Sunday, April 1, 2012

Israel's Habima Theatre and the New McCarthyism

Are you now or have you ever been a Zionist?

Surely, these words could be applied now to the blacklisting of Israeli artists by those who would claim a higher morality. A letter of dismay was sent to the Guardian a few days ago urging the banning of Israel's national theater, Habima, which is scheduled to perform "The Merchant of Venice" in Hebrew at the London Globe extravaganza, the largest Shakespeare festival ever held. Habima will be one of 37 international companies presenting the Bard's plays in their own languages. Imagine, only Israel, among those 37 participants, has generated any controversy.

Blacklisted Jewish American actor, Sam Wanamaker, with a model
of the Globe Theatre.

Some of the other nations represented will be China, Russia, Turkey, 'Palestine', Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Oman, Armenia and Tunisia. Is there one among these with hands cleaner than Israel's? I don't need to remind you of the human rights abuses perpetrated by each and every one of these countries.

But here's the kicker: The person who was most instrumental, who initiated and worked tirelessly to give the Globe Theatre its second life was Sam Wanamaker, the Jewish American actor who was forced to leave the United States to find work in London as a result of being blacklisted from Hollywood during the McCarthy reign of terror. Sadly, he died a few years before seeing the new theatre fully built, but I would like to imagine that he would be very disgusted with this new witchhunt stigmatizing the only Jewish nation.

The 1925 Hebrew production of "The Golem" in Moscow where
Habima started life in 1905. It was brought to Tel Aviv in 1928.

The Globe's management, to its credit, is honoring the invitation to Habima, stating, "Habima are the most well-known and respected Hebrew-language theatre company in the world, and are a natural choice to any programmer wishing to host a dramatic production in Hebrew. They are committed, publicly, to providing an ongoing arena for sensible dialogue between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians." However, the letter calling for a ban is signed by a clique that includes some of Britain's most 'serious' theatre personalities -- as well as some of the usual anti-Zionist suspects -- so you never know, they may win the day.

You will note that the letter makes a distinction between boycotting companies that perform in the settlements as against those who have abided by the call to boycott the disputed territories. But that's a ruse because most of the signatories object to any cultural exchanges with any Israeli performers, films, orchestras, etc., and know very well that the world will conflate the two types of boycott into a generalized delegitimization of all things Israeli.

You may also note how extraordinary it is that an Israeli company would choose to perform 'Merchant' but that's another story.


  1. What an irony with regard to Wanamaker.

    Why does this story and that letter and that list of signatories - Emma Thompson! - irk me so?

  2. Emma Thompson, the brilliant and adorable Emma Thompson. She lives and works in a very closed, incestuous London world where, despite their creativity, these artists are victims of groupthink. It is mostly the same folks who sign these things. I imagine dinner parties would be rather awkward otherwise.

  3. True, but she could just keep quiet and say "I'm not interested in politics" but, no, she embraces the lies.

  4. I don't think it is groupthink due to her cloistered small, community. It is groupthink on a much larger scale because Thompson lives in an overtly anti-Semitic society and continent. For Thompson and the others boycotting Habima the personal is political. To expect (or hope) that the artists could have chosen to objectively and rationally rethink the boycott, much less a refuse to participate, would be extraordinary.

    This post made me remember Ben Hecht, blacklisted in the UK from 1948 - 1951 for his support of Jewish Palestine, and specifically for sayin, "'Every time you blow up a British arsenal, or wreck a British jail, or send a British railroad sky high, or rob a British bank, or let go with your guns at the British betrayers and invaders of your homeland, the Jews of America make a little holiday in their hearts." I swear I could actually hear him turn over in his grave over this incident.


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