Naomi Wimborne-Idrissie: Boycott targets Israel, not art
PROTESTS against Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company performing at the Edinburgh International Festival are attracting support from contemporary dance figures including Alain Platel, founder of the Belgian dance company Les Ballets C de la B, and UK choreographer Jonathan Burrows.
Both have endorsed statements opposing the participation of Batsheva because it is part of the Brand Israel campaign, begun in 2005, explicitly using culture as a propaganda tool to distract attention from Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinian people.
Palestinians and their supporters have countered with a boycott call modelled on the anti-apartheid campaign which helped end white supremacy in South Africa. Tiffany Jenkins argued in The Scotsman that boycotts, including the campaign against apartheid, threaten to stifle artistic expression. She was impressed that Batsheva’s artistic director Ohad Naharin has asserted its independence from government despite its state funding.
This independence is a fiction. Whatever Mr Naharin’s beliefs, the Israeli government regards his company as its “most important global ambassador”. The Israeli embassy in London celebrated Batsheva’s tour, hailing it as an example of the “fruitful links” fostered by culture.
Israel has been enjoying cultural links with Europe for decades without anything “fruitful” happening, especially for the Palestinians. Welcoming Israel’s dancers and musicians does nothing to resolve the confiscation of Palestinian land, the fate of their refugees, the siege of Gaza, the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem or the resulting suppression of Palestinian culture.
Those who support the boycott recognise that Batsheva produces world-class work.
However, Batsheva is enmeshed in the Brand Israel system. Continuing to treat it as “normal” merely reassures Israelis and their government that no change is needed.
As long as Batsheva continues in its role of paid ambassador for the Israeli foreign ministry, it should expect to be challenged by boycott campaigners.
• Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi is cultural working group co-ordinator for the Boycott Israel Network.
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