Israeli Top Dancer Accused of Supporting BDS, Drawing Culture Minister’s Ire

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File photo: Ohad Naharin in the documentary film 'Mr. Gaga,' Israel, 2015.
File photo: Ohad Naharin in the documentary film 'Mr. Gaga,' Israel, 2015. Credit: Itay Raziel

World-renowned Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin faced backlash for his statements about the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in an interview with Army Radio on Sunday. 

"BDS is against the occupation, something I sympathize with," the Batsheva Dance Company choreographer said. "I've always said that if protesting and boycotting my performances would improve the situation in the territories or bring a solution to the conflict, I would support the boycott myself."

Naharin's remarks sparked outcry on social media and calls from the public to boycott the dancer and strip him of awards he received in the past, as well as of government funds invested in his works.

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Culture Minister Miri Regev released a statement, saying that Naharin's remarks are "unfortunate, infuriating, and should be fiercely condemned."

Regev's statement continued, "Naharin's unfortunate statement is a tailwind to those acting against Israel and this is yet another reason to the policy I led to deny government funds from cultural bodies that undermine against Israel's legitimacy and harm its symbols. The freedom of expression and art are a guiding principle to us, but Ohad Naharin crossed a red line by supporting BDS," Regev said.

"I'll continue acting to enshrine the cultural loyalty amendment in law and the sooner the better," she added, referring to a bill that would deny state funds to cultural institutions deemed disloyal to the state. Thus far, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has refrained from denying funding to these intitutions, despite Regev's requests.   

Naharin, who gave the interview to promote a fundraising event for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel on Sunday evening, clarified his statements in a conversation with Haaretz.

"The Batsheva Dance Company often faces BDS protests and demonstrations when it performs abroad. I've always said and I'll continue saying that this doesn't help the Palestinians and won't result in anything," Naharin said.  

"I explicitly said I don’t support BDS, but I can relate to its agenda against the occupation. It's pretty sad, a lot of energy is invested in a boycott that doesn't help promote a solution to ending the occupation," Naharin said.   

"I didn't voice support for BDS, but rather against the occupation. I've said that many times before and in even harsher terms," Naharin added.

Naharin has expressed his opposition to the occupation many times before, including in an Interview with Haaretz four years ago as well as in the documentary about him, “Mr. Gaga.” He has also read testimonies from Israel Defense Forces soldiers in rallies organized by the anti-occupation organization Breaking the Silence.

In 2005, Naharin was awarded the Israel Prize and served as the Batsheva Dance Company's artistic director from 1990 to 2018. Despite the fact that Naharin is vocally left-wing, his troupe's performances have often been accompanied by calls from BDS activists for a pro-Palestinian boycott.

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