When Israel’s leading theatrical company, Habima, was invited to perform Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’ in Hebrew at the Globe Theatre in London last summer a flurry of opposing voices erupted. The usual vociferous pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel suspects trotted out their tried and tested arguments denigrating Israel’s government. It seemed perfectly logical for them to call for the cancellation, or at least boycott, of a performance by Israeli actors. They threatened to demonstrate against the performance and disrupt it if it went ahead.
To their credit, the organisers of the festival, who had invited theatrical companies from all over the world to perform in London, did not heed the threats, merely putting precautionary measures in place (extra security and additional ushers). The protestors demonstrated outside the theatre, as was their right, and were confronted by a counter-demonstration by Israel’s supporters. The show went on, and by all accounts was a great success, and those persons who tried to disturb the performance were quickly removed from the auditorium.
But, as has been pointed out before, the campaign against Habima was just one aspect of the ongoing endeavour by various groups in England and elsewhere to delegitimize Israel and deny its right to exist. This campaign has now been extended to the sphere of artistic endeavour, so that any Israeli artist who seeks to appear on a stage in England does so at the risk of having his or her performance interrupted by calls to ‘Free Palestine’ and for Israel to cease practising ‘apartheid.’ The facts on the ground, namely that Israel seeks peace and defensible borders, are of no relevance to these people, led by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, who seem to be motivated by little less than blind hatred of Israel and all it stands for.
Perhaps it’s time to remind ourselves that Israel was founded on the basis of the legitimate right of the Jewish people to a homeland, as set out by the British government in the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The UN Partition Resolution of 1947 was rejected by the Arabs, who took up arms to prevent its implementation. The outcome of the ensuing war, Israel’s War of Independence, was that Israel was established and Jordan, Egypt and Syria appropriated the areas that had been designated for the Palestinian state. The Palestinians have recently adopted the term Naqba for that event, (something like Tisha b’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple and the Romans’ expulsion of the Jews from their land in 70 C.E.).
Israel has stated that it is prepared to cede land in return for peace and acceptance of its existence as a Jewish state. No such undertaking has been forthcoming from the Palestinians. Moreover, a few years ago Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip and uprooted its settlers hoping for peace with the Palestinians there. The result? Almost daily rocket bombardments of civilian areas from close range. Would anyone in their right mind take that risk again?
It is also worth recalling that in the Six Day War of 1967 Israel fended off three invading Arab armies and conquered the areas that its Arab neighbours had taken over in 1948. Since the Arab countries refused to recognise Israel’s existence or negotiate peace terms, the areas thus acquired became ‘occupied.’ Opinions within Israel and outside it are divided as to the legitimacy and/or advisability of Israel remaining in those areas, and certainly as to its right to build and settle there, but until a viable partner for peace negotiations comes along the situation remains fluid, and certain elements within Israel take advantage of this.
But logic has no meaning when anti-Zionism is simply anti-Semitism in another guise.