Friends of Sabeel aren’t very friendly

This is a video of Israeli dance troupe Batsheva Dance Company, based in Tel Aviv, performing “Naharin’s Virus“. Some of the music used in the performance was composed by an Arab-Israeli, Habib Alla Jamal.

The Batsheva Dance Company will be touring and performing in the USA and Canada in January, February and March of this year. You can read more about the “hope and tolerance” which define the dance company here.

Yet the Electronic Intifada is encouraging a boycott of the dance troupe, claiming that:

“A recipient of public financing since the 1990s, the dance troupe is clearly an Israeli apartheid cultural institution. Writing October 26, 2008, in The Independent of London, Jenny Gilbert reports that the dance company is “funded by Israel’s government, its performers include none of Arab extraction, and it is ‘proud to be considered Israel’s leading ambassador.'”

(emphasis mine)

In an interview with the Dance Insider, founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and dance enthusiast Omar Barghouti gave his reasons as to why Batsheva Dance Company should be shunned:

“PACBI, including I, call for boycotting ALL Israeli dance companies due to their complicity,” Barghouti explained. “None of them has ever taken a position calling for an end to the occupation, not to mention recognizing UN-sanctioned rights of the refugees or ending racial discrimination against the state’s ‘non-Jewish’ citizens (the remaining indigenous population).”

But is this true?

Let’s have a look at the head choreographer of the Batsheva Dance School, Ohad Naharin.

The Independent reports:

“In interviews, he has supported Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, and criticised the government of Ariel Sharon. On stage, his dancers scribble “PEASTELINA” on the wall and think that that counts as incisive comment.”

New York Metro:

For publicity purposes, much has been made of the fact that Naharin’s Virus, created by the Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin for his Batsheva Dance Company, uses music by the Arab-Israeli composer Habib Alla Jamal. Actually, the 75-minute dance, seen recently at BAM, co-opts only a bit of this engaging material, which is rooted in Arabic folk melodies — along with gleanings from Samuel Barber et al. And although Naharin speaks out publicly for détente in the Arab-Israeli conflict, opposing the current stance of his government, the suggestions of political comment in Virus lie largely in the imagination of the beholder.

Occupation Magazine:

The Israel Prize laureate choreographer Ohad Naharin expressed harsh criticism of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. Naharin said in an interview with the Canadian newspaper The Gazette: “I continue to do my work, while 20 km from me people are participating in war crimes … the ability to detach oneself from the situation – that is what allows one to go on.” The article was published in the arts section of the newspaper. It was reported that Naharin volunteers as a translator for the organization Mahsom-watch. “IDF soldiers calm down only when they fear that their mothers are watching them”, said Naharin. “That’s how abuse of force is reduced.”

“Yediot Ahronot” reports that in another article published in the Canadian newspaper La Presse, Naharin was presented as “a pro-Palestinian who strongly opposes the Israeli occupation.”

Sources in the Foreign Ministry criticized Naharin’s statements and said that they seriously harm the image of Israel, especially in view of his being an Israel Prize laureate.

If Batsheva Dance school really were an “Israeli apartheid cultural institution” as is claimed by the Electronic Intifada and Mr Barghouti, then why is its co-ordinator Ohad Naharin so outspoken in his support for a Palestinian state, even to the concern of the Israeli foreign ministry?

As is clear from both this context, and from the wider PACBI movement, and from what we know of Omar Barghouti himself, a boycott of Israeli Jews is being advocated here simply because the dancers are Israeli Jews. Which is racist.

So who is encouraging this boycott?

According to this notice, Friends of Sabeel North America are sponsoring a “special meeting”:

Batsheva Dance Company Boycott Organizing Meeting
When: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 at 7:30 PM
Where: Memorial Christian Church, 730 Tappan Ave (at Hill), Ann Arbor
What: This is a special meeting sponsored by the Middle East Task Force of Ann Arbor and the Detroit/Ann Arbor Friends of Sabeel — North America. The purpose of the meeting is see if and how the various Palestinian solidarity groups in Ann Arbor and southeast Michigan can work together to respond to the scheduled performance by the Batsheva Dance Company of Tel Aviv on the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus. This meeting is only for people who support the 2004 Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and the 2005 Palestinian Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.

This is no surprise for those already aware of Sabeel’s peace façade, but it is a shame that a group that speaks so fondly of love and justice should be so hateful and intolerant.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Friends of Sabeel aren’t very friendly

  1. Sababa

    Well there’s a surprise, and isn’t this the group that “peacemaker” Stephen Sizer supports so avidly?

  2. Stephen

    a dance group that is an “Israeli apartheid cultural institution”! What a load of old double-speak mumbo jumbo. Is this the best this bunch of armchair radicals can do, fight against a dance group, what a bunch of nazi tossers FOS are.

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