Batsheva Dance Gets Protested for Being…What? Israeli?

I snapped this photo on my way to Dance Theatre Workshop last night, drawn by the drums and chanting of somewhere between 20 and 40 pro-Palestinian protestors who showed up in front of the Joyce to express their displeasure with Batsheva Dance Company on account of their being part of the “Brand Israel” campaign, an Israeli government effort to shore up the nation’s reputation around the world. I debated whether to even mention this, because there’s always going to be small groups of misguided protestors who will take any chance to get a bit of limelight for their cause.

Seriously people, what kind of a standard is this to set? Would we support American artists who’ve received NEA or State Department money to tour being boycotted around the world because of what our government does? Have these protestors courageously turned down student loans and eschewed universities who receive federal funding to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? What exactly is the point here? I know this a marginal group, but really. I’d honestly like to know what the point is. Surely it’s occurred to someone involved that the arts in Israel–like pretty much everywhere–are a source of dissent against many of the same policies pro-Palestinian activists hate.

One thought on “Batsheva Dance Gets Protested for Being…What? Israeli?”

  1. olive mckeon says:

    I am in support of this boycott and all organizing to end the israeli occupation of palestine.

    The point is not 'to set a standard,' some abstract rule to follow, but to think strategically about how to challenge israeli settler-colonialism. One of the ways to do that is to boycott israeli products, cultural production just being one of the possible avenues to pursue.

    Despite what artists think they are doing, whether they view their work as a vehicle for criticism against israel, artists are instrumentalized for other interests – for the interests of colonialism. Their work is used to legitimate israeli policy and the branding of israel as an oasis of 'rationality,' 'democracy,' and 'critical thought.' Artists may make dissenting work, all the while promoted by the israeli state as an example of their progressive policy.

    I've seen Batsheva's work, most recently at BAM this past year. I have learned Batsheva repertory and met some of their dancers. It is not out of ignorance of their work that I support the boycott. One must also wonder why there is not a comparable Palestinian contemporary dance company that tours to BAM and the Joyce, why the repertory of a Palestinian choreographer is not taught at dance festivals around the world, why I have not seen a single palestinian company produced next to the numerous israeli choreographers I have seen at festivals in the states. Perhaps these questions open up the structural factors of oppression that are at play. Dance, obviously, is not immune to these structural oppressions, but is simply one domain in which they are played out.

    This is not a marginal group, but a growing social movement around the world for justice in palestine. It is, however, marginal cultural criticism to not be able to make connections between cultural production and the pressing issues of colonialism, racism, and empire.

    An open letter to the Batsheva company can be found here: http://adalahny.org/letters/an-open-letter-to-bat

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