“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.”
– Arye Mekel, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2006
NEW YORK — If there is a campaign to “rebrand” Israel in an effort to conceal the ugliness of their occupation, discrimination, apartheid, and genocide against Gaza, it isn’t working. Human rights activists are seeing to that. At the 3 places the Israel Ballet performed during the past few days: Wooster, Massachusetts, Burlington, Vermont, and Brooklyn, New York, they encountered passionate demonstrators at all locations. In Burlington the performance was interrupted by activists who went into the auditorium and unfurled a large banner that read, “No Tutu is Big Enough to Cover Apartheid”.
An hour before the Sunday, February 25th performance at Brooklyn College about 50 activists, organized by Adalah-NY, gathered at the entrance to the theater and at the entrance to the parking lot. They carried signs that read, ‘Don’t Dance Around Occupation. End It’, ‘Don’t Dance Around Apartheid. End It’, ‘Israel Ballet – Partner With a Racist State’, ‘3 Pointes: End the Occupation, Equal Rights for Palestinian Citizens of Israel, Right of Return for Refugees’. They chanted, “Dance for expression, Not for repression Boycott Israel Ballet now”, “First position, now plie. Take your checkpoints and tanks away” and “All the grace of ballerinas, won’t save Israel from war crimes subpoenas”, and more. There was very lively music played by the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, and 3 ballerinas, an anti-apartheid ballet troupe, danced. Wearing blue and white tutus and masks, they started with a waltz and then stopped, took off their masks revealing military camouflage makeup on their faces, and then they started marching. There was no time for subtle.
Mock programs were distributed to people about to enter the performing arts center. On the outside they looked like a typical ballet program with a photo of dancers on the cover. Inside there was a list of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. The person distributing the fake programs was elegantly dressed so that he would look like he belonged at the theater’s entrance.
As people arrived a look of total astonishment spread over their faces. They stood and watched for awhile. Some became upset, a few were angry and tried to engage in conversation with the demonstrators, and some gave the demonstrators a thumbs-up. Most of those going in were older people and a good number of them spoke Russian. Since Brooklyn has a large Russian population some of the activists had the foresight to bring signs written in the Russian language. Two women who agreed with the demonstrators and said they were glad that they were there demonstrating asked if it was OK for them to go in.
Rather than distancing itself from the state’s use of the arts to mask it’s hideous behavior, the Israel Ballet receives $ 1 million a year from the state of Israel and proudly proclaims on it’s website that it is “earning recognition and bringing honor to the state of Israel.” Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls the troupe “a valued cultural representative.”
In 2004 Palestinian civil society formed the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel “to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions until Israel withdraws from all lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all it’s colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugee rights; and dismantles it’s system of apartheid.”
Human rights activists from all over the world are committed to that program. Protesting at events like the performance of the Israel Ballet gives them an opportunity to educate the public and to dialogue with the public. As people learn about Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people, support for the carte blanche the United States extends to Israel erodes.
There was a very hopeful chant at the demonstration, “We’ll enjoy the Israel Ballet on Palestinian Independence Day.”