The Playgoer: Israeli Actors Say No to Playing Settlements

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Israeli Actors Say No to Playing Settlements

As already referenced in a recent roundup, about a month ago, several state-employed Israeli theatre artists made a stir by refusing to participate in any road-tour stops at the new West Bank settlements--particularly the Ariel settlement, where the Netanyahu government has erected a huge cultural center venue.  (Interesting use of culture to stake a claim to contested territory.)

Alisa Solomon and Tony Kushner have an informative and hard-hitting editorial in this week's Nation.

Some of Israel’s most prominent authors and cultural personalities quickly responded to the protest with statements of support; a letter from 150 professors and scholars vowing not to participate in academic events in the settlements soon followed. So, too, did denunciations from the highest offices of the government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the artists’ declaration an attack on the state from within. The finance minister threatened to cut off funding to any cultural institution that boycotted settlements.Critics of the protesting artists, among them the culture minister Limor Livnat, argue that settlers have as much right to see the theater productions their taxes pay for as their compatriots in Israel proper. But the artists aren’t unwilling to play for settlers. They’re unwilling to play in a settlement.
Joining Solomon and Kushner in signing a letter of protest by the US-based Jewish Voice for Peace are noted Jewish-American artists Mandy Patinkin and Theodore Bikel--as well as some noted American artists not usually known as Jewish: Wallace Shawn, Hal Prince and Steven Sondheim. More here.

Says Shawn:
“Most of us, including actors, just want to lead a quiet life. And most of us go through our entire lives without doing anything really courageous, without risking anything important to us. But when asked to perform in an illegal settlement for an all-Jewish audience, as if this were one more ordinary theater, they had the guts to say no.

“To do a play in that new theater helps to make the settlement seem like a permanent part of the landscape, but the settlements are obstacles to peace and morally unjustifiable on top of that,” Shawn said.

“We Americans are involved in crimes every time we pay our taxes, in my opinion, and we can very definitely benefit from the inspiring example of these Israeli actors as we try to figure out what we ourselves can do and should do to extricate ourselves from our own swamp of evil.”
Then again, few American actors have the luxury of turning down a state-sponsored paycheck!  Still, point taken, Wally.

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