More Responses to the Dubious Call…

Our Israeli theater friend, Eran Baniel, stage director and director of the International Exposure of Israeli Theatre writes:

Dear Ari,
Thank you for this brilliant response.
I’m just back from the book fair in Paris where Israel was guest of honor and which was boycotted by all the Arabic/Moslem world. And what an own goal that has turned out to be to the boycotting countries and their writers: some of Israel’s most eloquent and influential peace advocates like Amos Oz, AB Yehoshua, David Grossman were among the incredibly impressive group of 50 writers invited to speak and present their works during the book fair. They were interviewed on the Radio, the TV, they appeared in public debates, had to answer some difficult questions, and came forward with some novel observations. Some of our colleagues in the Arab countries begged their authorities that the boycott be lifted and that they’d be allowed to participate and accompany their books with a dialogue of writers – but no one had the courage to be the first and the result was a rare chance for dialogue missed. Only Arabs coming from Israel had a chance to be heard. (By the way, are they included in the suggested boycott?) Boycott and Theatre? A contradiction in terms.
Thank you,
-Eran Baniel

Critic, scholar, director, producer and playwright Robert Brustein writes:

Even in regard to the most repressive regimes, which Israel clearly is not, democratic countries have never considered boycotting their artists or scholars. Apartheid South Africa would have rejoiced if Athol Fugard, Alan Paton, Pieter Dirk Uys, or J.M. Coetzee had been excluded by the rest of the civilized world. Did the US close its doors to Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, or Thomas Mann because they were born in a country currently dominated by the Nazi Party? Would we have denied visiting rights to Brodsky, Sharansky, Solzynetsin, Shostakovich, or Prokofiev, because of Stalin’s genocide?

Israel has arguably been over-reacting to Palestinian provocation, but it has unarguably been mightily provoked. Imagine how the US would have behaved if Mexico lobbed rockets daily into Texas or Southern California. The impulse to demonize a mid-Eastern tiny country, surrounded by a much larger population long dedicated to its total destruction, is something that could only have been conceived in the minds of the “progressive” academic left, which for years has been indistinguishable in behavior, if not in ideology, from the reactionary right. Leave this sort of thing to British academics. They have a much longer history of anti-semitism.
-Robert Brustein

Friend and former Theater J Council member Ruth Futrovsky writes:

Robert,
Beautifully said. Thank you for eloquently expressing my own thoughts.
I would only add: When do we start boycotting the Arab countries who treat women and children like objects and/or possessions? How about boycotting those with oppressive regimes who routinely employ torture as a way to “manage” their citizens? (Oh, and can someone please name an Arab country in which Jews enjoy full citizenship and human rights? Let’s add all those not named to our “boycott list.”)
-Ruth Futrovsky

Playwright and scholar Sarah Schulman writes:

We should be supporting progressive Israelies,not isolating them. More communication not less.
-Sarah Schulman

from our friend, director and writer, Rick Stein:

Dear Ari,

As you know, I was thrilled to learn a number of weeks ago that AMERICAN THEATRE magazine decided that it would publish my article, “Who Will Speak For Me?,” in its May/June issue, which is about how much Israeli theatre today is speaking up on behalf of the Palestinians eloquently (and sometimes less so)—something I discovered when attending the IsraDrama 2007 in Tel Aviv with you and another 60+ theatre practitioners from around the world.

Soon thereafter, I had a meeting with Najla Said, a New York actress and daughter of the noted Palestinian-born intellectual, the late Professor Edward Said, and she mentioned to me that AMERICAN THEATRE had invited her to share some comments on the cultural boycott of Israel. I told her I thought that might possibly be connected to their planned publication of my article, but that it was the first I heard of it.

Later that day, I met with Randy Gener, AMERICAN THEATRE’s Senior Editor, about my piece and discovered that, apparently, my article had prompted AMERICAN THEATRE to devote the entire May/June issue to International Theatre, and that they had solicited a diverse group of people to offer their thoughts on the topic of the cultural boycott against Israel & such boycotts in general.

When Randy first told me my article had been accepted, I said that I thought it would prove controversial. Though I never actually discuss cultural boycotts in it, my personal observations and analysis are likely to irritate those on both sides of the spectrum. But Randy told me that AMERICAN THEATRE was no stranger to controversy, and that it would seek to achieve editorial balance as it has done in the past.
And I believe him.

Now that you have brought this to the attention of those of us who are your friends and colleagues in the theatre world, I hope all will seek out that issue of AMERICAN THEATRE when it is released, read its stories, and respond to my article and the other pieces within it if you feel motivated to do so.

The pointed debate on Israeli stages about Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians was illuminating and especially surprising to American Jews, like myself, who are used to a very different attitude in the U.S. about the appropriateness and nature of criticizing Israel publicly.
-Richard Stein

San Juan Capistrano, California
Director, US Premiere, “The Master of the House” by Shmuel Hasfari, 2007
Former Executive Director, The Laguna Playhouse, Laguna Beach, California

2 thoughts on “More Responses to the Dubious Call…

  1. I want to thank Robert Brustein for his response, which contextualizes the idea of cultural boycott with useful perspectives.

    I’m still scratching my head, actually. What were these notables thinking? How could anyone think a cultural embargo could ever yield meaningful and constructive outcomes? Could they not see that the impulse behind building a cultural Berlin Wall around Israel or any other state is wildly absolutist? The idea is anti everything – free speech, freedom of expression, critical thinking, good sense, civility, reason, you name it. What makes it controversial is how little IQ and wisdom there is behind it, which in the end, is just sad.

    Oh, well, paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, I shall do as he suggests – always forgive those who annoy you, nothing irritates them more.

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