Why was Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company disrupted in Edinburgh?

Some thoughts on boycott/disruption events at the Edinburgh Festival, 30/3 Aug and 1 Sept 2012.
The following is posted here with thanks to British Writers in Support of Palestine, who posted this on 1Sept2012.

WHY BOYCOTT BATSHEVA?

A British and an Israeli response to Lloyd Newson of DV8

Last night pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted Batsheva dance company, Israel’s ‘most important cultural ambassador’, at their opening night at the Edinburgh Festival in the presence of Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub and Israeli culture and sport minister Livnat.

In August this year, boycott activists wrote privately to a number of dance professionals, asking them if they would sign a letter for publication in the press that criticised the decision of the Edinburgh International Festival to invite Israeli dance company Batsheva to perform.  DV8 founder Lloyd Newson chose to respond publicly via the DV8 website and newsletter.

We welcome Lloyd Newson’s willingness to discuss the issue of the cultural boycott of Israel.  Attached are two responses, the first from the people who wrote to him originally, the second from Israeli organisation Boycott from Within

A British response

We wrote to Lloyd Newson and other dancers and choreographers because we support the call from Palestinian  civil society for an international boycott of Israeli state institutions, modelled on the boycott of South African apartheid, in order to pressure Israel to bring to an end its decades-long violations of fundamental Palestinian rights.

1   Boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS)

Boycott is the non-violent weapon of a people who have been denied any democratic recourse to justice over many decades. We strongly reject the political and moral equivalence Newson seems to assume between Israel and Palestine. The fundamental dynamics of military occupation, ethnic cleansing and of apartheid can only be described as the relationship between oppressor and oppressed. This relationship is amply documented by all reputable human rights organisations.

2   Newson writes: ‘Palestine should recognise Israel’s right to exist, stop calling for Israel’s destruction and renounce terrorism’

Over the past 64 years, Israel has never recognised the existence of Palestine, nor its right to exist, even while colonising its resources, destroying its villages, agriculture and economy and while expelling its people and disabling the functioning of its society. Israel has certainly never hesitated to use violence to achieve the above aims.

In fact the Palestinian call for boycott is a non-violent strategy that calls not for the ‘destruction’ of anything or the deprivation of any rights, only for the implementation of international laws and human rights conventions as they apply equally to all people, regardless of ethnicity.

3   Honour crimes, gender violence and occupation

So-called ‘honour’ crimes, and violence based on gender or sexual orientation, must never be denied or dismissed. While they are a reality in Palestinian society, this is also true of many other countries. However, that fact is not normally deployed, as Newson does, as an argument against the right of these countries to exist and practise self-determination. Palestinians are entitled to the human rights denied to them by the State of Israel over the past six decades precisely because rights are universal and affect all Palestinian women and men, whether gay or straight.

Furthermore, there is ample evidence that the daily experience of living under military occupation and racial persecution actively compounds these problems. Israeli occupation and violence against Palestinian women are integrally linked. For example, Israeli military checkpoints cut off roads between Palestinian villages and towns, isolating women from friends and family and making them more vulnerable to patriarchal control. The Israeli military and occupation authorities routinely humiliate Palestinian men, increasing tension in the domestic sphere and making it difficult for Palestinian women to talk publicly about experiences of domestic violence.

Doctor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has rejected the ‘culturalisation’ of violence against women – the explanation of violence as part of  ‘Palestinian culture’ – and situated it within the  context of Israeli occupation, militarisation, dispossession  and poverty. She has shown how women suffer the constant fear of losing their homes, family members and their ability to provide for their children. The economic strangulation that prevents Palestinians from reaching schools, from finding decent work, and from moving freely within and between their own areas, has had a profound impact on women’s lives and safety.

4   ’Pink-washing’ versus solidarity with Palestinian LGBT

We note that Palestinian Queers for BDS (PQBDS), a group of Palestinian activists from the Palestinian Occupied Territories and Israel, have come together to promote and stand for the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. They write:

As an integral part of Palestinian society we believe that the struggle for sexual and gender diversity is interconnected with the Palestinian struggle for freedom. As Palestinian queers, our struggle is not only against social injustice and our rights as a queer minority in Palestinian society, but rather, our main struggle is one against Israel’s colonization, occupation and apartheid; a system that has oppressed us for the past 63 years.

Aeyal Gross, professor of law at Tel Aviv University, has stated that for Israel, ‘Gay rights have essentially become a public-relations tool’, even though ‘conservative and especially religious politicians remain fiercely homophobic’. This public relations programme has become known as ‘Pinkwashing’.

Gross has elsewhere said: ‘The appropriation of gay rights in Israel diverts the conversation from Palestinian oppression in an attempt to present Israel as a liberal democracy’.

We note and support the public stands for BDS taken by gender and queer theorist Judith Butler and film-maker John Greyson, the work of activists such as the queer Arab Pinkwatchingisrael, the Lebanese Helem, and the US group Queers Against Apartheid who write:

As queers, we recognize that homophobia exists in Israel, Palestine, and across all borders. However, the struggle for sexual rights cannot come at the price of other rights. 

5   The boycott of Batsheva dance company, Israel’s ‘most important global ambassador’

We think Newson is quite right to be wary of ‘artists banning other artists’. As with the boycott of South African apartheid, cultural boycott means balancing the right to freedom of expression (in this case of Israeli state institutions that do not explicitly oppose state policies regarding Palestinians) against other fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of ordinary Palestinians to live in liberty and equality with others.

We are not boycotting any choreographer because of their beliefs, their nationality or the content of their work. We are protesting the Israeli state’s use of contemporary dance as ‘soft power’ to promote a cultured image on the world stage, as part of its ‘Brand Israel’ campaign.

Newson notes that Batsheva director Ohad Naharin has publicly stated he is ‘sympathetic to the frustrations experienced by Palestinians and has openly criticised the Israeli government’. But sympathy for their ‘frustrations’ will not impress Palestinians living under siege in Gaza, in the West Bank, in refugee camps, in prison under administrative detention, or anywhere else.

Dance scholar and choreographer Nicholas Rowe, who worked with dancers in the Occupied West Bank and with refugees in Lebanon for eight years, wrote to us:

If Ohad Naharin and Batsheva Dance Company would have the courage to refuse to offer their bodies up to the Israeli Defense Forces for annual military service, if they would have the courage to publicly condemn the illegal military occupation of the West Bank and the ongoing theft of land and property by the government that pays them to tour in the name of Israel, if they would have the courage to publicly state that they do not judge people by their religion or ethnicity and so would welcome the return of non-Jewish refugees back to their homes inside what is now Israel, then they would be touring to the UK as dance artists, and not just as political puppets. Anybody who seeks to watch Batsheva should be aware that Ohad Naharin and Batsheva have these choices to make.   

Newson belittles these choices, characterising them as ‘highly simplified’. We, however, think these are fundamental questions of moral responsibility, not only for artists but for civil society in general.

Jenny Morgan, Miranda Pennell, Professor Jonathan Rosenhead
for info: contact@mirandapennell.com or contact Eleanor Kilroy  07909 248651

An Israeli response

Lloyd Newson’s moral failure

We are Israeli citizens who are active against our government’s policies of racism, apartheid and occupation.

We wish to address Lloyd Newson’s flawed reasoning in his response to British activists for solidarity with Palestinian people.

According to Mr. Newson, all Palestinians (Israelis) represent all Palestinian institutions (respectively), and are therefore responsible for human rights violations committed by ‘their’ institutions. This is a grave error, and a failure to comprehend the Palestinian BDS call.

The call for boycotting Batsheva has been issued due to its affiliation with the Israeli government, and its role as a propaganda outlet for the Israeli regime.

No one has called for a personal boycott of Batsheva’s ensemble. In fact, the dancers can be invited, as individuals, to perform the same programme, instead of representing the Israeli government as the Israeli foreign-ministry funded ensemble of Batsheva. If Mr. Newson wishes to boycott institutions of other states that are responsible for human rights violations, this would not be incompatible with the Palestinian BDS call.

Gender violence and fundamentalism are all a reality in Palestinian society (as well as in Israeli society). However, an occupied people do not ‘win’ or ‘deserve’ their freedom from occupation, colonisation and apartheid by being a model society. This is all the more true since Israeli society itself is not a model society. As an activist for LGBT rights, Mr. Newson would be advised to heed the call of  Palestinian Queers for BDS (PQBDS), a group of Palestinian queer activists who live in the Palestinian Occupied Territory and inside Israel. The group has countered Israeli propaganda efforts, especially in the form of ‘pinkwashing’, by declaring:

As Palestinian queers, our struggle is not only against social injustice and our rights as a queer minority in Palestinian society, but rather, our main struggle is one against Israel’s colonization, occupation and apartheid; a system that has oppressed us for the past 63 years. Violations of human rights and international law, suppression of basic rights and civil liberty, and discrimination are deeply rooted in Israel’s policies toward Palestinians, straight and gay alike. 

We call on Mr Newson to adopt a coherent and consistent moral paradigm with respect to Israel’s policies of racism, apartheid and occupation, and endorse a boycott of official Israeli representative institutions.

Boycott from Within
Israeli Citizens in Support of the Palestinian BDS Call
admin@boycottisrael.info
Ofer (Boycott from Within) 972-544-740825

[END OF QUOTE]

Some links to other media reports on the recent boycott/disruption in Edinburgh:
Socialist Unity
• Boycott Israel Network

The Daily Telegraph

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About Oban Concern for Palestine

. . . supporting people in Palestine and Israel who oppose the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Oban Concern for Palestine are a group of Argyll residents who share an interest in Palestine, a friendship with its people and a deep concern for their welfare. And, for the sake of Israel, we want to encourage the government of Israel to comply with international law. Oban Concern for Palestine believe that the oppression of the Palestinian people is a grave wrong, that the government of Israel is in violation of international law, and that we have a duty to speak up and do what we can to bring it to an end. We welcome new members and supporters. For more information, please contact obanconcern4palestine AT gmail DOT com • +44 7747 300 062 • Oban Concern for Palestine, c/o Stronchriach, Rowan Road, Oban, Argyll, PA34 5TY, UK
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