At the recently-resurrected Clyde Fitch Report (now under new management), OccupyTCG provocateur Ian Thal just completed a fascinating two-part analysis of the Israeli theatre Habima‘s recent visit to the Globe-to-Globe festival. The festival’s invitation to Habima to bring to London its production of The Merchant of Venice generated both calls to boycott and — most insidiously, from other artists — requests that the Globe retract its original invitation to the group.
Perhaps predictably, it was the Israelis among the 38 nationalities represented in the festival who were the specific target of the boycott and protest. As Ian points out in Part I, other invitees from nations with their own controversial geopolitical struggles were allowed to present their work with little or no protest:
[The Guardian critic Lyn Gardner] also gave little thought to the displacement of Tibetans (The National Theatre of China performed Richard III), or to the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks and Kosovar Albanians (Serbia’s National Theatre in Belgrade performed Henry VI Part 1) or to the genocide of Armenians or displacement of the Kurds (there was a Turkish production of Antony and Cleopatra). I came across no reference to calls to boycott or disrupt these or other non-Israeli theatre companies.
More worrisome was the reaction from 37 British theatre artists, including Caryl Churchill and Mark Rylance, who issued an open letter calling for the retraction of the invitation to Habima on political grounds. Thal writes in Part II of his essay:
With the March 29th letter, the story had gone from activists attempting to silence artists not because of the content of the work but for their identity, to that of artists attempting to silence other artists due to their identity: a particularly dangerous position for artists to take. Once an artist advocates the boycotting of another artist’s work because of their nation of origin or for taking a gig in a specific theatre, they have both given sanction to hooliganism seen on May 28th and 29th and sanction similar retaliation towards their own work. I do not subscribe to that view of the arts: despite my feeling that Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children is a piece of crude anti-Semitic agitprop, I was well-behaved when attending productions of Fen and A Number this past season.
It should be noted that other British theatre artists, including Simon Callow, Arnold Wesker, and Howard Brenton, issued statements expressing their dismay at the open letter, and the exclusionary tactics that artists themselves attempted to use to prevent other artists from presenting their work, regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin (among other things).
London seems at quite a distance from New York, and Israel at quite a distance from London: but clearly they may be closer than we all believe (as controversies here surrounding My Name is Rachel Corrie and Seven Jewish Children attest), so American artists too should take note. Again, Ian’s Part I is here, and Part II is here. Well worth reading.