Brooklyn, NY, March 5, 2009 – About 30 protesters gathered this evening to call upon New Yorkers to boycott the Israeli dance troupe Batsheva Dance Company at their performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)’s Howard Gilman Opera House. Dance performance attendees and passersby stopped to watch as the protesters danced their own dance – a traditional Palestinian dance called dabke.
Hundreds of people entering BAM were handed mock programs that, when opened, described the connections between Batsheva and Israeli apartheid. There were reports of an uproar in the lobby after attendees read the mock programs. Detroit-based hip-hop artist Invincible performed a piece called “The Emperor’s Clothes,” the chorus of which calls on people to “Boycott, Divest, and Sanction” Israel. Protesters carried signs reading, “Batsheva: Proud Ambassadors of Apartheid Israel,” and “400 children can’t dance because Israel killed them.” They talked with one man who told them he had the tickets for a while because he liked modern dance, but hadn’t made the connection to Israel. After seeing the protest he felt conflicted about whether or not to go inside.
Organizers of the protest, entitled Freedom Dabke vs. Batsheva Dance Company, affirmed the boycott call by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and stated that Israeli cultural and academic institutions that do not openly denounce Israeli crimes against Palestinians and dissociate themselves from Israeli policy should be subject to a popular boycott. Following fifteen years of fruitless negotiations, supporters of a regime of boycott, divestment and sanctions(BDS) against Israeli institutions and businesses argue that only a moral campaign of non-violent public pressure like that used to topple Apartheid in South Africa will work to change Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Tonight’s protest fell in the middle of International Israeli Apartheid Week, and on the heels of protests and pickets that Batsheva has encountered in cities across North America throughout their tour. Batsheva also met with criticism in the dance press, in Paul Ben-Itzak’s article in Dance Insider, “Branding Israel: Boycott & Picket Batsheva at BAM & Everywhere.”
Batsheva is one of Israel’s most prominent dance troupes and, according to their website, receives funding from several Israeli government sources, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport, and the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, for its work as a cultural ambassador for Israel. The dance troupe is described on the website of the Israeli Foreign Ministry as “the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture,” and protest organizers state that a number of Batsheva dancers are serving in the Israeli military as reservists. Nonetheless, Batsheva’s artistic director, Ohad Naharin, was recently quoted as saying “I think artists belong to a group of people who don’t represent the ugly side of Israel.”
Protest organizer Riham Barghouti commented, “instead of concealing the ‘ugly’ side of Israel, artists should be protesting it. Groups like Batsheva conceal the harsh reality of Israeli Apartheid. They are on a self-proclaimed mission to burnish Israel’s image abroad. New Yorkers need to know that the dancers they are paying money to see are indirectly supporting war crimes by whitewashing Israel’s image. And to the extent that Batsheva members are serving in the Israeli military as reservists, they are directly supporting such human rights abuses.”
Calls to boycott Batsheva are part of the global BDS movement that has seen dramatic growth since Israel’s 22-day war in Gaza, during which over 1300 Palestinians were killed, including over 400 children. The BDS movement also recently achieved one of its biggest successes, when on March 4 the British government confirmed that it would not rent office space for its Tel Aviv embassy from Africa-Israel Investments, a company that builds illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Africa-Israel is owned by Lev Leviev, an Israeli billionaire who has been the subject of a boycott campaign by activists from Adalah-NY and from around the world since 2007.
The protest was co-sponsored by various anti-Zionist Jewish activists in New York and Adalah-NY: the Coalition for Justice in the Middle East, and is part of the Fifth Annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) in New York City. On Friday IAW has organized a major panel on the cultural boycott of Israel at 7 PM at Judson Memorial Church, just south of Washington Square Park. The event, The Art of Resistance: Culture and the Boycott of Israel, will feature best-selling author Ahdaf Soueif, founding member of the PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) and freelance choreographer Omar Barghouti, and NYC poet Remi Kanazi.
For protest photos: http://adalahny.org/index.php/photo-galleries/293-freedom-dabke-batsheva