Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Israel's Arts Boycott

Playgoer spots this important news story:
Dozens of Israeli actors, playwrights and directors have signed a letter refusing to take part in productions by leading theatre companies at a new cultural centre in a West Bank settlement, prompting renewed debate over the legitimacy of artistic boycott.

More than 60 have joined the protest over plans by Israel's national theatre, the Habima, and other leading companies to stage performances in Ariel, a settlement 12 miles inside the West Bank. The letter, to Israel's culture minister, Limor Livnat, says the new centre for performing arts in Ariel, which is due to open in November after 20 years in construction, would "strengthen the settlement enterprise".
This strikes me as important for two reasons:
  1. Habima is the largest theater in Israel, so it would be rather like having a protest of artists boycotting the Lincoln Center. (More on this thought a little bit later in the post)

  2. This is an incredible amount of spine from the shrinking left-wing of Israel.
My despair over my home nation has been over the fact that what used to be considered "right-wing" ideas (such as the idea that settlements were an uncontested fact of Israel) have moved to the center, largely over the fact that there has been no leadership on the issue.

When Sharon created the centrist Kadima party, he took the spine out of the Labour party; those left-leaning members who joined Kadima quickly found themselves too entangled with the military hawks and the conservative religious settlers to be a viable opposition to the right-wing. Barak further wrecked the left by splitting Labour over the decision to join Netenyahu's government.

So in this atmosphere of a disorganized, demoralized, shrinking left, Netenyahu has managed to get the Obama Administration to agree that freezing settlements are not a pre-condition for direct talks; instead, it will be the subject to direct talks. That's moving the goal-posts from a year ago.

So in this atmosphere leading up to talks directly relating to settlements, it's encouraging to see the people take leadership to say, "You know what? We're not going to participate in this way." And, surprisingly, it appears to be getting traction; it seems like a consensus is emerging in the arts community that this is the way to go.

And as we've seen with this Ground Zero "mosque" debacle, when one group of people have a strong consensus, they can start to influence others who are passive on the issue.

I mentioned before that Habima is a big theater, and I related it to the Lincoln Center. I didn't choose that one arbitrarily.

Playgoer also had a very good read about the Lincoln Center's relationship with Tea Party Billionare David Koch, who apparently backs both unseating Obama and effete New York artists (who knew?). I have heard much gnashing of teeth and consternation over it.

Playgoer proposes boycotting the Lincoln Center as consumers. But what if our anger at the Lincoln-Koch relationship was a boycott of artists?

The quick answer is that a few artists would try, would starve, would need jobs, would worry about stability, and would quickly pretend that they hadn't tried. Enough people are desperate for the opportunity to perform at the Lincoln Center that there will always be artists to work there.

Mission Paradox admonished me once for conflating the health of artists and the health of the arts -- which was, of course, a valid point. But I would point out that the desperation of artists may weaken their ability to create independent arts.

Of course, much of that is perceptual. But I wonder if an artist's boycott could really happen, except under the auspices of SAG or Actor's Equity.