November 07, 2012

Boycott Batsheva II - the Director's Cut

A bit of a coup over at the Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods site.  Naomi Winborne-Idrissi received a letter from some performing arts teacher or other calling on JBIG not to disrupt a Batsheva show because she (the teacher) wanted to take her students to it.

Here's Naomi's response to the letter whose content you can probably guess but it is posted in full bar the name below the post on the JBIG site:

Thank you for contacting us regarding your concerns about planned protests focusing on Israel’s Batsheva Ensemble.
I am responding as the Boycott Israel Network’s cultural working group coordinator and national secretary of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, as well as someone who loves and regularly attends dance performances.
I do not know what your sources are for your reading about our campaign, but we are not, as you suggest, people “who could not care less about dance”. On the contrary, we care very much about dance being used cynically to cast a veil over the actions of a government which is anything but artistic in its discriminatory violence against Palestinians. Israel runs a well-funded campaign called Brand Israel which is specifically designed to exploit culture as a distraction from its crimes. The intended message is “Look at our beautiful dancers, ignore our bombs and tanks.”
It’s good to know that you agree with the “basic human right of being able to protest and voice an opinion.” I applaud the fact that you have looked into the appalling situation of the Palestinian people and that you appreciate that they are victims of many atrocities. In that case you must surely know that Palestinian artists and performers suffer from these atrocities at least as much as other members of their community.
Their ability to express themselves through art and culture is severely curtailed – indeed it is deliberately suppressed by the Israeli authorities who use every measure from administrative regulation to extreme violence to prevent Palestinian self-expression. I attach some references pertaining to this (*).
You may also wish to look at the website of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) which explains their call for people of conscience around the world to mount solidarity campaigns such as ours.
Let me assure you we have no wish to deprive GCSE students of the chance to “see a piece of excellent dance so that they can write about it for their GCSE exam”. There are, fortunately for us, untold opportunities in the UK for dance-lovers to have such experiences. This is not the case for Palestinian young people, although Israeli youngsters do not lack for such opportunities.
If you are worried about the trauma your students might suffer by being exposed to someone unfurling a banner or calling out a slogan at a Batsheva performance, may I suggest you give them access to the ample materials explaining why the people of Palestine have called for such actions – not least the daily trauma experienced by Palestinian children such as the students of Hebron attacked by stone-throwing fundamentalist Jewish settlers acting under the protection of Israeli troops, or the children of Bedouin families in the Negev whose homes are constantly being demolished, or the children of Gaza, under siege since 2006 and at the mercy of Israeli bombing raids.
You ask why we do not protest at a Russian ballet performance. I might ask you the same question, but to respond seriously – if an oppressed people comparable with the Palestinians, with no other non-violent means of drawing attention to 60 years of dispossession and injustice, were calling on us to adopt this form of protest on their behalf against cultural institutions linked to the Russian state, we would have no hesitation in doing so. Maybe you are not aware that supporters of Israel adopted just such tactics against the Bolshoi Ballet and other Soviet cultural institutions as part of their campaign to persuade Moscow to let dissident Jews emigrate to Israel in the 1970s and ’80s.
We are thoroughly well acquainted with the personal views of Ohad Naharin, the artistic director of Batsheva, but these do not prevent the most right-wing government Israel has ever had embracing Batsheva as “our best global ambassador”. You can see an analysis of Batsheva’s position here.
If you wish to explore these issues further, and give your students an unprecedented opportunity to consider the many complex ways in which art and politics interact, I would be happy to introduce you to well-informed human rights campaigners in your area who they could meet for a discussion.
 As I said, Naomi has appended the original letter to her post,  But more interesting than the post itself is the fact that Batsheva director has commented on the post thus:

ohad naharin 
since we probably agree about the much needed solution for the palestinians, about the wrong doing of the israeli army and government in the way they treat the palestinians, we probably also agree about the topic of boycott… i guess what left is the topic of boycotting batsheva… i recently wrote this sentence: “…the discussion about the right to call for a boycott of an artistic organization is a legitimate one… it should only take place when the art organization itself take part, collaborating in promoting the situation that is being protested against….”. which you might think is what batsheva dose… we can argue about that or about if is it ok to protest against our shows inside the theater… not so exiting…
i am interested in facts, especially the learning of new ones… i have learn more and more to less care about being right,instead i try to be more right about being informed.. i also realize that there are grey areas. it becomes grey when i know something i can not prove and therefore i don’t need to convince (i cant) yet i know… (there is life elsewhere then our planet; for example).
it is sad that so many times having the wrong facts manufactures so much suffering, injustice, innocent victims and what even more sad is when people distort facts on purpose to serve their agenda. for example; the constant use of “brand israel” while there is not such a thing any more… (there was, and even then i was not part of it) i constantly strive to narrow the gap between what i think reality is and what reality really is. i think i am slowly succeeding…it is a life long task. i find it very challenging and many times impossible to talk to people which have a big to huge gap between what they think reality is and what it really is.
ohad naharin
The guy seems to be in a bit of turmoil so perhaps JSF readers could pop over to the JBIG site, give the guy (and the site) a bit of moral support at the same time as offering some constructuve criticism of Batsheva's position.

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