David Hirsh from Engage has written a thoughtful (ok, ok, bloody brilliant) review of Israel's Habima Theater and the failed attempts to censor and disrupt the Israeli troops performance of "The Merchant of Venice"
"Portia, Shylock and the exclusion of Israeli actors from the global cultural community"
To David, the audience at the Globe "was there to face down those who said that Israeli actors should be excluded from the global community of culture, while actors from all the other states which had been invited to the Globe were celebrated in a festival of the Olympic city’s multiculturalism." After all, the Globe had hosted theater troops from all over the world from such bastions of human rights as South Africa, Georgia, Palestine, Turkey and China.
First, he provides context:
"Since some rather nasty medieval stuff, London and Jews have got on fairly well. London stood firm against Hitler, and the local Blackshirts too; it didn’t mind much whether Jews stayed separate or whether they immersed themselves in its vibrancy; it didn’t feel threatened, it didn’t worry, it just let Jews live engaged lives. But London’s very post-nationalism, and its post-colonialism, has functioned as the medium for a rather odd new kind of intolerance.
Sometimes, we define our own identities in relation to some ‘other’. Early Christianity defined itself in relation to the Jews who refused to accept its gospel, and it portrayed them as Christ-killers. If people wanted to embrace modernity, then they sometimes constructed themselves as being different from the traditional Jew with his beard and coat, standing against progress. Yet if they were afraid of the new then they could define themselves against the modernist Jew. Nineteenth Century nationalists often defined the Jew as the foreigner. Twentieth Century totalitarianisms, which had universal ambition, found their ‘other’ in the cosmopolitan Jew.
These processes created an invented image of ‘The Jew’ and the antisemites portrayed themselves as victims of ‘The Jew’. Antisemitism has only ever portrayed itself as defensive."
"Some people who love London’s relaxed, diverse, antiracism look for an ‘other’ against which to define themselves. They find Israel. They make it symbolise everything against which they define themselves: ethnic nationalism, racism, apartheid, colonialism. London’s shameful past, not to mention in some ways its present, is cast out and thrust upon Israel. London was within a few thousand votes last month of re-electing a mayor, Ken Livingstone, who embraced this kind of scapegoating...'
We can tell that this hostility to Israel is as artificially constructed as any antisemitism by looking at the list of theatre groups against which the enlightened ones organized no boycott. Antizionists have created a whole new ‘-ism’, a worldview, around their campaign against Israel. Within it, a caricature of Israel is endowed with huge symbolic significance which relates only here and there to the actual state, to the complex conflict and to the diversity of existing Israelis. If the Palestinians stand, in the antizionist imagination, as symbolic of all the victims of ‘the west’ or ‘imperialism’ then Israel is thrust into the centre of the world as being symbolic of oppression everywhere. Like antisemitism, antizionism imagines Jews as being central to all that is bad in the world.
One of the sources of energy for this special focus on Israel comes from Jewish antizionists. For them, as for many other Jews, Israel is of special importance. For them, Israel’s human rights abuses, real, exaggerated or imagined, are sources of particular pain, sometimes even shame. Some of them take their private preoccupation with Israel and try to export it into the cultural and political sphere in general, and into non-Jewish civil society spaces where a special focus on the evils of Israel takes on a new symbolic power. But the ‘as a Jew’ antizionists are so centred on Israel that they often fail to understand the significance of the symbolism which they so confidently implant into the antiracist spaces of old London."
Regarding the protestors, he asks
"Do the protestors think that this is an antisemitic play? Perhaps they felt that this was the ‘Zionists’ rubbing the history of antisemitism in the faces of London and then by proxy, the Palestinians. Isn’t that the source of Zionist power today? Their ability to mobilize Jewish victimhood and their ownership of the Holocaust. This, again, is an old libel, that the Jews are so clever and so morally lacking, that they are able to benefit from their own persecution. When will the world forgive the Jews for antisemitism and the Holocaust?"
Read David Hirsh's complete essay here .