Habima, Israel’s National Theatre, is facing criticism within its own country for agreeing to perform The Merchant of Venice next month at the Globe to Globe Festival at London’s Shakespeare’s Globe.
Ilan Ronen, Habima’s artistic director, speaking in Tel Aviv said: “In Israel they are saying, we shouldn’t take this play and perform it at all, they think of it as an anti-semitic play. We are under pressure from both sides. I don’t see the play as anti-semitic, it deals with racism, and xenophobia. I take it as a play about how do you deal with minorities.”
The news follows criticism of the production from within the UK arts sector. Major artistic figurs continue to be split over the invitation: at issue is the fact that Habima performs in Israeli settlements on disputed land in the West Bank, which Ronen said they are obliged to do, by law, as a state-financed institution.
Opponents of Habima’s appearance in the festival include Mark Rylance, the founding artistic director of The Globe, Mike Leigh, Emma Thompson and Jonathan Miller, while Booker prize winner Howard Jacobson has joined Simon Callow, Steven Berkoff, Maureen Lipman and Arnold Wesker in arguing passionately against censorship of the company.
Ronen, who has led the company for five years, said he hoped to personally speak with the critics when in London, and open up dialogue.