Last week, the newly inaugurated, multi-million dollar West Bank cultural center in Ariel announced that all Israel’s major drama companies would perform there in its new theater, marking the first time they ever crossed the Green Line for such performances. The news raised a stir since Israel’s theater community is generally known for espousing liberal-left political views. An even deeper irony is that one of the plays to be presented was Bertold Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle.
This news struck like a lightning bolt through Israel’s artistic community and within days over 50 Israeli actors, directors and producers had signed a letter saying they would refuse to perform in Ariel until there was an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The Israeli right protested that its settlements were an integral part of Eretz Yisrael and demanding that the government force the artists to perform or risk losing their government subsidies. The signers have been roundly praised and booed on the Israeli stage.
Jewish Voice for Peace began to organize an American petition to support the Israeli artists. Itamar Eichner wrote a premature and incomplete story in Yediot about this a few days ago. Eichner, who several years ago falsely reported that Combatants for Peace’s then-national tour was being underwritten by Palestinian radicals, dutifully regurgitated the lines he was fed by the Los Angeles Israeli consul general about a bunch of airhead actors meddling in Israel’s internal affairs. This seems to be an attempt to by Israel hasbara apparatus to let the air out of the campaign. But it didn’t work.
Chaim Levinson, who broke the original Ariel theater story in Haaretz, has just published the first official and complete story. Now it can be told.
Jewish Voice for Peace has organized what may be the first statement by Hollywood and Broadeway artists supporting an Israeli cultural boycott. 150 actors, playwrights, directors & producers signed a petition supporting Israel’s theater community, which announced that it would refuse to perform in Ariel.
Among the celebrities are Stephen Sondheim, Mandy Patinkin, Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City), James Schamus (Ang Lee’s producer), Emily Mann (McCarter Theater), Eve Ensler (Vagina Monologues), Julianne Moore, Lynn Notage (Ruined), Bill Irwin, Kathleen Chalfant, Mira Nair, Oskar Eustis (Public Theater), Hal Prince (Broadway producer), Tony Kushner (Angels in America), Sheldon Harnick (Broadway lyricist), Ed Asner (Up), Theodore Bikel, Wallace Shawn, Miriam Margolyes, Ruth Reichl, and Vanessa Redgrave.
Their statement reads:
On August 27th, dozens of Israeli actors, directors, and playwrights made the brave decision not to perform in Ariel, one of the largest of the West Bank settlements, which by all standards of international law are clearly illegal. As American actors, directors, critics and playwrights, we salute our Israeli counterparts for their courageous decision.
Most of us are involved in daily compromises with wrongful acts. When a group of people suddenly have the clarity of mind to see that the next compromise looming up before them is an unbearable one — and when they somehow find the strength to refuse to cross that line — we can’t help but be overjoyed and inspired and grateful.
It’s thrilling to think that these Israeli theatre artists have refused to allow their work to be used to normalize a cruel occupation which they know to be wrong…and which is impeding the hope for a just and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike. They’ve made a wonderful decision, and they deserve the respect of people everywhere who dream of justice. We stand with them.
Wallace Shawn had a typically incisive comment in an interview for Haaretz:
Wallace Shawn told Haaretz on Sunday that the Israeli artists’ refusal had touched him. They did something that could get them fired, and he found that inspiring, he said. Theater is the art of truth, and the Israeli artists are following their own truth, he said.
I support both the Israeli and American artists who are in solidarity with the peace movement and those opposed to the Occupation. I also have to say this is one of the most legitimate uses of the cultural boycott I’ve yet seen.
I wanted to return to Eichner’s story in Yediot, because it has a typically nasty underbelly worth noting. Since Eichner wrote the smear of Breaking the Silence with the benefit of a source within the same consulate, it seems clear the same thing happened in this case. Either through pro-Israel celebrities who dutifully reported in to the consulate, or through intelligence sources it has in the industry (you bet there are), the former discovered the JVP campaign.
Here are excerpts from the story:
Art in Service [to politics]
Yediot is reporting that leftist American Jewish groups have begun a petition by actors and celebrities in Hollywood and on Broadway in which they express their support for the Israeli actors…Jewish Voice for Peace turned to a group of actors and leaders in the film industry, seeking their support for a statement to be published in Israel and America.
…Several noted Hollywood actors turned to Israel consul general in Los Angeles, Yeki Dayan, seeking his counsel about whether to sign the statement. “Instead of getting involved in such matters it would be more helpful to support Israeli culture which needs such help. They shouldn’t involve themselves in domestic Israeli politics. What’s more, Ariel is within the Israeli consensus.”
In light of the campaign, the consultate turned to key members of the Hollywood entertainment industry asking them to persuade others not to sign.
It’s interesting to know that the consul general breaks out the same tired old finger-wagging cliches in lecturing American artists about what their “proper” role should be in supporting Israel. In other words, do what we tell you to do not what your conscience tells you to do because we know better than your conscience what is best for you and Israel.
The contention that Ariel is “within the Israeli consensus” is also highly debatable. What Dayan means to say is that Ariel is talked about by many, especially on the right, as a community that Israel will retain in any peace agreement. Therefore, he argues that it WILL BE within Israel so it shouldn’t be a controversial issue. But the plain fact is that Ariel is a settlement, one of the largest in the West Bank. It is illegal under international law. Settlements whether in Ariel or elsewhere run contrary to U.S. policy which disdains them. Further, there IS no peace agreement and until there is there is no consensus in Israel or elsewhere that Ariel is as much a part of Israel as Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
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Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.