Rylance joins calls for Shakespeare’s Globe to withdraw Israeli theatre company’s festival invitation

Shakespeare’s Globe’s former artistic director Mark Rylance has become the latest figure to call on the London venue to withdraw its invitation to Israeli company Habima to perform as part of the London theatre’s Globe to Globe festival this summer.

Rylance is among the signatories of an open letter, alongside David Calder, Trevor Griffiths, Jonathan Miller, Emma Thompson and Harriet Walter, which claims that Habima has “a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory”. The letter follows a similar complaint by campaign group Boycott from Within that was published in January.

Habima is due to perform The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew during the international festival at the Bankside venue in May. It will mark the company’s first visit to the UK. However, the letter calls on Shakespeare’s Globe to withdraw its invitation so that “the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land”.

Rylance was artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe between 1995 and 2005 and will be performing at the venue this summer in Twelfth Night and Richard III. He said had signed the letter “in support of those artists within Israel who are resisting the requests to play in the illegal settlements”. Rylance added: “Acting in the illegal settlements seems to me to be an act of provocation and disrespect. Surely peace will only be born when each person respects the other’s boundaries.”

Responding to the latest calls for it to rescind its invitation to Habima, Shakespeare’s Globe reiterated an earlier statement that the festival is intended as a “celebration of languages” rather than nations.

It added: “Habima are the most well-known and respected Hebrew-language theatre company in the world, and are a natural choice to any programmer wishing to host a dramatic production in Hebrew. They are committed, publicly, to providing an ongoing arena for sensible dialogue between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.

“We are acutely aware that there are strong feelings on either side of this debate, and have received a huge number of communications supporting both viewpoints. However, it remains our contention, and we think a suitable one for a Shakespearean theatre, that people meeting and talking and exchanging views is preferable to isolation and silence. For that reason, and for the others above, we remain convinced that it is right to work with all the companies we have chosen for the Globe to Globe Festival.”

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