Holding Israeli artists to account for their government is absurd

The City Israeli Fringe performance cancelled protests
Richard Jordan is an award-winning UK and international theatre producer. He has been a regular contributor to The Stage since 2005.
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Before August 1, 2014, few people had heard of The City. It was simply one of 2,700+ Edinburgh Fringe shows, a non-political musical theatre production playing at the Underbelly.

Today, it holds notoriety not because of its reviews but the fact the company, Incubator, is from Israel and in receipt of partial government funding to help present the production.

Its first preview saw protests outside the theatre, and ahead of this, a letter from Scottish artists to the venue objecting to the play’s inclusion in their programme.

Nobody can watch what is happening in Gaza at this time and not feel a great sense of concern and sadness, and need in some way to react. But is targeting the work of artists the right way to go? Or are they just an easy target, risking longer-term and potentially dangerous consequences as a result?

After one performance in Edinburgh, with the risk of the protests increasing further over subsequent days on the advice of the police, the production was halted. But what has this really achieved?

A small company who has stated that “they exist to be an agent of significant cultural change in Jerusalem” has had its run blocked. The protestors gain national headlines from journalists looking for “this year’s Edinburgh story”. But is this not a protest that would be better directed at the doorstep of the Israeli government? They are probably hardly bothered or even aware of a fringe show getting closed down. Does it mean that we believe that no artist in Israel should accept government funding for their work?

A similar protest was seen at the 2014 Adelaide Festival when choreographer Ohad Naharin’s work was performed. He had already spoken out to say he was against what was happening in his own country. The fact his work was being performed elsewhere thus afforded him a platform to speak out. In so doing, he made a stand against his own government thanks to the very international funding they had supplied.

In times of crisis, it’s often the voice of the artists from these countries that can serve to raise an awareness and help engender change. Is it our right to prevent these voices being heard by denying them a freedom of speech?

People in the global arts industry have always been supportive towards each other. Yet here a group of artists are discriminated against because of where they were born.

Nor can we expect them to refuse government funding. To survive and create, they need these grants. Is that funding model really any different to the UK? What if we began to see our artists blocked from performing in other countries? After all, there are many places around the world where the UK’s own government conduct is not that popular.

The right of protest and freedom of speech are vital constitutions to protect; but, in the context of the arts, we seem to be heading down a potentially dangerous path of sitting in judgement and censorship? Does this mean, for example, we next stop Russian funded productions from playing the UK, and if we do that, then where will it stop?

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6 Comments

  1. Holding artists to account? Maybe, if they have funding from a regime that is monstrously engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide using weapons that contravene international law.

    The simple fact of the matter is that artists that claim to have a conscience cannot dismiss the source of their funding.

    It is also a well explored process whereby dictatorships and reprehensible regimes use a veneer of culture to appear to be civilised.

    No one with any conscience can possibly see the israeli government as anything other than genocidal war criminals and their money is dirty money based on the theft of land and the constant attack on a mostly defenseless and innocent population

  2. Its naive to think that how the money came about is of no consequence. Illegally obtained money ok? Proceeds of crime? Subsidised by the tobacco industry, alcohol, GM foods, oil? Wake up Mister Producer, not all money is clean money!

    At its root this isn’t about freedom of speech, its an entirely different argument and one which seems to have escaped you.

  3. I think these comments have both missed the valuable point being made by this article which is that we should be showing some solidarity and tolerance to our fellow artists. Its not their fault of where they come from. Do we say that everything that government money funds should be blocked ,and that includes all public services which it undoubtedly provides. This is not the same as applying sanctions which should be happening and would if America took a greater stand here. But it is  also easy to look on and cast judgement at something we are not experiencing this first hand yet so many of us profess to be experts.  I am deeply against what is happening in Israel and their governments criminal behaviour but neither am I for judging their people guilty by an association – that’s a very dangerous path to go down as history has shown us. Every government is corrupt in some way in its own income which generates their funding sources. After all lets not forget the British Empire was founded on it robbing other  countries and then them being exploited, sometimes as we see today with an illegal war being justified as; liberation. We should be making a definite stand but directed at the politicians not soft targets as seen at the fringe.  But perhaps  we maybe should also be looking closely at our own ethics and behaviour before also casting judgements elsewhere. 

  4. I agree with Enid’s Sentiments, but I have to disagree with the decision to Ban Israeli Artist’s because they are ‘Israeli’ or funded by Israel, the mob or descenting voices should not silence theatre, it is for expression yes, but also politics, love, social stories, classic tales to promote justice and injustice, and in that all voices should be heard, wherever they are from.

  5. Delia,

    It seems to me that you are the one who should wake up – when the money is considered clean or not based on your political views, it’s no longer a valid basis for judgement. Furthermore, these artists may have not even voted or supported the government and its actions – you have no idea who these people are or what they believe in and yet you automatically wish to silence them up due to their country of origin. Funny how no one had an objection to Iran or North Korea taking part of the Olympics, but when it comes to Israeli artists staging a non-political theatrical piece, suddenly there’s an uproar.

    If you would have condemned presenters of any country involved in atrocities around the world from the festival – it would not have been an international festival.
    But this is not that, it’s a cover-up for Antisemitism , focusing on one very specific group and the rest of the world are free to do as they wish, which in my eyes, makes you no more than a hypocrite.

    Also, having seen the show myself – it’s really your loss for missing out on it – it’s truly great fun, not that you’ll get the chance to acknowledge it.

  6. I agree with your point John. For example, based on some of the perceptions being given in these various comments, does it mean that everyone in the UK who recieves Arts Council funding must therefore be a Tory?

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