‘Brand Israel’ will always be opposed

Every dance performance by Brand Israel asset Batsheva at the Edinburgh International Festival in August, and across the UK in November has been protested outside and inside. The protests and protest logo were also in evidence at Batsheva performances in Rome and Turin in the same month. From the opening confrontations in Edinburgh to the spirited finale in Plymouth, via vigorous protests at every venue across the UK, rising anger at Israel’s crimes found expression in determined direct action against a dance troupe substantially funded by the same state that paid and equipped pilots to burn and destroy Gaza, killing many of the Palestinians who live there.

A model of campaign coordination pioneered by the Boycott Israel Network meant open decision-making and grass roots logistical cooperation 20120901_183019which gave each protest a sense of inclusivity in a larger campaign called ‘Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid’. The impact of the protests was cumulative as Batsheva moved between venues that were often rather empty, despite the distribution of cheap and even free tickets. Without doubt, the protests have been a resounding success in that the tour was a commercial failure. In Brighton, notably, one of the performances was cancelled due to protest plans. One Edinburgh performance sold 450 tickets in the 1,900-seater Festival Theatre. Later in the tour, sales figures were concealed.

Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid has created opportunities for all those infuriated by Israeli crimes to take effective action directly against a project of the Israeli State. The trade union banners that appeared on the protests in several cities will multiply in future protests.

We have sent a clear message to both Israel and Palestine: Israel’s military think tanks may calculate how many Palestinians they can butcher while remaining acceptable to Western governments and the Israel state may use police violence to break up Palestinian cultural events. But they now know that we will not accept their “cultural ambassadors”, often accompanied by Israeli diplomats, in our cities and towns. While Batsheva’s artistic director Ohad Naharin maintains that the company is not part of ‘Brand Israel’ they are publicly embraced by Israel’s far-right government, whose Culture Minister Limnor Livnat declared “Batsheva Dance Company is one of our flagship cultural institutions”. As Foreign Minister Hague issued statements of support for the bombing of Gaza by Israel, many hundreds of people came together to declare – we are many and determined and we can stop Israel’s cultural ambassadors anywhere in the UK. To fail to protest would be both anti-cultural and conniving in the violation of Palestinian human rights.

During the tour, supporters of Israel maligned protesters as driven by hostility to all Israelis. We ask, which Israelis do they mean? The Israeli State discriminates between Jews and Arabs and legislates in favour of Jewish-Israelis: what kind of ‘democracy’ divides its citizens in this way? We distinguish between a state and its citizens, and are able to hold one guilty of crimes while damning any notion of collective guilt. We celebrate the mutual solidarity between the protesters and Israeli citizens who support human rights for Palestinians. Together we stand in the tradition of those who disrupted apartheid South Africa sporting events to express solidarity with an earlier freedom struggle.

Desperate times call for firmer measures and the UK BDS movement will intensify and escalate its protests and boycotts of any Israeli State-funded cultural troupe. The Zionist project of colonising Palestine has always been identified as a European outpost of so-called civilisation against an inferior people. European civil society needs to repudiate this project emphatically, in line with public opinion which is overwhelmingly hostile or suspicious of Israel’s behaviour.

As long as Israel sees itself as an extension of Europe: a settler colonial project in an Arab zone, no solution to the crisis in the region is possible. The project to drive the apartheid state out of all European institutions is a key contribution we can make to the struggle for freedom now under way across the entire Middle East. Cultural boycott campaigns will play a part.

We never forget what drives us: a thirst for justice. A Palestinian on the Plymouth protest, when asked how his family were, replied, “Strong. They will know in Gaza that we support them.”

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Boycott Israel Network