Emma Thompson and Günter Grass call for Israeli theatre and concert boycott
Recent Tony winner Mark Rylance and seven-time Oscar nominee Mike Leigh are among the other artists who signed a letter expressing “dismay and regret” that Tel Aviv’s Habimah theater will be participating in Globe to Globe, a six-week festival taking place at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.
“Habimah has a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory,” says the letter, published March 29 in England’s Guardian newspaper. The document notes that unlike other members of Israel’s theater community, Habimah did not participate in a boycott of a controversial cultural center that opened in Ariel, a West Bank settlement, in 2010.
The letter goes on: “By inviting Habimah, Shakespeare’s Globe is undermining the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to break international law. We have no problem”with Globe to Globe’s desire to include Hebrew in the festival, which will showcase the Bard’s 37 plays in 37 languages, but by inviting Habimah, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practised by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company. We ask the Globe to withdraw the invitation so that the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land.”
Other companies participating in the festival include the National Theatre of China, which will perform “Richard III” in Mandarin, and the Ashtar Theatre, a Palestinian company that will perform “Richard II” in Arabic.
Habimah is currently scheduled to perform “The Merchant of Venice” at the festival twice in late May.
Günter Grass launches poetry attack on Israel
Günter Grass. Photograph: John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images
In the poem, published in German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Italy’s La Repubblica among others, Grass criticises what he describes as western hypocrisy over Israel’s own suspected nuclear programme amid speculation it might engage in military action against Iran to stop it building an atomic bomb.
The 84-year-old Grass said he had been prompted to put pen to paper by Berlin’s recent decision to sell Israel a submarine able to “send all-destroying warheads where the existence of a single nuclear bomb is unproven”.
Grass called for “unhindered and permanent control of Israel’s nuclear capability and Iran’s atomic facilities through an international body”.
Israel is widely believed to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons but has never admitted it, pursuing instead an official policy of “ambiguity” to deter potential attackers. (Actually, President Kennedy insisted on the US inspecting Israel nuclear facilities in 1961)
Israel has three Dolphin submarines from Germany one half-funded and two entirely funded by Berlin) and two more are under construction, and the contract for a sixth submarine was signed last month (in return for Israel to reimburse to the Palestinian authority the taxes it has been withholding as permanent tactics to subjugate the Palestinians in the occupied territories).
Dolphin-class submarines can carry nuclear-tipped missiles, but there is no evidence Israel has armed them with such weapons.
Iran insists it only seeks nuclear power for energy and medical research.
Grass said he long kept silent on Israel’s own nuclear programme because his country committed “crimes that are without comparison”, but he has come to see that silence as a “burdensome lie and a coercion” whose disregard carries a punishment – “the verdict ‘antisemitism’ is commonly used”.
The left-leaning Grass established himself as a leading literary figure with The Tin Drum, published in 1959, and won the Nobel Prize in 1999. He urged fellow Germans to confront their painful Nazi history in the decades after the second world war.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is a staunch ally of Israel, and her spokesman reacted coolly to Grass’s remarks.
“There is artistic freedom in Germany, and there thankfully also is the freedom of the government not to have to comment on every artistic production,” Steffen Seibert said.
The head of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee – lawmaker Ruprecht Polenz, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats – told the daily Mitteldeutsche Zeitung that Grass was a great author “but he always has difficulties when he speak about politics and mostly gets it wrong”.