Theatre ban ‘like nazi book burn­ing’ say west end stars

Ac­tors clash over calls to stop Is­raeli com­pany com­ing to Globe

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page - BY JEN­NIFER LIP­MAN

LEAD­ING FIG­URES of the Bri­tish stage have strongly de­nounced calls for Is­rael’s na­tional theatre com­pany, Habima, to be re­moved from the lineup of the Globe to Globe Shake­speare Fes­ti­val for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons.

Play­wright Sir Arnold Wesker, and ac­tors Steven Berkoff and Mau­reen Lip­man, have sug­gested that the at­tempt to block Is­raeli ac­tors from per­form­ing The Mer­chant of Venice for the Cul­tural Olympiad is tan­ta­mount to Nazi-era book-burn­ing.

Ac­tor Si­mon Cal­low said: “I am strongly op­posed to any at­tempt to ban the work of any artist, es­pe­cially artists with the dis­tin­guished record for chal­leng-ing and fear­lessly ex­ploratory work of the Habima com­pany, whose work we have not seen for far too long. If there is to be con­fronta­tion, it must be done through the agreed chan­nels of dis­cus­sion and de­bate. Let us see what Habima has to tell us about hu­man life, be­fore we try to si­lence them.”

Their crit­i­cism fol­lows the pub­li­ca­tion of a let­ter i n the Guardian, signed by 37 ac­tors and di­rec­tors in­clud­ing Emma Thompson, Richard Wil­son , Miriam Mar­golyes and Mark Ry­lance which stated that by host­ing Habima af­ter it had per­formed in set­tle­ments, the Globe was “as­so­ci­at­ing it­self with poli­cies of ex­clu­sion prac­tised by the Is­raeli state”.

The let­ter added: “We ask the Globe to with­draw the in­vi­ta­tion so that the fes­ti­val is not com­plicit with hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.”

In to­tal, 37 plays will be staged in 37 lan­guages dur­ing the six-week event. In ad­di­tion to the Is­raelis tak­ing on Shy­lock in He­brew, the Pales­tinian Ashtar Theatre com­pany will per­form Richard II.

The call for a boy­cott of Habima, which was founded by Jews in Moscow in 1905, was con­demned by Sir Arnold, who said that “de­priv­ing an au­di­ence of an artis­tic ex­pe­ri­ence is like the Nazis burn­ing the books of the finest minds and tal­ents of Europe”.

Sir Arnold, who wrote his own play, The Mer­chant, from Shy­lock’s per­spec­tive, said that artists who de­manded boy­cotts of the arts “seem not to un­der­stand the na­ture of their pro­fes­sion.

“If the arts help deepen our aware­ness of hu­man pain, and help sharpen sen­si­tive thought, why should we wish to de­prive such tools from those we think need to be aware of the pain and in­sen­si­tiv­ity in which they are par­tic­i­pat­ing?” he asked.

Mr Berkoff, who wrote a play ded­i­cated to “Shake­speare’s Vil­lains”, called the let­ter “dan­ger­ous rub­bish to iden­tify artists with the poli­cies of a gov­ern­ment”. Hav­ing worked in Is­rael, he said he was aware that most Is­raeli ac­tors, like him, op­posed the poli­cies

of the cur­rent Is­raeli gov­ern­ment. “This has a kind of stench to it which re­minds me of the hun­dreds of other times when Jews were ex­cluded for what­ever rea­son, as writ­ers, ac­tors and painters, from the Rus­sian tsar to Hitler on­wards.”

“There is a shadow that is from an­tisemitism that casts it­self over the Jewish topic and par­tic­u­larly Is­rael, which stops peo­ple see­ing clearly,” he added. “It’s nasty to ban ac­tors — they are the mes­sen­gers of drama and lit­er­a­ture, they are the mes­sen­gers of the light and phi­los­o­phy of a na­tion.”

Both he and Mau­reen Lip­man ques­tioned whether the let­ter’s sig­na­to­ries had voiced their op­po­si­tion to the in­volve­ment of groups from coun­tries in­clud­ing Nige­ria, Zim­babwe, Pak­istan, Rus­sia and China, given their re­spec­tive hu­man rights records.

Mr Berkoff called it hyp­o­crit­i­cal and “wonky think­ing”.

“They should be ashamed of them­selves, the peo­ple of the book are ban­ning the book,” said Ms Lip­man. “It’s dis­gust­ing. It’s to­tally sim­plis­tic to think that by ban­ning a group of ac­tors you are mak­ing a world state­ment.

“I don’t no­tice them try­ing to ban Is­raeli in­ven­tions which are chang­ing the world,” she added. She said that the sig­na­to­ries were nei­ther help­ing their cause nor the cause of art. “Let them have a voice, and when Habima get here, have a de­bate like ma­ture peo­ple.”

The Globe has said it has no in­ten­tion of with­draw­ing the in­vi­ta­tion, although there are con­cerns about dis­rup­tion dur­ing the show, in the man­ner of the protest dur­ing the Is­rael Phil­har­monic O r c h e s - t r a ’ s P r o m s per­for­mance last Septem­ber.

Against: Emma Thompson and Richard Wil­son. For: Steven Berkoff, Si­mon Cal­low and Mau­reen Lip­man


Jonathan Miller: signed the Guardian let­ter

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