The Bard and the Boycotters
The last 48 hours have shone light on an aspect of being Jewish in Britain in 2012. Habima Theatre Company of Tel Aviv performed The Merchant of Venice at The Globe as part of the World Shakespeare Festival. What should have been unremarkable instead drove the BDS brigade into a frenzy. There they were when we arrived, the familiar huddle of sad people trying to cheer themselves up by flying their black flags as high as possible and hurling threats and abuse at Israel through a megaphone. One of them broke into Beethovenís Ode to Joy Ė an odd choice, since they seemed to have more bitterness and bigotry in their hearts than anything else.
The capacity audience, far larger in number, enjoyed the Shakespeare with an Israeli take. Habima put on a bravura performance which deserved the wide acclaim which it received from Londonís experienced critics. You did not need to understand Hebrew to appreciate its tragedy, comedy, originality and joie de vivre. The handful of interruptions from the sad ones who got inside were rightly ignored by the cast and audience alike. Before the performance began, Dominic Dromgoole, the Globeís Artistic Director, undermined any would-be demonstrators with wit. Donít get angry with them, he asked, and we didnít. Respect to the Globe for removing them calmly and firmly, while we got on with enjoying the play.
Exposing the hollowness of the boycotters isnít difficult. I doubt that too many of them came to see the Ashtar Theatre of Ramallah play Richard II just a few weeks ago. They prefer to hate Israelis than love Palestinians. Their devotion to human rights is strangely confined to Israel which, whatever its faults, is a law-based democracy with Western values. Other groups performing at the Shakespeare Festival come from countries where they really know about abuses of human rights Ė Russia, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Pakistan, Turkey, Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Chinaís National Theatre (isnít it China that illegally occupies Tibet, or have I misunderstood ?). Yet when they perform, our worthy boycotters are strangely silent and nowhere to be seen.
The real lesson of the last two days is that we can face down the boycott bullies and their fellow travellers and defeat their sterile claims with better arguments. The Globe showed admirable resolve in the face of pressure and was rewarded with two evenings of marvellous theatre playing to packed houses. Let other British homes of culture please take note.
And finally let us acknowledge the united effort of our community and friends in coming out in serious numbers to support Habima and enjoy an evening of culture, not to mention the Israeli music and dancing outside. I never knew that going to the theatre could be like coming to a simcha.
In the face of hostility we behaved with dignity and restraint. We won the argument and defeated the boycotters. We stood up to Israelís detractors and took pride from the Habima. We even enjoyed ourselves in the process. Thatís the community I am proud to be part of.
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I went both nights. Unforgettable. Of course the Forces of Darkness ignore that fact that an Israel Arab - Yousef Sweid - plays Bassanio. Best comment on the failed protesters was Linda Grant's Tweet: "Protestors at the Globe angry they've been denied freedom of expression to deny freedom of expression" ....