This short video portrays a dramatic apology from the National Theatre of Norway for its collaboration in recent years with Israel’s government-backed Habima theater.
The Israeli government has reacted furiously to the video, comparing it to Nazi propaganda.
“This is a great day for the National Theatre of Norway,” says a woman moving across a darkened stage. “It is the day that we publically apologize for our shameful collaboration with Habima, the national theater of Israel.”
“When our theater director agreed upon this collaboration two years ago we did not know what a powerful role Habima and other Israeli art institutions play in normalizing the Israeli occupation,” she says. “We did not know that art and theater are extremely important tools for the State of Israel to build up the image of itself as a humanistic nation and not as the apartheid war machine that it actually is.”
“We did not know because we had not done one single piece of research.”
It is not immediately apparent that this isn’t the real thing.
The ambiguity was deliberate and those who didn’t pay attention to the small print might not have noticed that it was a performance.
The woman in the video is Gjertrud Jynge, a nationally renowned actor in Norway.
The work’s creators are stage artist Pia Maria Roll and Marius von der Fehr, an artist, journalist and activist. They wanted to draw national attention to artistic complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.
“In Norway we still have this really banal idea that if you are an artist, you are by nature in opposition and free,” Roll told The Electronic Intifada.
“But in fact, the most important theater in Norway refuses to talk about how the Israeli state, or any state, uses theater to justify its occupation and abuses.”
“Art and culture have always been related to power,” she said, “You can’t run a big state theater without talking about the fact that you are a tool for the established elite.”
The creators are members of the think tank TeaterTanken, which has opposed the collaboration with the Israeli state institution.
Activists have said that the National Theatre of Norway’s partnership, especially in the aftermath of Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, legitimizes Israel’s occupation in Palestine.
But Roll told The Electronic Intifada that the Norway theater’s management has remained totally insensitive to such concerns – which are documented on a website created for the apology project.
For example, Habima hosted a seminar on “terrorism” for European theater leaders at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, a university deeply embedded in Israel’s military and intelligence complex.
For von der Fehr, the piece is also a way to broaden the discussion about Norway’s complicity in Israeli occupation and denial of Palestinian rights, from the arms industry to Norwegian involvement in oil and gas exploration in maritime fields controlled by Israel.
“Empty and superficial”
So far, the management at the Norwegian theater appears unmoved. The article and video “do not represent the National Theatre of Norway’s attitude – but is an expression of artistic freedom,” a spokesperson wrote to The Electronic Intifada. “The National Theatre of Norway still has greater faith in collaboration with artists across national borders, and from regimes we are critical to, than boycotts and silence.”
For Roll, this response characterizes what she says has been theater’s dismissive approach all along. She also argued that the theater has given a false impression of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
“They still haven’t bothered to go in and find out what BDS is,” Roll said. “They still claim that we’re asking to boycott Israeli artists, and that’s not the case. BDS is an an institutional, not an individual, boycott.”
“Although they talk about dialogue, it’s really empty and superficial,” Roll added. “They didn’t invite any Palestinians at all into the process with the Habima case.”
And, Roll says, after the publication of the Morgenbladet article, Norway’s state broadcaster NRK invited her to debate with Hanne Tømta, the director of the national theater. But according to Roll, Tømta declined, effectively rejecting an opportunity for discussion of the issues raised.
As well as Norwegian media, the “apology” has received coverage in Israel.
The Israeli foreign ministry has compared the video to “the morbid Third Reich propaganda of Joseph Goebbels and the Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl” and demanded it be taken off the Internet immediately.
“Israel calls on the National Theatre of Norway, in whose name the libelous statements were made, to clearly and immediately repudiate them as well as to take the necessary measures to have the video removed from every site,” the foreign ministry said.
Norwegian officials moved quickly to appease supporters of the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian land. The country’s embassy in Tel Aviv tweeted that “it firmly opposes boycott.”
Roll and von der Fehr are encouraged by the reaction their piece has generated.
“It has created a lot of stir and we don’t know where that will end,” Roll said.