More than 80 theater artists and 12 Palestine-based theater and performance groups are demanding that New York’s Lincoln Center cancel upcoming Israeli government-sponsored performances by two Israeli theater companies.
The letter signed by renowned playwrights, actors, directors, writers and theater scholars was organized by Palestine solidarity group Adalah-NY.
The signers include award-winning playwrights Wallace Shawn, Tracy Letts and Naomi Wallace.
Lincoln Center is advertising the performances of the play To the End of the Land, based on a novel by Israeli author David Grossman, as presented “with support of Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs in North America.”
The theater artists write that it “deeply troubling” that the iconic performance institution “is helping the Israeli government to implement its systematic ‘Brand Israel’ strategy of employing arts and culture to divert attention from the state’s decades of violent colonization, brutal military occupation and denial of basic rights to the Palestinian people.”
Lincoln Center president Debora Spar rebuffed the call, telling The New York Times, “While we acknowledge the feelings of those who would prefer that we not allow that performance to continue, we will not be canceling it.”
Complicity in repression
In a response to the artists themselves, Spar asserted that “as a cultural and education organization, however, we do not make political statements and hope that the art we present can stand on its own.”
The artists maintain that Lincoln Center cannot claim that hosting Israel’s Habima and Cameri theater companies with support from the Israeli government is “apolitical patronage of the arts, when these Israeli institutions are directly involved in supporting the repression of the Palestinian people, including Palestinian theater artists.”
“We are not raising concerns about any artists’ content, or their nationality, but rather about institutions’ structural complicity with a repressive state agenda that repeatedly violates international law,” the artists add.
The two Israeli theaters have repeatedly held performances inside Israeli settlement colonies in the occupied West Bank, the letter points out, despite opposition from artists and writers, including David Grossman.
“I think the phrase ‘cultural boycott’ scares people,” Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Annie Baker, a signatory to the letter, said.
But Baker stressed that “it’s not a boycott against individual artists or nationalities” and noted that the boycott “has historical precedent as an extremely effective way to call attention to apartheid” in South Africa. She added that Israel is also “an apartheid state.”
A second Israeli play set to be performed at the same Lincoln Center festival is being held without Israeli government sponsorship, Adalah-NY notes. As that performance does not violate the guidelines Palestinians have set out for the boycott, it was not raised as a concern in the letter.
Israel’s consul-general in New York, former settlement leader Dani Dayan, feigned nonchalance about the artists’ call, claiming it was insignificant compared with Israel forging closer ties with India’s right-wing Hindu nationalist government.
In reality, Israel expends enormous sums to try to fight the BDS movement, an effort its propagandists concede is failing.