UPDATE: Globe actors defend playing in Israel “regardless of politics”
Shakespeare’s Globe theatre has ignored Palestinian appeals and the good counsel of a number of their UK peers by going ahead with their performance of Hamlet at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv on March 30.
Showing either ignorance of, or disregard for the highly politicised nature of culture in Israel-Palestine, members of the company justified their action at a press conference, stating, “It was clear to us that we would be coming to Israel, regardless of politics” and “We try not to deal with local politics of the places to which we travel”.
As is usual when the Palestinian boycott picket line is crossed by international artists, Israeli media portrayed the Globe’s appearance as a failure for the cultural boycott movement.
This English-language news report is a prime example.
Statements made at their press conference by actors Keith Bartlett and Jennifer Lang were quoted in a Hebrew language report . Thanks to Ofer Neiman for the following translations into English.
“We travel all over the world, and politics is none of our business”, said Keith Bartlett (playing Polonius), adding “We are here to tell a story, and it is exciting to see how it is received everywhere we perform. It was clear to us that we would be coming to Israel, regardless of politics”
Jennifer Lang (playing Ophelia): “We intend for this tour to tell its story to as many people across the world. Any viewer who is not a regular viewer of the Globe is an addition for us. We try not to deal with local politics of the places to which we travel”.
ORIGINAL MARCH 28 POST BY ARTISTS FOR PALESTINE UK
Shakespeare’s Globe theatre has 48 hours to show that it is listening to Palestinians whose call for a boycott of Israeli cultural institutions is unequivocal.
The prestigious London-based Globe has spent two years on a remarkable project, taking its performance of Hamlet to almost every country in the world. With just days to go before the tour was due to end, a performance at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv appeared on the schedule for Wednesday March 30. Cameri is well known for its performances in the illegal settlements built by Israel on the Palestinian territories its has occupied since 1967.
On Friday British theatrical figures, alongside several Palestinian theatre companies, challenged the Globe’s artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole, for breaching the boycott.
Dromgoole responded at some length by email (full text below), arguing that the Globe had included Palestine in its schedule despite “pressure not to go”; that its visit to Israel’s Cameri was not the result of “blandishments or pressure;” and that “for us every country is every country, and each people deserve Shakespeare.”
APUK’s reply acknowledges the Globe’s work in taking Shakespeare to refugees and people “living in dire conditions”. But it says this does not justify ignoring the Palestinian boycott call which aims precisely “to eradicate the causes of dispossession and expropriation”. It says the Globe is demonstrating “an indifference to Palestinian experience and Palestinian views.”
We reproduce here APUK’s statement, followed by the email from Dominic Dromgoole and the earlier open letter to the Globe.
FROM ARTISTS FOR PALESTINE UK, MARCH 28
Thank you for responding to our letter.
The point we made to you was a specific one. The company in whose theatre you will be performing in Israel has a record of engagement not with the populations oppressed by the Israeli state, but with the illegal settlements which have taken root on the West Bank, and with the army that protects them. It is wonderful that your company presents theatre to refugees living in dire conditions. It would be even better to take steps to eradicate the causes of dispossession and expropriation, as the Palestinian campaign for cultural boycott aims to do.
You suggest that there are more important things to worry about than the fact that Israeli theatres play their role in the continuing violation of Palestinian rights. Unsurprisingly Palestinian theatres see things rather differently and have said so.
Palestinian civil society has not asked for charity, for free performances nor for special treatment. It has asked for justice, basic rights and an end to violations of international law – which includes violations by theatre companies such as Habima and Cameri. That we must simultaneously fight against our own government’s policies is neither here nor there.
If we may speak for our Palestinian partners for a moment, they are dismayed with companies in the ‘west’ who persist in making decisions about engagement with state-funded Israeli organisations, without dialogue with Palestinians. We don’t doubt the commitments that you eloquently express, but there is in this respect, in spite of what you say, an indifference to Palestinian experience and Palestinian views. We remain hopeful that you and your colleagues will reconsider your visit to Cameri.
For the sake of clarity regarding the demonstration outside the Globe on Friday, it was organised by another group whose style of protest differs from ours. In this case we can see no evidence of abuse directed at actors, managers or anyone else and we have been happy to use one of the photographs circulated by the group for our blog.
John Graham Davies, Miranda Pennell, Aimee Shalan, Farhana Sheikh, Hilary Westlake
for the APUK organising collective
FROM DOMINIC DROMGOOLE, MARCH 26
You will be aware that the 2012 Olympiad festival at the Globe included only one unrecognised state amongst its participants, and that was Palestine. Many told us that we should not invite a company from Palestine, we received many letters of protest, and different forms of pressure, but we insisted. You will also be aware that our tour of Hamlet is attempting to visit every country in the world. We are visiting only three unrecognised states, Palestine, Kosovo and Somaliland. Many put pressure on us not to go to Palestine, but we insisted. It was a privilege for us to host the company in 2012, and it was an honour for us to visit Palestine last year. There are few companies with such a profile who have made such a commitment. To accuse us of indifference given that commitment is a simple untruth.
You may also be aware that our tour of Hamlet has visited some of the least advantaged, and hardest to access countries on earth; that it has played in four different refugee camps, in Zaatari, Jordan for Syrian refugees, in Djibouti for Yemeni refugees, in Cameroon for displaced people from the Central African Republic, and in the Jungle in Calais for the displaced of too many nations. in most of the places it has gone, it has played for free, and has engaged enthusiastically with the communities it has met. We were the first company to visit Somaliland in the history of the nation. There is no other company which has made such a commitment to fully inclusive internationalism, and to engaging with all countries.
The tour has left us out of pocket, since we have received scant to zero support from any public or private body, and we have thus had to subsidise our travelling to the too many less advantaged countries ourselves. There have been no blandishments or pressures.
We are aware that everything said above will not shift your moral disapproval, and that saddens us. There are many who felt we should not go to Russia, to China, to Belarus, to Zimbabwe, to Saudi, to the US, to Turkey, to Myanmar, and to many more, and their disapproval of our determination to go there saddens us equally. So we will conclude out of pocket and friends. However for us every country is every country, and each people deserve Shakespeare.
Though we expect nothing but your condemnation, and we know that, we can give a little context. Within that context is our reciprocal commitment to Palestine in the face of much pressure not to make such commitment, and the astonishing courage and good faith of this company of actors and stage managers in taking this performance to places that most actors and artists would not dream of going. Given that context, to have a group of people standing outside the Globe this evening and chanting ‘shame on you Globe’, projecting abusive messages onto the wall of the Globe, and accusing us of vile crimes, was a long way beyond disappointing. It was shameful.
Our travels around the world have bewildered us in many ways, but also taught us that there are bad people, bad ideas, and bad systems in place in many countries. And often much worse than bad. We really do think that there are more important and more dangerous governments, institutions and individuals to protest against than the Globe. Not least our own. I am aware that this response will not satisfy, but please, before you crank up the abuse, and tell us that we are only pawns in a game, I do ask you as artists and academics to pay a little respect to the incredible achievement of this group of actors and stage managers. They are worth more than abuse.
All the best,
FROM UK AND PALESTINIAN THEATRE PROFESSIONALS, MARCH 24
Dear Dominic Dromgoole,
We are disappointed that the Globe appears to have succumbed to Israeli blandishments or pressure in including the Cameri theatre in the touring schedule for ‘Hamlet’ on March 30.
You are surely aware that Cameri, at least as much as Israel’s other national theatre Habima, has played its part in legitimising the illegal occupation of Palestinian land by performing on many occasions in the settlement city of Ariel.
In 2012, some of us were among 37 British actors, directors and playwrights who urged you not to host Habima as part of the Globe’s cultural Olympiad festival. One of our stated reasons was that to do so would undermine those courageous Israeli artists who had publicly committed themselves to refusing to perform in Ariel.
Theatre director Peter Brook, in September 2012, declined an invitation to take his company to visit Cameri because, by playing in Ariel, that theatre had ‘accepted to support the brutal action of colonisation’ and therefore ‘in coming to your theatre we would appear as a support for that brutal action’. He acknowledged those artists and other Israelis ‘who share our attitude’ and said ‘it is them we wish to support as well as the people of Palestine’.
The brutality and injustice experienced by Palestinians, including their artistic community, have only intensified in the past four years.
We therefore ask you not to be indifferent to the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality, and to remove Cameri from your tour schedule.
Saleh Bakri, actor, Palestine
Justin Butcher, actor, director
David Calder, actor
Caryl Churchill, playwright
Tony Graham, director
John Graham Davies, actor, director
Miriam Margolyes, actress
Andrea Mason, actor
Al-Harah Theater, Palestine
Al Kamandjati, Palestine
Ashtar Theater, Palestine
El-Funoun Dance Troupe, Palestine
Freedom Theater, Jenin
Palestinian Circus School
Palestine Performing Arts Network (PPAN)
Theater Day Productions, Palestine
Yabous Cultural Centre, Palestine
Yes Theater, Palestine