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(Wissam Nassar / Maan Images)

“Brand Israel” dance company’s US tour dogged by protests

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Batsheva Dance Troupe protested in Chicago, 17 March 2012.

(Chicago Movement for Palestinian Rights)

Batsheva Dance Company, identified by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs as “the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture,” has faced protests throughout its ongoing US tour.

Twenty solidarity groups around the country issued an open letter to the dance troupe, urging them to cut themselves off from the Israeli foreign ministry, which finances its tours, and take a stand against the Israeli government’s violation of Palestinian rights.

In New York, the troupe was greeted by Adalah-NY, the Palestinian Dabke Brigades and the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, which protested outside Batsheva’s performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Adalah-NY reported that eighty activists and cultural workers took part in the protest.

Adalah-NY stated in a 7 March release:

Attendees were handed mock programs, whose cover identifies Batsheva as a “cultural ambassador for Israel.” Inside, the program explains why the group is being boycotted, and celebrates artists who have respected the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) call, including Gil Scott Heron, Roger Waters, and Cassandra Wilson. Upon reading the program, one attendee remarked, “If I had known, I wouldn’t have bought my ticket.” Dozens of others stopped to watch from the steps of BAM. At 7:35 p.m., five minutes after the performance was scheduled to begin, BAM staff informed protesters that the music and chanting had delayed the start of the show.

Batsheva was met with a similar protest in San Francisco on February 24, where activists explained Batsheva’s role in the Brand Israel campaign, launched by the Israeli government as a way to “show Israel’s prettier face” and divert the international community’s attention from Israel’s egregious violations of Palestinian human rights. Two previous Batsheva tours were met with similar protests and boycott actions in 2010 and 2009, and other protests are expected to take place during their current tour.

Last month, Adalah-NY exchanged letters with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, asking BAM to cancel the performance. BAM asserted that Batsheva is not performing to “further a political agenda,” and Adalah-NY responded that Batsheva was identified as “the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture” by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from which it receives funding. Adalah-NY further noted Batsheva’s total silence in the face of the egregious actions being carried out by the Israeli government.

Dozens protested Batsheva’s performance in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Bay Area Palestine Solidarity Network reported:

For two of Batsheva’s three nights in San Francisco, members of Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN), Mondoweiss, Code Pink, Global Exchange and the Palestine Solidarity Network were on hand to greet dance-goers with information, banners and guitar music. When theater managers complained that the singing was too loud and threatened to call the cops, a protester responded, “The traffic on Howard Street is much louder than us, so why don’t you call the police on the cars?”

One affinity group performed a clever guerrilla theater, presenting Batsheva attendees with a brochure apparently from the State of Israel, proclaiming, “WELCOME To Our “Brand Israel” Event!” The flier went on to inform audience members that “By attending this event, you show your support of the Israeli government and its policies.” The well-dressed women greeted people with “Thanks for supporting the State of Israel,” and “Here’s a program insert from the Israeli government.” Some of those receiving the brochure were confused, others enthusiastic, and a few gave the flier back saying, “I don’t support your government.”

“Don’t pay any attention to those people and those human rights issues they are always going on about,” an Israeli “actor” told a guest who seemed about to take a flier from a QUIT! activist. The other protesters played along, arguing that their flier told the “real story.” The QUIT! flier asked those attending the show, “Which Tutu Is for You?”, counterposing Bishop Desmond Tutu’s stance opposing Israeli apartheid with the silence of the Israel Ballet Company and Bathseva in the face of international calls for solidarity with Palestinian liberation.

Batsheva was also protested in Chicago this past Saturday. The performance was significantly delayed because of the demonstration.

The Palestine Solidarity Group-Chicago reported today:

Chicago Palestine solidarity activists made their voices heard on Saturday, March 17, during a protest of the opening night of Batsheva Dance Company’s two-night performance at Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theater.

Chants included “All your dancing can’t erase! Apartheid’s ugly face!” and in a tribute to St. Patrick’s Day, “Occupation is a crime! From Ireland to Palestine!”

Protesters carried picket signs reading “No art for apartheid’s sake” and “Don’t buy brand I$rael.”

The action was part of a national campaign to boycott Batsheva, which is sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in an effort to use cultural production to whitewash Israeli war crimes, occupation and apartheid. Batsheva has been protested throughout its North American tour.

Inspired by activists in the Bay Area, protesters distributed a mock program to concert attendees, highlighting the Brand Israel campaign and Israel’s apartheid policies.

Protesters also distributed a comic flyer about the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. The majority of those taking flyers understood and supported the comparison between the BDS movement against apartheid South Africa and the current academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Reinforced by our “program” describing Batsheva’s funding by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, event goers were very surprised that the troupe was funded as a “Brand Israel” campaign by the Israeli government.

Because of the protest, the performance started much later than scheduled, as security thoroughly went through attendees’ possessions, apparently fearing that the event would be disrupted.

Clever pamphlets that look like they're from the Israeli govt

Mock “Brand Israel” programs were passed out to Batsheva audiences in multiple US cities.

(Chicago Movement for Palestinian Rights)

More performances scheduled in US, the Netherlands, Canada and Japan

Batsheva is scheduled to perform at the University of Texas at Austin tomorrow, and in Arizona on Thursday at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

The international schedule on Batsheva Dance Company’s website also lists performances in Utrecht on 21-22 April and in Toronto on 13-15 June and in Saitama, Japan on 23-25 November.

Comments

I was at the protest and made this short video of the action going on outside the entrance to the Auditorium Theater. Note the creative use of a tutu by one demonstrator.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?f...