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Globe Olympic Shakespeare Festival challenged for inviting Israeli National Theatre

Press release issued on 29 March 2012

  • David Calder, Trevor Griffiths, Jonathan Miller, Mark Rylance, Emma Thompson, Harriet Walter call on Globe to withdraw invitation to Israeli theatre, Habima
  • Rylance – “support Israeli artists resisting illegal settlements”
  • Calder – Habima “a cultural fig-leaf” for Israeli brutality

Leading British actors, directors and authors are challenging the Globe to Globe World Shakespeare Festival, part of the Cultural Olympiad, over its invitation to an Israeli theatre company which performs for settlers on illegally occupied Palestinian land.

In an open letter published in The Guardian (March 30), David Calder, Trevor Griffiths, Jonathan Miller, Mark Rylance, Emma Thompson and Harriet Walter, along with 31 others, say the Israeli National Theatre, Habima, “has a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory”.

They call on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, on London’s South Bank, to withdraw the invitation “so the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land”.

Habima is scheduled to perform The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew at the Globe on May 28 and 29 as one of 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 world languages during the seven week festival.

The Guardian letter notes that a number of Israeli theatre professionals have declared that they will not take part in performances in “halls of culture” built in two large Israeli settlements. Habima, however, has pledged to continue doing so.

“I sign this letter in support of those artists within Israel who are resisting the requests to play in the illegal settlements,” said actor Mark Rylance. He drew a parallel with earlier campaigns supporting change in apartheid South Africa.

“Acting in the illegal settlements seems to me an act of provocation and disrespect. Surely peace will only be born when each person respects the other's boundaries,” Rylance said.

The Globe’s response to appeals from Israeli, Palestinian and British campaigners for Habima’s invitation to be withdrawn has been to insist that the World Shakespeare Festival must be inclusive and keep channels of cultural communication open.

David Calder, whose roles include Shylock with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Lear with the Globe Theatre Company, said that Habima “placed itself outside the general case of ‘bridge-making culture’ by being prepared to play before a segregated audience of illegal settlers in a theatre from which Palestinians themselves are barred”.

Calder said that leading Israeli company Habima are part of “a cultural fig leaf” for Israel’s daily brutality.

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Page last updated December 2, 2013