Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Two performances: Israeli actors, Condi Rice

Two Arab Israeli actors and now dozens of Israeli actors have refused orders to perform in the “new cultural center” in an illegal settlement Ariel. In the spirit of Bertolt Brecht (one of the plays was the Caucasian Chalk Circle), this show will not go on. On the wider movement, Vardit Shalfi, a playwright, spoke eloquently:

“Ariel [named in 1978 for Ariel Sharon] is not a legitimate community, and as such, is against international law and international treaties that the State of Israel has signed. This means anyone performing there would be considered a criminal according to international law. The theater’s boards should inform their actors that there are apartheid roads for Jews only that lead into the settlement of Ariel. The moment we perform there, we are giving legitimization to this settlement’s existence.”

The two stories below from the New York Times Blog by Robert Mackey are inspiring (the Times is toying with being a decent paper on its blog, but such coverage of Israel, for the editors of the main pages, is still far away – see the strange burying of this story by Isabel Kershner yesterday here), Mackey shows strongly that the spirit of freedom lives still among a Jewish people currently led by reactionaries. [h/t Ilene Cohen]. See also the Guardian’s story below. Those fascists – I use the term technically for a group seeking extreme racist domination and exploitation - are trying to purge the universities of thought, dissent, discussion. A group modeled on the Hitler-Jugend, Im Tirtzu, along with the Institute for Zionist Studies, are stirring up these attacks. They are funded by the Hudson Institute, one of a network of reactionary or neocon “think tanks” in Washington, directed by a political Straussian Kenneth Weinstein - a student of Harvey Mansfield - and featuring Meyrav Wurmser - a reactionary Israeli whose husband David advised Cheney, Doug Feith who dummied up “information” on Iraq, I. Lewis Libby, Cheney’s special assistant who was sentenced for outing CIA specialist on Iraqi weapons Valerie Plame to punish her husband Joseph Wilson for exposing a lie about ostensible Iraqi procurement of yellowcake uranium from Niger and student of Wolfowitz at Yale, Seth Cropsey, son of Joseph Cropsey and Bush administration figure, Hillel Fradkin, Middle East “expert” and student of Allan Bloom, and Norman Podhoretz, promoter of World War IV against “Islamofascism” among others, and funded by the reactionary Max Singer. Singer previously engaged in the Iran-Contra affair and promoted the American aggression in Iraq. See here and here. There has long been a reactionary dialectic between authoritarians or fascists in Israel and authoritarians in Washington which is, sadly alive and massively self-destructive despite the travesty of the Iraq aggression.

In Israel, Im Tirtzu seeks to purge sociology and political science departments starting recently at Ben-Gurion University of any who notice facts – for instance, that Palestinians are human beings - about oppression in the occupied territories. They excoriate non-fascists as “post-Zionists.” (In 2006, the so-called Institute for Zionist Studies got the cowardly President of Tel Aviv University to scrutinize the syllabi of the sociology department). If this movement succeeds, there will no longer be any free discussion or assent to decisions in Israel.

The Knesset is even seriously discussing making it a crime to refuse an “order to act” (the exact wording: to boycott Israel or the settlements). It has discussed forcing Arab-Israelis to take a loyalty oath (it is not the parliament of a strong state that presumes itself honorable); now it wants only “citizens” who salute its commands even when they believe these – rightly! – to be immoral. These are not laws of a free people; they have, in theoretical terms, the semblance of laws but they violate the treatment of citizens as equally free which makes a decent system of law. Racism, including its harms to “privileged” citizens or theater companies or universities, is the enemy of law. In today’s international context, such “laws” are also self-destructive; to hear about them inspires revulsion against a government which could attempt to pass them. These are not the acts of a democratic government which inspires respect or has dignity.

The violence of what these disobedients are up against can be heard in the words of the settlers in the second article below and in some of the comments in the third. But a boycott I seem to recall is a nonviolent form of resistance. These fascist “parliamentarians” are not far-sighted. Those who condemn nonviolence would, left to their own devices as in the case of the American slave-owners who detested Quakers, conjure John Browns. Fortunately, much of the Palestinian movement has discovered the nonviolent force of King and Gandhi. Those who tried to bring food and medical supplies to Gaza on the Mavi Marmara stunningly revealed current Israeli oppression and military incompetence. The government attack on a relief ship in international waters by parachuting in soldiers with guns and murdering 9 people – suffering no casualties – speaks more enduringly about the project of occupation than any “pr” or “spin.” See here and here, Trying to control Israeli culture with criminal penalties (potential firing by the theater company is not enough) is the latest totalitarian – I don’t like the term, but it fits here – Knesset move. A culture of militarism inspires this kind of crude, violent and self-destructive act.

Thus, in refusing to perform in the settlements, these actors are showing the way. They join hands with the nonviolent resistors on the Mavi Marmara, with Swedish workers who will not unload goods from the settlements, with the citizens including Evergreen State students of Olympia, Washington who will not purchase these goods...These nonviolent protestors may help Israel to become a decent democracy, recognizing all citizens equally as Israelis (now for spurious eugenic reasons, it doesn’t), and making a reasonable settlement with Palestinians (either a decent two state-solution or if the expansion of “Greater Israel” has now gone too far, a democracy based on equal rights for each citizen). They realize democratic internationalism.

For a long time, some people may lose their way, wander in the desert. This past Friday my University and department gave an award to Condi Rice, currently an unrepentant war criminal, as a most distinguished alumna. Unless she recants, she is distinguished in torture and denial but little else. She is of course accomplished and charming. Sadly, rarely has a case of appearance and substance been so sharply at odds. The New York Times editorial “The Legacy of Torture” that same day here, named the hollowness of this “celebration.” Some judges are throwing out Guantanamo cases, because it is against the law to procure "evidence" by torture. As in the case of then 15 year old Omar Khadr whose father had been killed fighting the United States (the invaders), those subjected to torture do not tell the truth. They say what the torturer wants to hear. See here. In Khadr's case, such "evidence" is permitted because it is a military "tribunal." It is time for people here too to stand up for decency.

On the culture minister Limor Livnat's remark that illegality - conquest, holding people in a large open air concentration camp (Gaza), brutality and murder - does not override other rights of the occupiers - uncontroversial rights when they are citizens in their own country - and that the main issue is that any Israeli citizen has the supposed right to "consume culture anywhere" she likes, consider the case of Jewish musicians who once performed for officers at Auschwitz. Did Nazi officers really have a "right to consume culture anywhere" they liked? Would it not have been right to shut down Auschwitz, despite their objections? Or for the musicians to be able to refuse and survive (some refused and didn't)? Yes, every person, who has not or is not committing crimes, has the right to go see artistic performances ("consume culture" is an alienated expression). And no, in this case, the actors are completely in the right.

Just a note on the conflict in the play between two groups of people fighting over land. Brecht was an anti-racist. The post-1967 Israeli occupation is illegal and immoral. The settlers, subsidized by the Israeli government, have no just claim to the territory. That government needs to foster their resettlement in Israel.

New York Times Blog
August 26, 2010
Israeli Actors Boycott Theater in Settlement


Updated | Friday | 8:52 a.m. Two Israeli actors have announced that they will not travel with the country’s national theater company to perform in a new cultural center nearing completion in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

On Wednesday, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the center was nearing completion, after two decades of delay, with construction “going on by night, to allow the Muslim construction workers to fast during the Ramadan month.” A slate of eight plays, to be performed by four theater companies starting in November, was also announced.

Yousef Sweid, an Arab Israeli who is in the cast of “A Railway to Damascus,” one of the plays Israel’s national theater said it would take to the settlement from Tel Aviv, told Israeli television on Wednesday night that he was surprised to hear of the plan and would refuse to take part. According to Haaretz, he said:

"I would be glad to perform in settlements in several shows that have messages I’d like to deliver in many communities. But settlers and settlements are not something that entertains me, and I don’t want to entertain them."

On Thursday, Haaretz explained that another member of the company, Rami Heuberger, who is not in any of the plays currently scheduled to be performed in the center, said, “if I am asked, I believe I would have a problem with performing there.” Last year, Mr. Heuberger wrote in an open letter in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in support of Samieh Jabbarin, an Arab Israeli actor who had been placed under house arrest after protesting against Israel’s Gaza offensive:

"Samieh and I are both Israeli citizens. If the State of Israel maintains that an action by a theater person democratically demonstrating against wrong doings turns him into a security risk and makes it necessary to lock him up at home for almost a year under surveillance, than I, too, should wear an electronic shackle. A different theater person, like myself, a non-Arab, would not have been treated this way for taking political action."

Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist and blogger, suggested that there is some “irony” about the fact that one of the first plays announced for the new theater is “The Caucasian Chalk Circle,” Bertolt Brecht’s reworking of an ancient parable about the claims of two competing groups to the same
piece of land.

Brecht’s play, written near the end of the Second World War, begins with a prologue in which two groups of idealized Soviet peasants argue over which of them should be allowed to farm a valley recently liberated from the Nazis. One group of goat-herders presses the claim that “The valley has belonged to us for centuries,” while a second group, which moved there during the war and cultivates crops more suited to the land, lays out ambitious plans to grow fruit there.

After some debate, the prologue ends with general agreement that the newcomers, who will use the land better, should be allowed to live on it for the greater good, because, one of them says, “As the poet Mayakovsky said: ‘The home of the Soviet people shall also be the home of Reason!’”

The two groups then perform a version of the ancient parable of the chalk circle — itself very similar to a story about the wisdom of Solomon — which is about settling a dispute between two women over who is the real mother of a child: the one who gave birth to him but abandoned him, or another who fostered him but is not related by blood.

In Brecht’s version of the story, the child is placed in a circle drawn on the ground between the two women, and each is asked to take one of the boy’s arms and try to pull him out of the circle. The judge says that the true mother will have the strength to pull the child from the circle. When just one of the women refuses to pull — because she fears that the child will be torn in two — the judge announces that she is boy’s the real mother (despite not having given birth to him) because she cares the most for his well-being.

King Solomon’s test is quite similar. He tells the women that he will simply cut the child in two and give half to each of them — prompting one woman (in that case, also the biological mother) to say that she prefers to give the child away than to see it killed.

Quite what all this might mean to the competing claims of Israeli settlers and Palestinians to the Israeli-occupied West Bank is not clear, but it seems likely that Brecht’s idea — that land should go to the people who will make the best use of it, rather than to the people who have the most long-lasting or deeply emotional connection to it — might not fit well with the national narratives of either group.

August 27, 2010,
Boycott of Theater in Israeli Settlement Grows


A cultural center under construction in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Dozens of Israel theater professionals have signed a letter protesting plans, announced this week, for Israeli theater companies to perform in a new cultural center nearing completion in Ariel, a West Bank settlement named for the former general and prime minister Ariel Sharon.

As The Lede explained on Thursday, soon after a slate of performances was announced this week, two actors with Israel’s national theater company announced that they would refuse to work in the Israeli settlement.

On Friday, the Israeli newspaper Web site Ynet News reported that dozens of Israel’s leading actors, directors, composers and playwrights had signed a letter sent to the managers of four theater companies that agreed to stage plays in the settlement, in which they said:

"We wish to express our disgust with the theater’s board’s plans to perform in the new auditorium in Ariel. The actors among us hereby declare that we will refuse to perform in Ariel, as well as in any other settlement. We urge the boards to hold their activity within the sovereign borders of the State of Israel within the Green Line."

One of the most prominent signatories is Joshua Sobol, the celebrated Israeli author of the Holocaust drama “Ghetto.”

Vardit Shalfi, a dramaturg who who helped put the letter together, told Ynet:

"Ariel is not a legitimate community, and as such, is against international law and international treaties that the State of Israel has signed. This means anyone performing there would be considered a criminal according to international law. The theater’s boards should inform their actors that there are apartheid roads for Jews only that lead into the settlement of Ariel. The moment we perform there, we are giving legitimization to this settlement’s existence."

Ynet added that Israel’s national theater said that the question of whether it should perform in a settlement built on Palestinian land first occupied by Israel in 1967 “calls for an in-depth examination of all the issues it includes…. We are looking into the matter.” The newspaper also reported that an umbrella organization representing Israeli settlers on the West Bank denounced the calls for a boycott:

"Our response to the letter signed by a bunch of anti-Zionist leftists and refusniks will be very harsh. This vile letter, which speaks out against the best of the State’s sons who defend them while they are acting on stage, requires a direct, poignant and clear response from the theaters’ boards, and this is what we expect. We will announce our future steps in the coming days."

Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist and blogger, commented, “This is a major development, especially since under the new boycott bill, which stands a good chance of becoming a law in one of the next Knesset sessions, any call to boycott Israel or the settlements could result in a fine of up to 30,000 shekels ($9,000), without proof of damages.”

As The Lede noted on Thursday, one of the first plays scheduled to be performed in the new cultural center in Ariel, Bertolt Brecht’s “Caucasian Chalk Circle,” deals explicitly with a dispute over which of two groups should have the right to live and work on a contested piece of land.

Monday, August 30, 2010 The Guardian/UK
Israeli Actors to Boycott New West Bank Theatre
60 actors, writers and directors argue that performing in occupied territories would legitimise illegal settlements

by Harriet Sherwood

Dozens of Israeli actors, playwrights and directors have signed a letter refusing to take part in productions by leading theatre companies at a new cultural centre in a West Bank settlement, prompting renewed debate over the legitimacy of artistic boycott.

More than 60 have joined the protest over plans by Israel's national theatre, the Habima, and other leading companies to stage performances in Ariel, a settlement 12 miles inside the West Bank. The letter, to Israel's culture minister, Limor Livnat, says the new centre for performing arts in Ariel, which is due to open in November after 20 years in construction, would "strengthen the settlement enterprise".

"We want to express our dismay with the intention of the theatres' managements to perform in the new auditorium in Ariel and hereby declare that we will refuse to perform in the city, as in any other settlement." Israel's theatre companies should "pursue their prolific activity inside the sovereign territory of the state of Israel within the boundaries of the Green Line".

Livnat said the boycott would cause divisions in Israeli society: "Culture is a bridge in society, and political disputes should be left outside cultural life and art. I call for the scheduled performances to be carried out as scheduled in Ariel and all over the country, as each citizen has the right to consume culture anywhere he chooses."

Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said the country was under attack by the international community - including economic, academic and cultural boycotts - and "the last thing we need at this time ... is a boycott from within".

The Habima, Cameri, Beit Lessin and Be'er Shiva theatre companies issued a joint defence of their plans, saying they "will perform in any place where there are theatre-loving Israelis, including the new cultural centre in Ariel. We respect the political views of our actors, but we'll make sure that the best of Israeli theatre will get to Ariel". The four companies, plus another two - the Khan and the Haifa - which have also agreed to stage productions in Ariel, all receive state funding.

Ron Nachman, the mayor of Ariel, said: "These actors get salaries from the government, which is sponsoring their theatres. You cannot take the money from the government and then decide your own policies. That is not integrity or honesty. If they disagree [with performing in Ariel], they should resign."

It was not clear how many of the signatories were listed for planned performances in Ariel. Yousef Swaid, who is appearing in A Railway To Damascus, a production scheduled to be staged in Ariel, told Channel 1 television: "Settlers and settlements are not something that entertain me, and I don't want to entertain them." Rami Heuberger, who is not listed, said: "As a stage actor, it is a very, very problematic issue, and I think that so long as settlements are a controversial issue that will be discussed in any negotiations [with the Palestinians], I should not be there."

Gideon Levy, a leading liberal Israeli commentator, backed the actors' stance. "Yes, there is a difference between legitimate, sovereign Israel and the areas of its occupation," he wrote in today's Haaretz, which first reported the story. ". "Yes, there is a moral difference between appearing here and appearing there in the heart of an illegal settlement ... built on a plot of stolen land, in a performance designed to help settlers pass their time pleasantly, while surrounded by people who have been deprived of all their rights."

The Yesha Council, which represents settlers, said the actors' letter had been signed by "army evaders and anti-Zionist leftwing activists".

The actors' letter follows the refusal of some international artists to perform in Israel because of its occupation of the Palestinian territories. Earlier this summer, Elvis Costello cancelled concerts in Israel, citing the "intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security". The Pixies, Gil Scott Heron, Santana and Klaxons have also withdrawn from performances.

Ariel, home to almost 20,000 people, was founded in 1978 deep in the West Bank. Israel wants it to remain on its side of any border resulting from peace negotiations with the Palestinians. All settlements on occupied territory are illegal under international law.

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