Additionally, about 300 people gathered outside the Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv to protest its decision to perform in Ariel. Protest participants included current and former Knesset ministers, actors, playwrights, veteran peace activists, and the former editor-in-chief of the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv. “Where there is occupation, there is no culture,” read some rally banners.
Perhaps even more impressive, and certainly surprising, is the support for the Ariel boycott coming from over 150 stage and screen actors, directors, writers, producers, and composers in the United States. Organized by Jewish Voice for Peace, a “national membership organization dedicated to a just peace in Israel/Palestine based on equality and international law,” a statement has been released, calling the Ariel boycott “brave” and “courageous” and correctly noting the clear illegality of the West Bank colonies “by all standards of international law.” The statement continues,
Most of us are involved in daily compromises with wrongful acts. When a group of people suddenly have the clarity of mind to see that the next compromise looming up before them is an unbearable one — and when they somehow find the strength to refuse to cross that line — we can’t help but be overjoyed and inspired and grateful.
It’s thrilling to think that these Israeli theatre artists have refused to allow their work to be used to normalize a cruel occupation which they know to be wrong, which violates international law and which is impeding the hope for a just and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike. They’ve made a wonderful decision, and they deserve the respect of people everywhere who dream of justice. We stand with them.
The signatories, among them “four Pulitzer Prize winners, several recipients of Guggenheim Fellowships, a MacArthur Fellowship, a National Medal of Honor, and scores of recipients of the highest U.S. acting honors, including Tony Awards, Emmy Awards, Grammy Awards, Obie Awards, Drama Desk Awards,” include Tony Kushner, Vanessa Redgrave, Stephen Sondheim, Roseanne Barr, Julianne Moore, Ed Asner, Cynthia Nixon, Mary Rodgers, Jennifer Tilly, Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, Theodore Bikel, Stephen Webber, Mira Nair, Hal Prince, Bill Irwin, James Schamus, Eve Ensler, and Sheldon Harnick.
A story in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s leading daily newspaper, reported that, once news of the Jewish Voice for Peace letter surfaced, several noted Hollywood actors asked the Israel consul general in Los Angeles whether or not they should sign the statement. They were told, “Instead of getting involved in such matters it would be more helpful to support Israeli culture which needs such help. They shouldn’t involve themselves in domestic Israeli politics. What’s more, Ariel is within the Israeli consensus.” The consulate then turned to “key members of the Hollywood entertainment industry asking them to persuade others not to sign.”
Beyond the sheer creepiness of these American actors taking their marching orders from the Israeli consulate (not to mention the willingness of the consulate to give those orders), the hypocrisy of the consul general is staggering. For instance, when actor Jon Voight, who is a fervent Zionist, declared his support of Jewish colonization of Palestine and opposition to Palestinian self-determination by stating, “God gave this land to the Jewish people,” later accusing President Barack Obama of lying “to the Jewish people” and promoting anti-Semitism by pursuing policies that, in his mind, are “putting Israel in harm’s way,” the Israeli consul general was silent. Clearly, Voight’s opinions are in line with official Israeli policy and didn’t constitute unnecessary interference in Israeli affairs. Furthermore, the consul’s statement that “Ariel is within the Israeli consensus” is a lie. It’s not. It’s illegal under international law and is, at present, undoubtedly not a part of Israel proper, regardless of what any future bogus “peace” agreement may determine.
Actor Wallace Shawn, a Jewish Voice for Peace statement signatory and one of the letter’s drafters, explained his view on the ongoing efforts to legitimize West Bank settlements, saying, “Most of us, including actors, just want to lead a quiet life. And most of us go through our entire lives without doing anything really courageous, without risking anything important to us. But when asked to perform in an illegal settlement for an all-Jewish audience, as if this were one more ordinary theater, they had the guts to say no.” He continued, “To do a play in that new theater helps to make the settlement seem like a permanent part of the landscape, but the settlements are obstacles to peace and morally unjustifiable on top of that,” adding, “Theater is the art of truth, and the Israeli artists are following their own truth.”
Boy Oh Boycott!
While the frustrated reactions of those who encourage garrison-colonialism and support in Jewish exceptionalism and supremacy over the inalienable human rights, sovereignty, and self-determination of Palestine’s indigenous population is both predictable and easily dismissed, the debate now raging within so-called progressive circles, among the alleged advocates of “peace and justice,” is far more important.
While the Israeli artist boycott of Ariel (and its supporters worldwide) has been widely praised as an unprecedented act of courage and conscience, the morality and effectiveness of a broader international campaign is still a hotly-contested subject. Essentially, regardless of the absurd attacks one might receive from the Eretz Yisrael crowd, the condemnation and even symbolic boycott of West Bank settlements like Ariel, is relatively easy.
After all, funding for such illegal projects comes, in part, from Christian Zionists like pastor John Hagee, who has donated at least $500,000 to the Ariel colony. In return for his financial (and ideological) support, “a special dedication ceremony was held naming the main building of the [Ariel settlement’s] Lowell Milken Family Sports & Recreation Complex in honor of John Hagee Ministries” prior to Ariel’s “Night To Honor Those Who Honor Israel” celebration in April 2008. The settlement’s own website states that “those in attendance gave resounding applause as Mayor Ron Nachman and Pastor John Hagee uncovered the sign naming the almost completed building” and quotes Nachman as telling those gathered, “Here in the hills of Samaria, in the heart of Biblical Israel, you are now well-rooted in the Land. Not just by talking but by doing, you have made this possible.” One can be sure that the subsequent ovation for Hagee, who has said that “turning part or all of Jerusalem over to the Palestinians would be tantamount to turning it over to the Taliban,” was, well, rapturous.
The settlement’s website lays the hasbara on thick when describing its vital support from organizations like Hagee’s Christians United for Israel:
Ariel has been so very fortunate in developing strong relationships with Christian Zionist communities around the world whose deep and abiding love for Israel and the Jewish people is completely unconditional. These dear friends visit us frequently, (despite the fact that we live in a tough neighborhood), are often the first to call when times are particularly difficult, express interest in the needs of the residents of Ariel, respect our choice to live in an area of Israel that is sometimes disputed and fund projects that truly make a difference in our city and in our everyday lives. In short, they are true friends of Israel and Ariel.
It’s probably safe to say that the Israeli consulate general hasn’t told Hagee and his flock to mind their own business and refrain from involving themselves in “domestic Israeli politics.”
If the militant, messianic, and wholly illegal aspects of West Bank settlements aren’t enough to demand a boycott, basic morality might do the trick. Beyond stealing Palestinian land for colonization, settlers also steal natural resources, such as water, which is also a gross violation of Israel’s obligations as an occupying power. So offensive are these settlements and so racist their residents that not only do they and the occupying infrastructure upon which they rely obviously discriminate against the native Palestinian population from whom they steal via an apartheid highway system, checkpoints, road blocks, and curfews, but they also discriminate against each other. For instance, the Israeli Education Ministry has recently upheld a request by a religious school in the illegal Israeli settlement of Immanuel to segregate white Jewish students from non-white Jewish students in classrooms. As such, “74 white girls who have been studying in a building next to the school will now be allowed to study in whites-only classrooms that are privately funded, as their parents claim they do not want their girls to study in racially-mixed classrooms.”