Aside from the usual rumble of behind the scenes attempts by BDS activists to bully local authorities and others into subordinating their institutions to the “Israel must be punished no matter what else is going on in the world” agenda, the main BDS story to be gaining headlines in the last couple of weeks has been the loud and negative response to the public letter published by a group of British celebrities including Oscar-winner Emma Thompson, calling on London’s Globe Theatre to withdraw its invitation to Israel’s Habimah Theatre (See this letter by well-known Birtish theatre personalities Arnold Wesker, Ronald Harwood, Maureen Lipman, Simon Callow, Louise Mensch MP and Steven Berkoff published (alongside a separate letter critical of Israel) in the Guardian. Earlier, the same figures expanded on their critique to the Jewish Chronicle).
Howard Jacobson, winner of the 2010 Man Booker prize for his comic novel The Finkler Question, added his own clear voice to the debate:
“If there is one justification for art… it is that it proceeds from, and addresses, our unaligned humanity. Whoever would go to art with a mind made up on any subject misses the point of what art is for.
So to censor it in the name of political or religious conviction… is to tear out its very heart. For artists themselves to do such a thing to art is not only treasonable, it is an act of self-harm.
With last week’s letter to the Guardian, McCarthyism came to Britain. You can hear the minds of people in whom we vest our sense of creative freedom snapping shut.”
Meanwhile, the Globe theatre’s management said that it was standing by its decision, that the Habima performance was a key part of its eclectic Cultural Olympiad and that “as an institution, [we] are welcoming everybody to the festival.”
Ilan Ronen, Habima’s artistic director, called the original letter “a disgrace” and added that:
“Artists should create bridges where there is conflict; the issue of Israel and the Palestinians is an area in which European dialogue can be very helpful in creating a better atmosphere. To boycott us prevents any artistic dialogue.”