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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Freedom for me, boycott for thee

Next week the Israeli Habima theatre company will perform The Merchant of Venice at the Globe Theatre in London.

Anti-Israel activists have already said that they will do everything they can to disrupt the performances.

The Globe says it is beefing up its security:
Shakespeare's Globe has stepped up security in anticipation of next week's two performances by Israel's Habima Theatre Company in order to avoid a repeat of the scenes at the Proms last year.

Pro-Palestinian activists have made clear their intention to disrupt proceedings with demonstrations at both performances. Both shows are now sold out.

In a letter sent this week to ticket-holders, the Globe reserved the right "to refuse admission to anyone we have reason to believe may cause a disruption" and that "any objects or material which could be used in disrupting the performance will be deemed prohibited items".

The organisers warned that individuals who attempted to disrupt the show would be asked to leave and advised that ticket-holders should leave bags at home.

The letter also said that there would be "enhanced security processes in place" including extensive checks of bags and audience members, with food and drink banned in the auditorium and no video or photography equipment allowed at the venue.

The audience has been advised to arrive up to 90 minutes before curtain-up, with plans for the show to be significantly delayed "if the majority of the audience arrive after 7pm".
Interestingly, a theater company that represents a brutal dictatorial regime already played at the Globe without incident. Their government has banned public gatherings, censored newspapers and jailed people whose opinions it disagreed with. Yet no one protested their right to perform; ther ewere no letters to the Guardian insisting that hosting this play would empower the despot rulers to continue their brutal oppression of their people.

I'm talking of course about the well-reviewed Palestinian Arab production of Richard II as part of the same Shakespeare festival.

That theatre company, Ashtar, spoke about the importance of art as a basic human right:
Last week, after receiving a standing ovation for their colourful and enjoyable Arabic-language version of Richard II as part of the Globe's Shakespeare festival, Ashtar members joined a discussion on "theatre under occupation," organised by Jewish anti-Israel campaigner Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi.

The panel event, held at the Globe but organised independently, featured Ashtar's artistic director Iman Aoun, actors George Ibrahim and Nicola Zreineh, as well as Bidisha, author of the forthcoming book Beyond the Wall, and playwright Sonja Linden.

Questioned by the audience on the role of theatre, Mr Zreineh, who played Bolingbroke, said that it was "about communicating stories."

"This is why we Palestinians believe that theatre can be a very powerful tool to create change first in Palestine, and then regionally and internationally," he said.

To nods of approval and applause from the other panellists, Bidisha added: "It's about artists saying, I want to create artistic practices, to exhibit, to perform, to go on tour. These are normal, absolutely basic human rights.

"Artistic creation and drama is wholly universal, and it is a human right to create and perform."

"Art really does have a role in our very conflict-ridden world," said Ms Linden. "The artist's role is to reflect and engage. I'm interested in theatre as a forum for communicating."
But some freedoms are just too much for the oh-so-principled thespians of Ashtar:
[M]oments later, asked to share their views on the recent calls for the Globe to withdraw its invitation to Israel's Habima Theatre company – due to perform The Merchant of Venice at the Globe later this month – the panellists argued that no Israelis should be given a place on stage.

"It's not about Habima, it's about any Israeli organisation, governmental or non governmental, because for us we call for boycotting Israel. That's it," said Mr Zreineh. "As long as there is no justice in our area, we call for boycotting Israel as a state.

"For us it's not about Habima or not Habima, it's about an Israeli existence in our land, in our area."

"We support the BDS [boycott, diverstment and sanctions] and the cultural boycott of Israel," said Ms Aoun. "We have also written to the Globe asking them to disinvite Habima."
It seems that blatant, sheer hypocrisy is also a human right.