Campaigners criticise programming of Habima’s Merchant of Venice over company’s record of playing Israeli settlements
Matt Trueman, guardian.co.uk
Shakespeare’s Globe has defended programming an Israeli theatre company that has faced criticism for performing to “exclusively Israeli audiences” in West Bank settlements.
Habima Theatre, which was founded in Moscow in 1913 with the express hope of performing in Israel in Hebrew, is scheduled to perform as part of the theatre’s Globe to Globe festival – part of the World Shakespeare festival and Cultural Olympiad.
In its first UK performance since 1926, Habima will present a Hebrew-language version of The Merchant of Venice as one of 37 by international companies, each performing a different Shakespeare play in a different language.
However, the planned performance has been the subject of an open letter by campaign group Boycott from Within, expressing concerns about the company’s record of playing in two Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The letter claims that a number of high-profile Israeli theatre practitioners have rejected invitations to perform there, receiving support from Stephen Sondheim and Tony Kushner among others.
The group argue that the Globe’s programming of Habima’s The Merchant of Venice, which “emphasises the issue of xenophobia”, is incompatible with Habima’s performances on the West Bank: “A theatrical performance in a settlement is by definition a performance to an exclusively Israeli audience, with Palestinians living even in the nearest village being physically excluded from any chance of attending.”
The letter continues: “By inviting Habima to perform in London, you are siding with its administrators in the debate on settlement performances, and you are taking a step against the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to perform in the settlements.”
Responding in an open letter of its own, Shakespeare’s Globe described the festival as “a celebration of language and not … a celebration of nations and states”.
It continues: “Habima are the most well-known and respected Hebrew-language theatre company in the world, and are a natural choice to any programmer wishing to host a dramatic production in Hebrew. They are committed, publicly, to providing an ongoing arena for sensible dialogue between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.”
The letter also points to the inclusion of a Richard II by Ashtar Theatre, “who have done more than any other theatre group to highlight the nature of life in the Gaza strip with their Gaza monologues”.
Globe defends invitation to Israeli theatre company Habima
By Natalie Woolman, the Stage
Shakespeare’s Globe has defended its decision to feature Israeli company Habima in its Globe to Globe festival later this year.
The company is due to perform The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew during the international festival at the Bankside venue in May. It will mark the company’s first visit to the UK.
However, campaign group Boycott from Within has written an open letter to the theatre challenging Habima’s inclusion in the programme. The company has performed in the West Bank while a number of Israeli theatre professionals including actors, directors and playwrights, refused to take part in performances in the area because of their political stance on the issue.
The letter states: “As Israeli citizens who are deeply concerned about the future of all people living in the region we deplore this attitude. We cannot help seeing the positions taken by Habima Theatre on the two issues – presentation of The Merchant of Venice in London and regular performances in West Bank settlements – as inherently incompatible.
“By inviting Habima to perform in London, you are siding with its administrators in the debate on settlement performances, and you are taking a step against the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to perform in the settlements.”
The letter asks the Globe to take the issue up with Habima before the London performances in May.
Responding to this in an open letter, the Globe states that the festival is intended as a “celebration of languages” rather than nations.
It adds: “Habima are the most well-known and respected Hebrew-language theatre company in the world, and are a natural choice to any programmer wishing to host a dramatic production in Hebrew. They are committed, publicly, to providing an ongoing arena for sensible dialogue between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.
“We are acutely aware that there are strong feelings on either side of this debate, and have received a huge number of communications supporting both viewpoints. However, it remains our contention, and we think a suitable one for a Shakespearean theatre, that people meeting and talking and exchanging views is preferable to isolation and silence. For that reason, and for the others above, we remain convinced that it is right to work with all the companies we have chosen for the Globe to Globe Festival.”