4 Positions on Cultural Sanctions: Theatre Practitioners Offer Their Views on a Call to Boycott Israel

By Gener, Randy | American Theatre, May-June 2008 | Go to article overview

4 Positions on Cultural Sanctions: Theatre Practitioners Offer Their Views on a Call to Boycott Israel


Gener, Randy, American Theatre


A controversial campaign for "cultural sanctions" against Israel, which dates back to 2002, gained momentum in August 2006 when 123 Palestinian filmmakers, theatre artists and cultural workers, along with 384 other artists from around the world, signed an open letter calling upon the international community to join them in a boycott of Israeli "cultural and artistic institutions that to date have refused to take a stand against the Occupation." In December of that year, 95 prominent authors, filmmakers and performers, including such figures as John Berger, Brian Eno and Arundhati Roy, endorsed the idea by signing a letter that appeared in the Guardian of London calling on their colleagues not to visit, exhibit or perform in Israel. This past February, a separate international campaign, Israeli Apartheid Week, marked its fourth year with programming in Canada, Mexico, Norway, Palestine, the U.S., the U.K. and South Africa, aiming to leverage changes in Israeli policy by encouraging various kinds of sanctions. Supporters cite the effectiveness of cultural sanctions against South Africa during apartheid as a model. French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently raised the prospect of boycotting the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics if the violence continues in Tibet.

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In opposition to such views, the PEN American Center issued a statement of principle last year opposing all academic and cultural boycotts, saying such actions threaten the internationally guaranteed right to freedom of expression.

As a matter of principle and practice, American Theatre and its publisher, Theatre Communications Group, have been long and enthusiastic supporters of international arts and cultural exchange. However, the issue is complex, and we thought it important to get beyond the occasional headline to hear some in-depth perspectives from theatre practitioners.

Should art and politics be mixed as a form of criticism and punishment? Isn't a boycott the antithesis of free expression? What is at stake? It is difficult to even raise the issue without having one's words and intentions misinterpreted or twisted.

In an effort to share a range of perspectives with our readers, American Theatre invited a number of Israelis, Palestinians, Jewish Americans and Palestinian Americans to tell us what they think: "Should theatre artists and theatre professionals heed the call for a boycott of the state of Israel? Should playwrights, actors, directors and international companies outside Israel bring their work to Israel or let their plays be produced there? Would a moratorium on international exchange be harmful or beneficial--or would it be a violation of academic freedom and free speech? What would be the real repercussions, negative and positive?"

Many of the statements we received, far from being polemical and one-sided, were nuanced, thoughtful and complexly argued. Here are four of them. Eight more--from Palestinian choreographer Omar Barghouti, New York City-based Arab-American writer and performer Leila Buck, New York City-based Palestinian-American poet Remi Kanazi, Tel Aviv University professor of theatre arts Gad Kaynar, Minneapolis-based playwright and performer Ismail Khalidi, Los Angeles-based Palestinian-American actor and director Mousa Kraish, Theater J artistic director Ari Roth of Washington, D.C., and Muslim actor and comedian Maysoon Zayid of New York City--can be accessed on the magazine's website, www.tcg.org/americantheatre.--Gener

DAIYD GEUDAMI, actor of Palestinian descent who has performed in The Tempest at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.; Wintertime at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Conn.; and (I Am) Nobody's Lunch at P.S. 122 in New York. This piece was co-authored with Tasha Gordon-Solmon.

A cultural boycott of Israel would be harmful.

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