Having already done a piece for The Commentator as immediate news, I thought I would let the dust settle and see what else was said and done before blogging on the performance by Habima at Shakespeare’s Globe theater here in London.
Firstly, the Globe Theatre is to be complimented for going ahead with their invitation to Israel’s national theatre company in the face of some fairly high level pleas from British theatrical figures to boycott them. Secondly, Habima executed not only a superb performance of the apposite Merchant of Venice, to packed houses and rave reviews, but they refused to be put off by the few demonstrations that made it past the tight security and didn’t pause their acting once when banners were displayed or other demonstrations took place. Not only was the Globe’s security apparatus swift and efficient in dealing with troublemakers, but the strong police presence and airport-style search arches combined to remove most demonstration banners from anti-Israel protestors before they even reached their seats. Congratulations to both Habima and The Globe.
I am an inveterate people-watcher and I love going to marches and demonstrations to observe both sides, as well as the reactions of passers-by. In the case of the anti-Habima demonstration, the Zionist Federation organised a Jewish/Christian counter-demonstration, which the police had placed round a corner out of sight of the pro-Palestinians. Walking around between the two, it was clear that no more than 40-50 pro-Palestinian supporters had turned out (this was at the Monday, first night, performance). They were greatly outnumbered by both the police and the ZF’s pro-Habima demonstration. It was telling, also, to collect leaflets from both groups. Inevitably, the boycotters’ leaflets were liberally peppered with the normal emotive phrases, such as, “…Habima, who have regularly performed in illegal Israeli settlements on stolen Palestinian land.” (italics mine) It was implied that, by inviting Habima, The Globe was “…undermining the conscientous Israeli actors …who have refused to break international law.”
Conversely, the leaflets handed out by the Jewish/Christian camp emphasised “Culture Unites, Boycotts Divide” and set out to explain factually and patiently some of the issues involved in the conflict without resorting to unfounded accusations against or demonisation of the Palestinians themselves or their leaders. The whole tone of pro-Palestinian literature at these events is without fail more anti-Israel than it is pro-Palestinian. Asking around, for example, I found no-one who had attended the Palestinian Ashtar Theatre performance of Richard II a fornight before, nor any who had demonstrated outside that performance to express their suport. But they willingly turned out to express hatred of Israel. To their shame, some reviewers too focussed on the political issues around Habima and the BDS campaign instead of on reviewing a first class presentation of the one work by Shakespeare that is most emotive for Jews.
Passers-by? Most were too busy rushing home or getting to a restaurant nearby to do more than brush off leaflets offered to them. Both sides, however, did manage to hold serious conversations with members of the public.
Some BDS activists at demonstrations you can talk to and engage with intelligently, but some are so extreme in their views that engaging is fruitless. One such activist was asked outside the Globe why the logo of the PSC (Palestine Solidarity Campaign) shows a map that covers all of the state of Israel. He confessed that the PSC does not see the “two-state solution” as the end of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but only as a step towards a “one-state solution” – the extinction of Israel. If the PSC was truly supportive of the Palestinians, it would be sending groups to help with practical projects that benefit ordinary Palestinians, or promoting trade links, or taking the PA to task for restricting free speech. No, what they actually prefer to do is to hate Israel. Some call that antisemitism!
The BDS campaign is active in Britain and is not going to go away any time soon. There will be more Habima-type demonstrations and the ZF and Christian supporters of Israel are right to make public their opposition to the campaigns and to present the opposing case. Truth – a presentation of reality instead of fantasy; of neutral objectivity instead of bigoted extremism; of historical knowledge instead of revisionist interpretations of known facts – is on the side of Israel and Zionism. We should be publishing truth and exposing the highly emotive, poisonous and baseless claims of the BDS groups before they poison too many more minds.