For the past couple of months I’ve been reading and listening to comments and discussions, quite a few of them heated and angry, about Israel’s National Theatre company Habima, and how the Globe Theatre must revoke its invitation from Habima to perform the Merchant of Venice in Hebrew at its forthcoming Globe to Globe season. Today I responded to a friend’s face book status about his feature in The Daily Telegraph which discusses Israel forbidding Gunter Grass into the country. This is my response to my friend, and this is a feature in the Guardian about Habima and the Globe.
I disagree with boycotting any arts (or education) organisations, as they are the ones where dialogue is usually made and enemies stand a chance to come together. When I wrote my play Eating Ice Cream on Gaza Beach for the National Youth Theatre a few years ago, we had, at an after show panel, a Palestinian, and a Jew (me) sitting side by side in a theatre discussing Israel, Palestine and the mess we have. I was shouted at by two white, middle class, middle-aged men, because I didn’t take sides (the Palestinians’ side). As one of the actors said, it is not a writer’s job to take sides. As Chekhov said, it is the writer’s job to ask questions, not to give answers. The lovely Palestinian woman said she could never have imagined that she would be sitting next to a Jew in a theatre in London talking about this subject. Israel is wrong to turn away Gunter Grass, and Habima should be allowed to come here if invited. A theatre company is not a government, it is not the voice of the politicians. If it is, you might as well stop the RSC from touring anywhere abroad. I know there are many other Israeli theatres, like the Cameri Theatre of Tel-Aviv, who could have been invited, but they were not, along with many other theatre companies from different countries who could also have been asked. I was asked to sign the Guardian letter (along no doubt with countless others), I declined. I am a Jew who does not see Israel as my home, who does not agree with the right of return, a Jew who totally and utterly disagrees with the settlements and has always been in favour of a Palestinian State, in fact I am a little fed up of promoting my opinions so that people see me for the person I am, not the person they often think I am. Nick you and I have discussed this subject many times, but boycotting the arts is not where change will be made, if anything encouraging dialogue and plays that enter into those places we dare not enter into in our real lives, is perhaps a way forward. However, I do wish Habima was doing something other than the Merchant of Venice. I’m seeing a Maori language version of Troilus and Cressida and I can’t wait, although a hip hop version of Othello is equally appealing.