Letter calling on Joyce Theater to revoke support of “Brand Israel” Batsheva dance performances

J. Kerry Clayton, Board Chair, Joyce Theater
Linda Shelton, Executive Director, Joyce Theater

June 20, 2018

Dear Mr. Clayton and Ms. Shelton,

We are advocates of social justice living in New York City, writing regarding the July 10-22 performances of Batsheva - The Young Ensemble at the Joyce Theater. We are very concerned about the Israeli government’s support for and branding of these performances, in light of the Israeli military’s recent killing of over 100 unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, and its systematic denial of the rights of the Palestinian people since its founding 70 years ago. We are also troubled that Batsheva Dance has not renounced the Israeli government’s apartheid policies. We call on the Joyce Theater to take action to address these issues in order to maintain your theater’s image as a community institution concerned with the creative power of the arts.

As it stands, the Joyce Theater is collaborating with the Israeli government’s cynical Brand Israel campaign in putting on Batsheva’s performances. Launched in 2005, Brand Israel is a government public relations initiative which uses cultural productions to distract attention from Israel’s systematic abuses of Palestinian rights. The Joyce’s announcement of Batsheva’s performances highlights “Special Support provided by the Office of Cultural Affairs, Consulate General of Israel in New York.” Next to the Israeli Consulate logo is also the logo of “Israel Dance Fest 70,” organized by the Israel Office of Cultural Affairs in North America. The Consulate General of Israel in New York is also listed on your website as one of the Joyce’s government supporters, along with Switzerland and Finland.  

In 2009 Arye Mekel of Israel’s Foreign Ministry explained Brand Israel, stating, "We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits...This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.” Israel’s current Consul General in NYC Dani Dayan, the Joyce’s partner for these performances, and also a leader of Israel’s right-wing settlers, recently reiterated his commitment to the Brand Israel approach, saying, “There are diplomats who see culture as miscellaneous...I see it as an integral part of our effort here.” 

The Israeli government—accused of war crimes, threatened with sanctions, and repressing artists—is a totally inappropriate partner for the Joyce Theater. In the Gaza Strip, an open air prison with 2 million Palestinian residents, over the last months Israeli snipers have killed over 100 unarmed protesters, including medics, journalists and children, and maimed many more, leading Human Rights Watch to call for “targeted sanctions against officials responsible for ongoing serious human rights violations.” In the West Bank, 300 public figures, including many artists, just issued a letter saying Israel’s plans to “forcibly transfer” thousands of Palestinians from their communities, if executed, will constitute a “war crime” committed by Israeli government officials. Israel’s plans carry out forcible transfer to expand the more than 100 Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land in violation of international law.

Artists and even dancers are not spared from Israel’s abuses. Israel’s Jewish and Palestinian citizen/artists are targets of escalating repression by the Israeli government, while attacks on Palestinian artists living under Israeli military occupation are commonplace. Palestinian dancers are sometimes prohibited by the Israeli government from traveling for practices and performances, and have even been beaten and arrested for trying to perform.

The Joyce Theater should also not be contributing to Israeli government “festivals” marking Israel’s 70th anniversary by promoting “Israel Dance Fest 70.” Israel was established 70 years ago through the mass expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from their homes and villages—a catastrophe, or Nakba, for Palestinians. The expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians was a deliberate and systematic act planned by Zionist leaders and carried out by pre-state Zionist militias, and later the Israeli army. Israel has since denied Palestinian refugees their right of return to their homes and villages, as mandated by international law. Celebration of 70 years of dispossession of the Palestinian people should not be supported by the Joyce Theater.

Batsheva Dance legitimizes Israel’s repressive policies through Brand Israel events, and by willingly serving as what Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs touts as “perhaps the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture.” While individual members of Batsheva Dance have at times critiqued specific Israeli government actions, Batsheva Dance as an institution has not, and has instead been complicit. 

Palestinian civil society has called for an economic, academic and cultural boycott—modeled on the global boycott that helped to end apartheid in South Africa—to pressure Israel to respect Palestinians’ fundamental rights. The Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement focuses not on individuals, but on the Israeli government and complicit companies and institutions. By partnering with the Israeli government, the Joyce Theater has taken a side, crossed the Palestinian picket line, and is supporting the Israeli government’s cynical Brand Israel PR strategy. 

The Joyce cannot promote dance as a creative, powerful force while partnering with a government that represses basic freedoms, including artistic expression. The Joyce should promote, in the words of the renowned Palestinian American scholar Edward Said, “the power of culture over the culture of power.” To preserve its credibility, the Joyce Theater must end all partnerships with the Israeli government, revoke the existing Israeli government support for and branding of Batsheva Dance’s upcoming performances, and not partner with Batsheva Dance until it repudiates the Israeli government’s systematic denial of Palestinian rights.

We would like to schedule a meeting with you to discuss these issues in person in the coming days. We look forward to your response.

Thank you,

Adalah-NY: Campaign for the Boycott of Israel

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