#Loveculture becomes a twitter clash this week. The Israeli Embassy in London is planning a twitter campaign to try to offset negative publicity surrounding the Habima Theatre company at the Globe in London. The company is due to perform ” The Merchant of Venice” within the World Shakespeare Festival, part of the Cultural Olympiad.
Leading British actors and directors, including Emma Thompson, Caryl Churchill and Mark Rylance have called for a withdrawal of the invitation. A campaigning group from Israel commented:
this play includes the role of “Shylock, the most famous and controversial Jewish character in the theatre canon” – which naturally, presents particularly acute problems and dilemmas to an Israeli theatre.
As told to the Israeli media, the Habima Theatre did not sidestep the problems inherent to this particular element of the Shakespeare canon, but faced them and dealt with them in a socially engaged and committed manner. According to the designated director Ilan Ronen, Habima’s presentation of “The Merchant of Venice” will emphasize the issue of xenophobia – persecution of the Jew in particular but also of hatred of ethnic and religious minorities in general. As such, it would have of direct relevance to audiences in contemporary Britain, as in all times and places.
The problem rests with Habima’s performances last year in the illegal settlements in occupied West Bank:
In the past year, two large settlements – Ariel in the northern part of the West Bank and Kiryat Arba in its south – set up “Halls of Culture” and asked theatres to come and present their plays there. Last year, a large group of Israeli theatre professionals – actors, stage directors, playwrights – declared they would not take part in such performances; among them were such well-known people as Joshua Sobol, Edna Mazia, Shmuel Hasfari and Anat Gov. For several weeks, this was a major issue on the Israeli public agenda, and the aforementioned Israeli theatre professionals have received much support from colleagues abroad, such as Stephen Sondheim, Mary Rodgers, Tony Kushner, Mandy Patinkin, Theodore Bikel, Mira Nair, Julianne Moore, Vanessa Redgrave, Hal Prince, Roseanne Barr and other Broadway and Hollywood stars.
( http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/blog/breaking-stephen-sondheim-julianne-m… )
The dissident Israeli theatre professionals have argued that the West bank settlements had been created in violation of International Law and with the specific aim of blocking any possibility of achieving peace with the Palestinians; that the expropriation of land in an occupied territory and the creation and maintenance of armed settlement enclaves are the very opposite of what is commonly termed “Culture”; and that therefore, a settlement maintaining a “Hall of Culture” was a blatant contradiction in terms.
It is especially noteworthy that Ariel and Kiryat Arba, like most settlements, are surrounded by walls and fences, closely guarded by soldiers and their own armed security personnel. A theatrical performance in a settlement is by definition a performance to an exclusively Israeli audience, with Palestinians living even in the nearest village being physically excluded from any chance of attending.
Despite all of the above, however, on this issue the management of Habima has taken a position which is remote from any kind of social engagement. Claiming to be “non-political”, the management has reiterated its decision to perform in West Bank settlements, “like everywhere else”. Moreover, the management specifically promised Limor Livnat, Minister of Culture in the Netanyahu Government, to “deal with any problems hindering such performances”, i.e. to pressure recalcitrant actors into taking part in them, even against the dictates of their conscience. And it must be pointed out that for several months, Habima has indeed sent out its actors to hold theatrical performances in West Bank settlements, on a regular basis.
There are reports that the Israeli Foreign Ministry is providing £10,000 towards the costs.
The Israeli Embassy emailed on Friday to British groups:
As part of the campaign around Habima’s performance at the Globe this coming week, we are aiming to get something relevant trending on Twitter. After careful consideration, we have decided to use the hashtag #LoveCulture as it is short enough to fit on a substantial tweet and won’t be taken at first glance as a political statement.
The email even includes suggested tweets. (Don’t be fooled when you read;
- Fantastic seeing the foremost Hebrew speaking theater company perform the Merchant of Venice @the_globe #LoveCulture
- Was great to hear @edvaizey enjoyed watching @HabimaTheatre…did he understand any of it though? #LoveCulture
Public diplomacy or propaganda? The only countries which seem to orchestrate explicit social media campaigns seem to be those on the defensive with something to hide; those outside the international norms: China’s famous 50 centers spring to mind. The #loveculture tweets this week will rebound on Israel. It will highlight their illegal occupation and settlement of the West Bank. , as will any future social media interventions so obviously supporting the government line.