Habima Theater - 20.11.11
The new Habima Theater in Tel Aviv, Nov. 20, 2011. Photo by Moti Milrod
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In an open letter published over the weekend, dozens of prominent members of the U.K.'s theater and film industries protested the inclusion of Israel's national theater, Habima, in an upcoming Shakespeare festival, over what the signatories say was the theater's "shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements."

The letter, which was published late last week in the British newspaper the Guardian, was signed by such leading cultural figures as film director Mike Leigh, actress Emma Thompson and actor-director Richard Wilson.

In it, the signatories write of their "dismay and regret" over Habima's planned run of The Merchant of Venice at the Globe to Globe festival, due to take place this May, citing the national theater's willingness to play at settlement cultural halls despite a boycott by several Israeli actors and playwrites.

"Last year, two large Israeli settlements established 'halls of culture' and asked Israeli theatre groups to perform there. A number of Israeli theatre professionals – actors, stage directors, playwrights – declared they would not take part," the letter said, adding: "Habima, however, accepted the invitation with alacrity, and promised the Israeli minister of culture that it would 'deal with any problems hindering such performances.'"

By inviting Habima, the letter added, "Shakespeare's Globe is undermining the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to break international law."

The letter added that it supported the festival's wish to include Hebrew-language plays in the upcoming event, adding, however, that "by inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practiced 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 colonization of occupied land," it added.

In response to the missive, Habima's artistic director Ilan Ronen said, "The attempt to portray Habima as a mouthpiece of this or that policy wrongs the creators, the actors, and anyone who is a part of our endeavor."

"Performing in all of Israel is not the initiative of Habima, as the letter presents, by is a result of state law, to which all public cultural institutes are subject."