It is widely accepted that any peace accord is likely to result in the larger settlement blocs, on land close to the 1967 line, becoming part of Israel, through a process of land swaps; a concept that has already been endorsed and reiterated by international leaders.

In any case, Habima's cultural contribution to the festival ought to be celebrated and enjoyed away from the politics of the region. ....(boycott activity) gives a green light to those who wish to promote the delegitimisation of Israel. It does nothing to help the Middle East peace process which will be solved when leaders on both sides can reach agreement on a two-state solution.

Among those signing the letter along with John Whittingdale MP, who is chair of the Commons committee on Culture, the Media and Sport, is Louise Mensch, the Tory MP for Corby, who was also signatory to a previous letter along with playwright Arnold Wesker, actress Maureen Lipmann and other celebs, linking the boycott call with attempts to delegitimise Israel, the Jewish people and the Hebrew language, and claiming that it demonstrated continuing "persecution" of Jewish people and Israelis in Britain.

At the time the most charitable assumption we could make was that the signatories were ignorant of the real issues, concerning Habima and its performance in illegal settlements, as they managed to ignore this, just as they feigned ignorance of the fact that the call to oppose the Habima visit came from people in Israel, and was supported by respected artists here and in the United States, many of whom happened to be Jewish (unlike Mrs.Mensch, nee Bagshawe, who is a Roman Catholic).

Incidentally, Louise Mensch is no starry-eyed believer in freedom of expression for everyone. After the riots she wanted social networks like Facebook and Twitter closed down during periods of disturbances, much as they might be in China or Iran. As for the Occupation movement (in London, not the West Bank she appears to think people have no right to condemn capitalism if they enjoy its "benefits", e.g. purchasing a coffee. Presumably they should also not wear clothes. But we should not call the MP daft, after all some people voted for her.

Now at least the MPs are admitting they know about the settlement issue, even though they appear to think that plonking a fortified town like Ariel down amid a hostile population, 17 kilometers east of the Israeli border, and then using it to claim the land as part of Israel, is part of a peace process, and perfectly compatible with a "two state solution"!

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu could not have put it better. Only he has called Ariel "the capital of Samaria", so perhaps by "two states" they mean one State of Israel within its pre-1967 borders, (to which President Obama said it should withdraw - though he seemed to withdraw his remark for Netanyahu's visit); and a settler state of "Judea and Samaria", i.e. the West Bank. Israel demands recognition as "democratic and Jewish", the settlers would not bother with any "democratic" nonsense.

Netanyahu is also on record (though he tried to deny it) as saying that Israel ought to take advantage of a Middle East war to expel the Palestinian population.

The Palestinians don't get a look in for the British MPs' letter, any more than they would at Ariel. For the writers it is supposedly enough that the land swaps" - based on settlements which are against international law - have been accepted by "international leaders". Perhaps they should tell us more.

The issue of Israeli expansion and settlements was thrust into the realm of cultural expression and theatre two years ago, when a new cultural centre was opened with Israeli government support in the city settlement of Ariel.

Dozens of Israeli theatre actors, playwrights and directors signed a pledge that they would not have anything to do with this project, seeing it as part of the government's effort to "normalise" illegal settlements and Netanyahu's claim that Ariel was an an "integral part of the State of Israel". They saw this as an obstacle to peace, and their objection as a matter of conscience, even if it meant loss of patronage and income.

Ariel settlement (photo by <span class=ARIJ) &lt;/a>&lt;/p>&lt;div class="> category IMEMC News

Despite threats to withold funds, and denunciation as "draft evaders and traitors", the list of objectors grew, and was reinforced by some 150 academics supporting the actors. Among those who added their names were playwright Yehoshua Sobol, whose Holocaust play "Ghetto" has been peformed in Britain, and writers David Grossman, Amos Oz and A.B.Yehoshua. Their letter said:

"We, the undersigned, express our support and solidarity with the theater artists refusing to perform in Ariel. Freedom of creation and freedom of opinion are the cornerstones of a free and democratic society. Not too long ago, we marked the 43rd anniversary of the Israeli occupation. Legitimization and acceptance of the settler enterprise cause critical damage to Israel's chances of achieving a peace accord with its Palestinian neighbors."

Bringing up the rear, in November 2010 a group of education students from Beit Berl College informed the college administration that they would not be willing to complete their teacher training with a project at an educational facility in Ariel. "We will not teach beyond the Green Line (pre 1967 border) the students said. They were supported by the student union though not all its members agreed, and the principal said he would have to respect the students' decision.

"Meanwhile, " as Ha'aretz had reported on August 31, 2010 , "some 300 persons gathered yesterday outside the Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv to protest its decision to perform in Ariel when its new cultural center opens this November.

Participating in the protest were MKs Dov Khenin (Hadash ), Nitzan Horowitz and Haim Oron (Meretz ), actors Hana Meron, Oded Kotler, playwright Yehoshua Sobol, former MKs Yael Dayan and Zahava Gal-On, and former editor-in-chief of Maariv Doron Galezer."

MKs means Members of the Knesset. And I'd choose the wisdom of these Israeli artists, writers, academics and members of the Knesset over the conditioned knee jerks of some British Zionist hacks who have got the needle stuck, or Tory members of parliament airing their ignorance.

That said, and whatever one thinks of the Habima row, the Tory MPs may have done us a favour in talking about what "international leaders" are ready to endorse. It could be they are echoing what some of their leaders are too shy to come out with openly, or what the Israeli government is assuming they will accept. The world is a stage, and not all the actors perform in theatres.,7340,L-3983888,00.html,7340,L-3986308,00.html

And for some light relief (unless you're one of the voters of Corby), Mrs.Mensch on an Ocupation she did not support:

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