Over 40 Palestine solidarity activists demonstrated, performed street theater, and handed out mock programs outside of the Israel Ballet’s Brooklyn performance Feb. 21.
Protesters from Adalah NY, a local group fighting for justice in Palestine, said they were there to heed a call put out by members of Palestinian civil society in 2004 to boycott Israeli cultural and academic institutions. Modeled on the South African struggle to end apartheid, the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement demands that Israel withdraws from the occupied territories, dismantles illegal settlements, and implements the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
The Israel Ballet is currently on a tour of the United States, and has also been met by protests in Worcester, MA and Burlington, VT. Outside of the Brooklyn Center for Performing Arts at Brooklyn College, some demonstrators contended with hostile remarks from ballet goers, including comments like “go to hell,” and people spitting near them.
“A lot of cultural institutions in Israel are complicit with Israeli war crimes, as well as the fact that there’s a sort of normalization, the attitude that as long as cultural institutions continue to function, everything’s okay,” said Andrew Kadi, a spokesperson for Adalah NY. “We’re stepping it up to say business as usual is not acceptable.”
Outside the performance, solidarity activists chanted ballet-themed slogans like “Pas de deux or arabesque, the occupation is grotesque” and “A little tutu cannot hide, your support for apartheid!”
The Israeli dance tour is part of an “official state campaign,” according to the Israeli news outlet Ynet. It comes in the midst of intense anxiety in the Israeli government about Israel’s damaged image, especially after the early 2009 Gaza onslaught that killed over 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians. Recently, the New York Times reported that the Israeli government has begun a campaign “to turn every Israeli — and ultimately every Jew — into a traveling public relations agent.”
In October 2006, Israel launched an initiative called “Brand Israel,” meant to “bridge the gap between the real Israel and its international image. Israel has much to offer to the world,” as former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a suspected war criminal, put it.
The Israel Ballet also reportedly receives $1 million a year from the Israeli government and has an active relationship with the Israeli Defense Forces. And in the wake of the Gaza onslaught, the ballet’s founder told a publication that in Israel, “luckily, right now we don’t have to worry about war: despite our problems, this is a safe place.”
Before the Israel Ballet’s performance began, mock ballet street theater was performed. Activists dressed up in Israeli-colored tutus and Israeli Army war paint and announced they were performing “for apartheid,” which got confused responses of support from ballet goers, according to Ayesha Hoda, one of the performers.
The Israel Ballet’s “purpose being here is to hide all the horrors that are going on [in Palestine,]” said Hoda. The demonstration was also accompanied by the feisty tunes of the Rude Mechanical Orchestra.
Two days ago, in Vermont, human rights activists interrupted a performance by the Israel Ballet by holding up a banner at the front of the stage that said, “No Tutu is Big Enough to Cover Up War Crimes.”
“We wanted to call attention to how culture and arts in this case can be used to mask the crimes of apartheid and occupation,” said Brian Pickett, a member of Adalah NY who participated in the demonstration in Brooklyn and was one of the activists who interrupted the ballet performance in Vermont.
For more information and photographs, visit Adalahny.org
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