Portuguese Director Tiago Rodrigues Nixes Shows at Israel Festival, Announces He's Joining BDS

The renowned artist explains he chose to boycott the festival and the country after learning the event was part of Israel's 70th Independence Day celebrations

Portuguese director and playwright Tiago Rodrigues announced Saturday that he is cancelling his participating in next month's Israel Festival, slated to be held in Jerusalem, over political reasons.

Rodrigues, the artistic director of Portugal's national theater, said he is officially joining the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement (BDS).

Portuguese director Tiago Rodrigues.
Sam.Donvil / Wikimedia Commons

The director was supposed to perform in Israel twice in the beginning of June with his theatrical performance entitled 'By Heart.'  

In a Facebook post the artist penned, he explained that the festival was presented to him as an artistic event that promotes a diverse and peace-seeking societal life. He claimed he accepted the invitiation to participate "because I believe that the people of a country and its political administration are not the same thing."

Rodrigues wrote that he "decided to join the cultural boycott of Israel, convinced that global and collective pressure might produce similar results to the boycott of South Africa during apartheid."

Tiago Rodrigues performingMundo Perfeito/ YouTube

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The Israel Festival released a statement saying that they were sorry the artists chose to take "a one-sided political stance regarding a complicated conflict."

The 41-year-old director is a prolific and renowned Portuguese artist, whose creations carry clear political messages. His performance 'By Heart' deals with memory and the mechanism of learning to recite by heart as tools to resist a regime's oppression.

Tiago Rodrigues' Facebook post explaining his decision to nix participation at the Israel FestivalTiago Rodrigues/ Facebook

Rodrigues said that "after giving a series of interviews to Israeli media about my visit to the country, it was brought to my attention that the official communications by the Israel Festival announce that this year’s edition “marks the State of Israel’s 70th year of independence”. 

"The mention of this celebration by the festival is not accompanied by a single word of criticism to the State of Israel for its conduct towards Palestinians during the last 70 years," Rodrigues goes on to add. "This is a statement of political significance of which I was not informed when I was invited to perform in the festival. I do not accept the use of my artistic work for political purposes without my agreement." 

The Portuguese artist also mentioned the violent clashes at the Gaza border over the past weeks in which dozens of Palestinians were killed and thousands more were injured. 

"I have also noticed that the festival organization... is silent about the unacceptable acts of violence ordered by this same government against Palestinians. Considering the rise of the number of victims in the last months, as well as the massacre of dozens of civilians by gunfire of the Israeli armed forces (that injured more than two thousand people and hundreds of Palestinian children among them) during the recent protests against the opening of the USA Embassy in Jerusalem, such omission is deeply troubling and I cannot stand by it."

 "I have been advised by trusted friends and colleagues and I have also read statements by many artists and intellectuals, several of them Israeli. I also witness the terrible violent actions the Israeli government is currently perpetrating. I understand now that a clear position is absolutely necessary.

The Israel Festival said that Rodrigues nixed his performance "due to BDS pressure."

"Rodrigues' show deals with memory as a tool to struggle against limitations on freedom of speech. It's surprising that he chose to act against the values that his work represents," Eyal Sher, the CEO of the festival, said.

"The festival espouses the creation of a space that would enable a meeting point and a dialogue out of deep faith in the ability of art to present new reference points, open up to getting to know the 'other' and promote understanding and tolerance."

Those who purchased tickets for one of Rodrigues' shows can receive a full refund or exchange them for tickets to other shows.