Israeli Artists Say No to Performing in Ariel – and Support is Growing!

Very big and inspiring news:

Last week, fifty Israeli actors, directors and producers publicly released a letter saying they would not perform in a new multi-million dollar theater center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel and that they would continue to do so until there was an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Their stand drew immediate outrage from the Israeli government. PM Netanyahu, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz responded by threatening to deny government funding to any  cultural institutions that refuse to hold performances in the Occupied Territories. Netayahu released a statement accusing the Israeli artists of joining an “international delegitimization campaign” adding that “the last thing the state needs to do is fund bodies that are promoting boycotts from within.”

These events had a powerful and galvanizing effect within Israeli society. Almost as immediately, over 150 leading Israeli academics and writers (including authors Amos Oz and David Grossman) came to the defense of the artists. The boycott quickly became a central issue of discussion in the Israeli press – for its part, Ha’aretz’s staff editorial stated:

Theater actors are not marionettes, and cultural coercion of artists who fear for their livelihood does not befit a freedom-loving country. Cultural and academic institutions that receive budgetary support from the state do not owe it obedience in return. On the contrary, the government should be thankful for the existence of institutions that constitute such a vital interest for Israeli society.

Now it appears the struggle has moved to the United States. I’m so incredibly proud to see that Jewish Voice for Peace has now organized a support statement by over 150 American and European theater and film professionals – including Mandy Patinkin, Theodore Bikel, Eve Ensler, Tony Kushner, Cynthia Nixon, Ed Asner, among others.

Here’s the text of the statement:

On August 27th, dozens of Israeli actors, directors, and playwrights made the brave decision not to perform in Ariel, one of the largest of the West Bank settlements, which by all standards of international law are clearly illegal.  As American actors, directors, critics and playwrights, we salute our Israeli counterparts for their courageous decision.

Most of us are involved in daily compromises with wrongful acts. When a group of people suddenly have the clarity of mind to see that the next compromise looming up before them is an unbearable one  — and when they somehow find the strength to refuse to cross that line  —  we can’t help but be overjoyed and inspired and grateful.

It’s thrilling to think that these Israeli theatre artists have refused to allow their work to be used to normalize a cruel occupation which they know to be wrong, which violates international law and which is impeding the hope for a just and lasting peace for Israelis an Palestinians alike.  They’ve made a wonderful decision, and they deserve the respect of people everywhere who dream of justice. We stand with them.

This is big. Indeed, as the government’s apoplectic response clearly demonstrates, it represents much more than a mere symbolic stand. To stand up against performing in Ariel, which Netanyahu has described as the “Capital of Samaria,” means to stand up against the very heart of Israel’s settlement enterprise.

It is also the most significant internal cultural boycott to ever take place in Israel – and the support of the artistic community around the world shows that there is a growing constituency of prominent figures who are willing to publicly speak out against Israel’s impunity.

In other words, the artistic community is stepping up and going to the places to which our politicians seem unwilling to go. Bravo!

8 Replies to “Israeli Artists Say No to Performing in Ariel – and Support is Growing!”

  1. What is important is not whether some Grade-B performers come to Ariel but how the town already numbering 20,000 is continuing to grow and thrive. By the way, it might interest you to know that the Judea/Samaria University Center in Ariel has a large number of ARAB students. They don’t seem to have any problem going there!

    1. That’s an interesting point, YBD. Of course you don’t mean Arab students from the surrounding communities of the West Bank…

      I’m curious when you say “large number” of Arab students, if you have information about exactly how many? And for those that do attend, I’d wonder how they feel about some of the some of the University’s requirements, such as:

      As a demonstratively Zionist institution, the University Center has two key requirements: every student must study one course per semester on some aspect of Judaism, Jewish heritage or Land of Israel studies, and the Israeli flag must be displayed in every classroom, laboratory and auditorium on campus.

      No matter how impressive you might consider this institution or how thriving Ariel might become, the fact remains that it is a settlement in a militarily occupied territory and it is highly presumptuous to pretend otherwise.

      On this note, I found it extremely notable that in its website, Ariel University Center of Samaria makes this claim (emphasis mine):

      Ariel University Center of Samaria…is at the forefront of a dramatic change that is taking place in higher education in Israel.

      1. R. Brant, I don’t think you’re right about this one. A little wikipedia-ing led me to the following article (http://www.israeltoday.co.il/default.aspx?tabid=128&view=item&idx=875)

        According to that piece, about 300 Arabs out of 8,500 students are studying at Ariel, “half from Israeli Arab towns and half from Palestinian territories.” Granted, 3.5% of the student population isn’t that significant a number, but you should check your facts before you make claims. To quote the late Daniel Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

      2. Richard,

        I stand corrected. For the record, I based my statement on the university website itself, which states:

        Students from across the country attend the University Center, with 70% coming from the greater Tel Aviv area and central Israel and the remainder from northern and southern Israel. As such, the school is a truly national institution and serves as a “melting pot” for all levels of Israel’s society.

        (It may well be that the administration of the University Center considers the West Bank to be “central, northern and southern Israel.”)

      3. That doesn’t sound so unlikely. Even among Israelis who believe that we should ultimately secede from the occupied territories, from my experience only very few will refrain from referring to it as “Israel.”

  2. This is so exciting! Thanks, Brant, for posting this to your blog. How great to see that there are people in the arts who support ending the occupation, and what better way to support artists than to come from other artists!

  3. If the two are to share the land equally, then the same proportion of Jews should be allowed in the “East Slope” as there are Arabs in Israel. This makes the settlements way less of an issue, but at the same time does the same for the issue of exact borders.

    1. If the two are to share the land equally it must be be as citizens of a single, genuinely democratic state that does not define itself as a Jewish state, an Arab state, a Muslim state, a Christian state or any other religiously or ethnically-specific state. There is no other arrangement by which the land can be equally shared.

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