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British Actors Protest Israel's Inclusion in Theater Festival

About 35 actors signed a letter protesting the inclusion of Israel's National Theatre, Habimah, in upcoming London Shakespearean festival.
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 4/1/2012, 6:52 PM

Israel's Habimah theatre
Israel's Habimah theatre
Israel news photo: Flah 90

About thirty-five actors, directors and writers signed a letter, published in The Guardian on Thursday, protesting the inclusion of Habima, Israel’s National Theatre, at a Shakespearean festival in London, in May.

Two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson, recent Tony winner Mark Rylance and seven-time Oscar nominee Mike Leigh are among the signatories who expressed “dismay and regret” at Habima’s participation in "Globe to Globe," a six-week festival at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre scheduled to take place in London.

“We notice with dismay and regret that Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London has invited Israel's National Theatre, Habima, to perform The Merchant of Venice in its Globe to Globe festival this coming May,” began the letter.

The general manager of Habima has declared the invitation "an honourable accomplishment for the State of Israel." Yet, the actors accuse Habima of having “a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

“The Globe says it wants to ‘include’ the Hebrew language in its festival – we have no problem with that, the letter continues. 

“Inclusiveness," they claim, “is a core value of arts policy in Britain, and we support it.” 

However, they maintain that, “by inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practised by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company.”

“We ask the Globe to withdraw the invitation so that the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land,” concludes their appeal. 

Habimah is currently scheduled to perform “The Merchant of Venice" at the festival twice in late May. Ironically, the play has anti-Semitic overtones, with Shylock, portrayed as a cruel Jew, demanding a pound of flesh from his the man who elopes with his daughter. The speech that begins with "Hath a Jew not eyes...warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?..." is Shylock's protest against the injustice of the anti-Semitism from which he suffers. Shakespeare did not know any Jews, they had been banished from England in 1290 and were only allowed back in 1656, but that, it seems, is not a prerequisite for anti-Semitism.

The signatories express no “dismay” or “regret” at the inclusion of the ‘Palestinian’ company that is scheduled to perform “Richard II” in Arabic.