Local groups urge boycott of Israel's Batsheva Dance

February 28, 2012

The Palestine Solidarity Group-Chicago and the Chicago Movement for Palestinian Rights are urging Chicagoans to just say no to Batsheva Dance Company, based in Tel Aviv, Israel. The troupe, headed by Ohad Naharin, began a Canadian/U.S. tour last week that includes two days in Chicago, March 17 and 18, at the Auditorium.

Three years ago, during another U.S. tour that included Chicago, protests were mounted in San Francisco and New York, and similar protests are reportedly planned for this tour. Last week, in an open letter to Batsheva, Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel asked the company to “take a stand against the Israeli government’s violations of Palestinian rights.”  One of the signatories was the U.S. Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel, which holds that no Israeli arts organization can claim independence from Israel’s policies on Palestine—particularly if an organization accepts money from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Batsheva does.

The attempt to “re-brand” Israel is a reality. In March 2009, after the Gaza War, the New York Times quoted Arye Mekel, the foreign ministry’s deputy director general for cultural affairs, as saying, “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits. This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”

Of course a boycott means nothing if you wouldn’t buy the product in the first place. But Batsheva and choreographer Naharin (well known here for the works he’s set on Hubbard Street) are international stars. They’re stars for a reason, and I’m looking forward to seeing them. But even if I hated a company, I’d think it had a right to create—and be seen—independently of the politics of the place it happens to call home.