Forty-five human rights activists called upon fellow New Yorkers to boycott the Israel Ballet at its performance Sunday at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts. Accompanied by the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, protesters performed ballet, sang, chanted, and handed out mock programs to bring attention to the Israel Ballet’s role in the Israeli state’s use of the arts to whitewash its crimes against the Palestinian people. The demonstration was the third to take place along the Ballet company’s U.S. tour in as many days.
Hundreds of people entering the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts were handed mock programs that, when opened, described the connections between the Israel Ballet and Israeli apartheid. Outside of the venue, attendees could hear protesters chanting “Pas de deux or arabesque / The occupation is grotesque” and “A little tutu cannot hide / Your support for apartheid!” Dave Lippman of Adalah-NY commented, “We are here to let the Israel Ballet know that it cannot tip-toe around apartheid.”
Protesting ballerinas dressed in blue and white tutus (Israel’s national colors) and wearing masks performed a waltz that transformed into a military drill march. As the orchestra switched to a two-beat march, the dancers lifted their masks to reveal camouflage on their faces. Dancer Ayesha Hoda commented, “With this ‘ResisDance,’ we expose Israel’s cynical use of the arts to mask facts about its occupation, racial discrimination and even war crimes against the Palestinian people, as revealed in the UN’s recently published Goldstone Report on Israel’s war of aggression on Gaza.”
Organizers of the protest affirmed the boycott call by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and stated that Israeli cultural and academic institutions that do not openly denounce Israeli crimes against Palestinians and dissociate themselves from Israeli policy should be subject to a popular boycott.
The Israel Ballet receives around $1 million annually from the Israeli government and proudly embraces its ties with the state. The Israel Ballet website states that the troupe is “earning recognition and bringing honor to the state of Israel.” Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in turn, affirms the troupe’s service to the state, calling them “a valued cultural representative.”
With growing criticism of Israeli state policies, arts and culture have become important weapons in the Israeli government’s public relations campaign. In 2006, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched an initiative called “Brand Israel” to salvage Israel’s deteriorating image abroad. Arye Mekel of Israel’s Foreign Ministry has stated, “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits… This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”
Israeli news website Ynet reported that the Ballet was touring the United States “as part of an official state campaign.” Ynet attributed Friday’s protests in Burlington to Adalah in Israel, mistaking the Legal Center for Minority Rights with New York-based human rights activists Adalah-NY, neither of which organized the Burlington protest. Additional protests appear to be planned for the Ballet’s Buffalo, New York and Rockville, Maryland performances.
The Ballet’s Friday evening performance in Burlington, Vermont was interrupted by demonstrators who held signs proclaiming “No tutu is begin enough to cover up war crimes.” The next evening in Worcester, Massachusetts, over 30 protesters chanted and handed out mock programs. Israel Ballet Associate Director Dan Rudolf came out to address the protesters and denied the existence of the Palestinian people: In response to the demonstrators’ questions of what happened in 1948, Rudolf replied, “You know what was in Israel before 1948? Nothing. Nothing was.” He also called anyone who claimed the Ballet received government funding a “liar,” even though their own website lists The Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport as well as The Municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffo in their donors section.
Following fifteen years of fruitless negotiations, supporters of a regime of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israeli institutions and businesses argue that only a moral campaign of non-violent public pressure like that used to topple Apartheid in South Africa will work to change Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
To combat Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights, in 2004, Palestinian civil society, led by the newly formed Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), called on colleagues in the international community “to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions until Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid.”
The call to boycott the Israel Ballet has been endorsed by Adalah-NY, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within, and American Jews for a Just Peace
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