Dear Ari & Theatre Friends,
Allow me to make my contribution to this unfortunate suggestion of “a cultural boycott on Israel”. As artists, we should not agree to be entangled in a situation that sides with any form of cultural boycott, the sidelining of alternative views or the total blackout of ideals that we may not be in agreement with. The artist should always stand for alternatives to the norm, challenge of the status quo and remain a critic of societal absurdities. In short, the artist should of essence stand out as the voice of reason and the vessel of conscience.
I say this because I think it is totally unfair to culturally lock out a whole nation and its citizenry even for the imagined wrongs of a state. I have visted Tel Aviv, Israel twice in the year 2001 and 2007 on cultural exchanges both which I found very enlightening. It was during these visits that I started cultural programs that have helped East Africa have a fundamentally different view of the state of Israel away from the rocket launches and the raging war in Gaza that our TV screens feed us on. It was also during my first visit that I came to understand that many Israelis would rather see an end to the war than the world would ever fathom.
It was at this time that I was treated to the first reaction of Israelis to Hanoch Levin’s productions of Queen of the Bath tab, how disliked by the general public this great artist initially was. Yet as the years went by, he became a prophetic artists with his reaction to questions on how lasting peace could be found. If you read his play Murder, you would not call for a cultural boycott on Israel, in fact you will may well move in for more. For it was this play that made me shed tears at how complicated these question is. With a cast made up of both Jewish and Arab Israelis, it just went on to critically oppose the never ending finger pointing and instead justly pointed towards ending the feuding and blood letting.
I have had the pleasure of staging several Israeli productions in my country at the end of which shows there has been the general feeling that we share cultural similarities in some instances. On the other hand, in many ways the courage to move on even in the face of adversity is something we can borrow from the Israeli populace experience. Life goes on. So what does the world stand to gain from a cultural boycott to a nation that utilizes theatre and culture as a mirror for self criticism? I had a great time sharing with another great Israeli playwright Shmuel Hasfari. His views too gave me the feeling that as artists, the best we can do for our people is to always remain uncompromisingly critical to the wrongs that we see perpetrated to humanity the world over. I met some great friends during both visits to Israel, more than I have met in Europe, and second to those I have made in Africa.
During my last visit in 2007, the play Plonter was yet another production that spared not the state of Israel nor Palestine in what is a jinx in the Middle East. These plays were presented in Tel Aviv Israel, in fact, then the government was in the process of budget cutting on Isreali theatre and probably widely to cultural activities. Should we then make the move to boycott Israeli culture? I say that this will not be of any help least still to the political question. For a fact theatre and culture can be used to bridge the gap and bring the two antagonists together just as it has done in a smaller scale before. Let us share and exchange different cultures and in so doing experience the liberating effects of culture in Israel and beyond.
Peter Mudamba Mudamba