NEW YORK – In recent weeks, more than 70 artists have called on organizers of this month's Lincoln Center Festival to cancel the performance of “To the End of the Land,” based on a book by award-winning Israeli author David Grossman. Local police were gearing up for protesters at the debut, on Monday night, with dozens of patrol cars parked an hour beforehand near Gerald W. Lynch Theater in Manhattan.
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Barricades blocking off the entire street were erected to separate supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, from the theatergoers. But as the cast, crew, guests and audience arrived, the space allocated for the demonstration remained empty: Not one BDS supporter showed up to protest the performance.
“To the End of the Land,” directed by Hanan Snir, is a joint production of the Cameri Theater of Tel Aviv and Israel's national Habima theater company. It is based on a critically acclaimed 2008 novel by Grossman, winner of this year's prestigious Man Booker International prize, and one of Israeli’s most prominent anti-occupation voices. The play will be performed nightly through Thursday.
In its call for a boycott, a volunteer organization called Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel did not address Grossman's views or the content of his play, explaining that the performance is “part of the Israeli government’s Brand Israel public relations strategy and the Israeli theater groups involved, Habima and Cameri, have played in and legitimized Israel’s illegal settlements."
Added Adalah-NY: "We are not raising concerns about any artists’ content, or their nationality, but rather about institutions’ structural complicity with a repressive state agenda that repeatedly violates international law.”
Among those attending the premiere were Miri Regev, Israel’s culture minister, who in the past has advocated cessation of funding to productions that are critical of the State of Israel. She said she had not seen the production in Israel, and looked forward to the performance, praising Lincoln Center’s decision not to heed the boycott calls. “This is the way, not to let BDS, which is a new form of anti-Semitism, to take over and boycott Israel and its representatives,” she said.
“BDS helped us sell tickets,” said Dani Dayan, consul general of Israel in New York, who was also on hand. “As soon as they heard about calls to boycott, supporters of Israel bought all the tickets.”
“We made lemonade out of lemons!” laughed Regev.
Although the BDS protesters never showed up, a few activists from the Jewish Defense League – an extreme-right group founded by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, which has been described as a terror organization by the FBI – decided to show support for the play and stood across the street, waving Israeli, American and JDL flags.
The gathering was organized by Karen Lichtbraun, who has been leading the efforts to revive JDL in New York, among other things by holding counter protests at various BDS-supported events in recent months.
“JDL is filling a void," she said. "We are confronting BDS in New York, in a nonviolent manner. Someone has to do it.”
While it may seem strange for Meir Kahane fans to defend a production based on the work of a left-wing artist like David Grossman, Lichtbraun doesn’t see it that way. She said she is familiar with the plot, and intends to read the novel.
"I’m very curious,” Lichtbraun said. “I know the play is about a mother and her son who's going to the army, and her feelings in reference to that. I’m supporting free speech, and he," she added, referring to Grossman, "is allowed to have his political views. The play is not political, I’m supporting Israel.”