A petition signed by 2,000 Israeli artists has exposed the censorious instincts of the Israeli state, epitomised by its new Culture Minister Miri Regev.
Let audiences be the judge of Palestinian theatre on UK tour
(NB this original text differs slightly from the version published by the Daily Mail on May 8)
As theatre practitioners in Britain, we are alarmed that the Daily Mail is attacking the Arts Council and the British Council for supporting a UK tour by a Palestinian theatre company.
Your piece, with its inflammatory title UK taxpayers fund ‘pro-terrorist’ play, cites “concerns” from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an organisation with a shocking record of acting to suppress both cultural and academic events which explore the bitter reality of Palestinian existence. Only last month the University of Southampton succumbed to demonisation and threats and banned an academic conference on the legal status of Israel.
Neither the Daily Mail nor the Board of Deputies has seen Freedom Theatre’s play The Siege, yet both somehow feel qualified to suggest that it is “promoting terrorism”. Not for the first time, Palestinian voices are in danger of being drowned out by a vociferous pro-Israel lobby that smears all Palestinians as terrorists and antisemites. This lobby wants us to believe that theatre-goers in the UK cannot be trusted to hear these voices and make their own judgements.
The Palestinian West Bank, where the Freedom Theatre is based, has been under illegal Israeli military occupation since 1967. We endorse the words of British playwright Howard Brenton, an honorary director of the Freedom Theatre, who writes of the forthcoming tour:
“This is real political theatre, performed out of the both terrible and inspiring experience of a struggle for freedom and justice. [The Freedom Theatre] are living proof that telling stories and entertaining audiences are powerful acts of resistance to oppression. Do go and see them, they have news for us.”
April De Angelis
Samuel West Continue reading
The antisemitism smear was the anticipated response of Israel’s apologists to the artists’ pledge for human rights. Indeed that is what makes signatories courageous individuals. What was feared but less anticipated was the extent to which that smear would be sharpened – and then given a platform in the mainstream press – to hold pledge signatories responsible for the deadly targeting of Jews.
In the week following the publication of our letter announcing the launch of the artists’ pledge, the Guardian published several responses – on the letters page, and in Comment is Free (CiF). Of nine published letters, three were supportive. Our riposte (below) went unpublished. Novelist Kamila Shamsie’s piece on why she signed the pledge was easy to miss: it appeared only in the print edition, under ‘The week in Books’.
Unusually, an Israeli politician was given a slot in both sections of the newspaper. On the same day, a CiF piece appeared entitled ‘Those calling for a boycott of Israel are ignoring some painful truths‘, as well as a letter under the sensationalist and inflammatory headline, ‘Why no petition to protect Jewish people?‘. The author, chairperson of the Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, was even permitted to repeat his hasbara, so that Guardian readers are subjected twice to his derisory hyperbole suggesting an inevitable genocide of Israeli Jews would be on the consciences of the pledge signatories:
As artists – who by definition are people with imagination – are they willing to take a moment and consider what would happen if, following a call in the Guardian, the IDF puts down its weapons and stops protecting the people of Israel for 24 hours? If you don’t share the imagination of an artist let me tell you: radical Islamists would kill us all. Women and children first.
Jonathan Chadwick – artistic director of Az Theatre, and a Pledge signatory – has written a blog post about his recent trip to the West Bank, which we think is worth sharing:
I went to Palestine on Saturday 7th February and came back on Sunday 15th February. I failed to get into Gaza to pursue the work on War and Peace.
Caryl Churchill and I worked on her recent play, Love and Information, at Ashtar Theatre. The British Council accommodated us. The Royal Court Theatre provided finance for the translation. We paid for the travel and did the work for free. It was our contribution, like planting a play in Palestine! Continue reading