Batsheva Choreographer 'Sympathizes' With Protestors

Ohad Naharin responds to anti-occupation protests at dance troupe's shows in London.

Ohad Naharin, the world-renowned choreographer of the Batsheva Ensemble, told Haaretz on Wednesday that he sympathizes with the anti-occupation goal of protesters at the troupe's shows in London. He said he opposed demonstrations that sought to disrupt the performances, but agreed with protests outside the Sadler's Wells Theater.

"I have been in a dialogue for several months with Naomi Wimborne, one of the leaders of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and the demonstrations against Batsheva," Naharin said. "From the outset I told her that Batsheva is an example of a group of people whose activity, philosophy and work methods represent the potential for change, and that I would support the demonstrations and boycott if I thought this could help the Palestinian problem. I agree with the idea of demonstrating outside performances because this is a way to make your opinion heard, but disagree with the idea of disrupting performances inside the theater. If I thought this could help advance a solution to the Palestinian problem, I would disrupt my own performances."

In recent days pro-Palestinian groups have been demonstrating against Batsheva's appearances at Sadler's Wells. The organizations, which several months ago launched a nationwide campaign in Britain called "Don't dance with the Israeli apartheid," are protesting the attacks on Gaza, and in their view the dance troupe, which is subsidized by the Israeli government, "is a cover for the oppressive regime in the territories and whitewashing the human rights infringements there."

The Batsheva Ensemble, which held its final appearance in London yesterday, has been touring British cities including Plymouth, Brighton and Birmingham. Security procedures at Sadler's Wells were beefed up in recent days. The theater's management even sent an e-mail to ticket buyers saying they should expect "peaceful demonstrations outside the theater and the possibility of disturbances during the performances."

According to the protesters, they are not demonstrating against Israeli artists, but against "the government's policy that uses culture to cover infringements of human rights and international law."

The manager of Sadler's Wells, Alistair Spalding, said in response: "The Batsheva Ensemble is the junior troupe of one of the most successful and innovative dance troupes in the world, and it is completely justified that it appears in our artistic program. Sadler's Wells will never prevent a dance troupe from performing because of its national identity. We believe in cooperation, not in cutting ties and boycotts. Cultural isolation is not a policy that the theater supports."