Not Playing Anymore – Israeli Theatre Actors Rise Up

“Ariel’s Center for the Performing Arts – Ariel’s residents have always benefited from a rich variety of local facilities and services. These services have traditionally rendered Ariel the focal point of life in the region, and earned it the title of Capital of the Shomron. The city’s Center for the Performing Arts is yet another addition to life, culture and excellence in the heart of Israel.” (from the Ariel website)

It’s no news by now that Israel is constructing a culture center in the illegal Ariel settlement. It’s not surprising that Habima, Israel’s national theater company, was scheduled to preform there. It is, however, refreshing that actresses and actors from Habima and other leading theater companies, the likes of the Cameri, signed a letter to Culture Minister, Limor Livnat, refusing to preform in the Occupied Territories.

Of Boycotts and Green Bans

Sixty/Thirty-six is a big number for any one sector in Israel, not to mention for any dissent in Israel, at all. I can’t say the actor’s letter doesn’t spark hope in me as to a growth in dissent in Israel (they’ve been joined by non-theatre people of the arts), but one mustn’t get carried away. The Guardian reported:

“Dozens of Israeli actors, playwrights and directors have signed a letter refusing to take part in productions by leading theater companies at a new cultural center in a West Bank settlement, prompting renewed debate over the legitimacy of artistic boycott.”

So indeed, this story has been top-of-the-pops in the Israeli Media this week, and as such prompted debate over the legitimacy of settlements as Israelis see it (not a word about international law), but I can assume that even if the actors are steadfast, the item will loose it’s sex appeal by next Monday. As a side note to Harriet Sherwood at The Guardian, about the “renewed debate over the legitimacy of artistic boycott” I’d like to quote the Cameri actor Ishai Golan [limited by my translation]:

When I preform in Ariel, the world sees me as part of the settlement industry, of which I decisively disapprove. There’s an attempt to sensationalize the word boycott. I’m not boycotting anyone, but taking action in accordance with my conscious.

The word “boycott” is indeed thrown around too easily these days, and it must be noted that the actor’s refusal is more akin to a jurisdictional strike or a green ban, as it’s not the audience (=consumer) boycotting, but the workers refusing certain work, on ethical basis.

More importantly, just like Israel can’t be permitted to use it’s propagandized phrase, “delegitimization”, without scrutiny, we can’t allow it to reclaim and vilify or misuse our tactic of boycott. As I said There aren’t many dissenters in Israel, as such even less advocators of boycott. The existing boycott advocators separate into two groups:

  • The minority within minority within minority of BDS activists.
  • The settlement boycotters.

The theater companies belong to the latter.

The Dishonesty of Settlement Boycotts

I want to make sure that I’m not understood in a divisive manner. I believe settlement boycotters are probably the only allies the BDS activist have in Israel. I admire the theater company ethical strikers for taking a strong position in the face of a government policy which exploits them for illegal and immoral ends. As I view both settlement boycotters and the theater company strikers as partners and allies, I’d like to be as straightforward as possible:

It seems to me dishonest to boycott only settlement goods, when so much proof is available of Israeli economy’s entrenchment in the settlement industry. If we focus on the theater, then, not only does the Cameri work with the Ministry of Defense (and a paragraph later claims to promote “peace”), but it turns out it foresaw possible objections to performing in Ariel, and included a special clause in its contract with the theater protecting itself in the event of a “boycott”:

It is hereby emphasized that, in the event that an actor or actress refuses to perform in Ariel, the theater is entitled to find them a replacement, if possible, or cancel the play. In the event of a play’s cancellation due to actors’ refusal to perform in Ariel, legal action cannot be taken against the Cameri for damages, expenses, etc…

That and it’s an unabashed friend of the IDF:

So to Limor Livnat’s tedious claims:

Culture is a social bridge and we must leave politics out of the cultural and artistic realms.

Please don’t “enlist” theater companies to your side of one of the hottest picket lines in the world today, and you won’t see “anti-social political” backlash. And to the Cameri I say: Listen to your fellow colleague, Ishai Golan, and forget about any more glamorous world tours.

Enlist or Die – The Vicious Circle of Spartan Society

I want to take a deeper look at minister Livnat’s words (bolds by me):

The theater directors should enlist immediately to address this crisis, since the actors and artists have decided to divide Israeli society…

Livnat is not alone in use of military euphemisms. This latest storm has propped up a new catch phrase in Israel, roughly translating as “refusenik artists” (the phrase “conscientious objector” serves in Israel as a euphemism for “self serving evader”). Hagai Elad, head of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel astutely points out [limited by my translation]:

In Israel 2010 there are enlistment refuseniks, Occupied territory refuseniks, and now acting refuseniks. As if, just like there’s military conscription in the age of 18, there’s conscription of actors to serve, excuse me, to act in plays in the [Occupied] Territories. You can support the moral-political stance that the actors are expressing and you can fight it- both are part of legitimate democratic discourse. The public structuring of the actor’s expressed stance as “refusing an order”, however, and the fact that this is accepted as obvious, says something deep and disturbing about the society in which we live.

If widespread public opinion is that there’s an “obligation” to serve and act in the [occupied] territories- all are the same and there’s no distinction between soldiers and civilians-  then in what society are we living? When exactly was the theatre enlisted and became a military unit in the occupation army?

Between the media [Hebrew], the public [Hebrew] and single parliamentarian’s malicious turn’s of phrases, a vicious circle wouldn’t be complete in today’s societies without governmental boycott, divestment and sanctions. The Israeli government can’t gas these actors to work, and really, they don’t need to. So in order to achieve obedience (I think you call this “tyrannical repression”) our head-honcho, the Prime Minister rather blatantly suggested divestment:

I don’t want to revoke every artist’s right for a political opinion, but we as a government should not fund boycotts against Israel’s citizens.

Following the party line, Finance Minister, Yuval Steinitz added sanction elements:

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said the government should withdraw funding from theaters which refuse to perform in Ariel. “The State of Israel invests a lot of money in theaters. The taxes helping those theaters exist are paid by Ariel’s residents as well, and those who are sabotaging this should not be employed in Israel. At the end of the day the theaters will perform in Ariel, and I hope that those who fail to fulfill their contracts will be removed from the theater. There’s a limit to everything.

Second chair to the Minister of Senior Citizen Affairs, Leah Ness, went straight into boycott action (as reported in the article “Senior Citizens’ Office: We’ll Boycott Refusenik Artists”):

Any actor that will refuse performing for citizens of Israel because of their place of residence, won’t take part in cultural events and activities for senior citizens, that are funded by my office.

Geographism in the Theater – The Latest Hasbara Vocabulary

Hasbara is the fastest growing language in the world, so I thought I’d do my part and invent a word for it’s vocabulary:



  1. A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human geographic places of residency determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own geographic place of residence is superior and has the right to rule others of other geographical places of residencies.
  2. A policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
  3. Hatred or intolerance of another because of geographic places of residence or other geographic  places of residence.

— Origin
2010;  English-speaking Zionism

— Related forms
Geographist, noun, adjective
Anti-geographism, noun

— Examples where the word could have come in handy

In Israel of 2010, a public outcry raged over the geographic discrimination of the good people of Judea and Samaria by the geographist theatre actors, who refused to play in what they hatefully titled the “Occupied Territories”. Many Knesset members and other public figures were quoted at the time saying [limited by my translation]:

“The call to boycott the Ariel cultural center, a city which its citizens’ money fund, among other things, the paychecks of the artists signed to the petition, serves to testify as to their lack of tolerance and their cultural bankruptcy.” ~ Arnon Giladi, Head of the Tel Aviv Likud faction

“…it’s unthinkable that Mr. Artist received money from the State to establish a theater, and then says, ‘I’ll perform in Tel Aviv, but won’t perform in Ariel and other places. What next? They’ll refuse to perform in front of haredim? This is a case of unfounded hatred. Ariel is a community in Israel, just like Beersheba or any other Arab community.” ~ Yuval Steinitz, Finance Minister

“The greatest disasters that have struck the people of Israel were the result of unfounded hatred and factionalism. Therefore, the most appropriate response is for the people of Israel to flock to the beautiful city of Ariel in masses.” ~ Naftali Bennett, Yesha Council Director-General

“If up until now we’ve heard of discrimination over race or sex, the artist’s protest exhibit discrimination over place of residency.” ~ Leah Ness, Minister of Senior Citizen Affairs second chair.

—Examples of geographism

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