Theater artists & activists ask Toronto, NYC & Pittsburgh arts orgs to cancel Israeli government-sponsored theater performances


New York, NY, October 2, 2018 – Palestinian arts and solidarity organizations, along with US Jewish and Israeli groups, have joined theater artists in signing a letter calling on Toronto, New York and Pittsburgh arts organizations not to host Israel’s Gesher Theatre or partner with the Israeli government, citing their involvement in violations of Palestinian rights. Award-winning actors Kathleen Chalfant and Miriam Margolyes, and playwrights Caryl Churchill, Betty Shamieh, Naomi Wallace, and Anne Washburn are among the artists who signed the letter.

Gesher Theatre says their Canadian and US performances were “made possible with the generous support of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” At their opening Toronto performance Saturday night hosted by the Ontario Heritage Trust, supporters of Palestinian rights handed out flyers calling for a boycott of Gesher Theatre, and held aloft a large sign saying “Your Event is Sponsored by the Israeli government. Its Military Killed 150 Unarmed Palestinian Protesters in Gaza This Summer.” In a statement, the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid in Toronto said, "We protested Gesher Theatre’s opening night in Toronto to show the event for what it really is – an effort by the Israeli government to distract attention away from its violations of Palestinians' rights.”

Gesher Theatre will perform in New York City over the next week hosted by the Cherry Orchard Festival, and in Pittsburgh the week after, hosted by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. The hosting organizations addressed in the letter are advertising Israeli government sponsorship of the performances, and Israeli officials are promoting the tour on social media. Organizations from each of the three host cities are among the letter’s signers.

The letter – now signed by 30 organizations, 34 theater artists, and 1200 other individuals – was emailed to the US host organizations and then released publicly on Sunday. It says that the Gesher Theatre’s US and Canadian tour supports “the Israeli government in implementing its systematic ‘Brand Israel’ strategy of employing arts and culture to divert attention from the state’s decades of violent colonization, brutal military occupation, and denial of Palestinian refugees’ right of return.” The letter also asserts that Gesher Theatre is “actively complicit in the occupation and colonization of the West Bank" because it has performed in Israeli settlements, and is “also complicit through its silence, and failure to ever oppose Israel’s decades of repression of Palestinians, including Palestinian artists."

One signer of the letter, Dan Fishback from the Jewish Voice for Peace Artists Council, explained, "As a playwright who has been censored, I really hate censorship. That's one of the reasons I oppose the Israeli state, which regularly censors and punishes Palestinian artists like Dareen Tatour over their speech, and purposefully destroys Palestinian cultural institutions. We in the BDS movement are asking Israeli artists to say no to their government's oppressive policies, and to reject their government's Brand Israel propaganda funding. In accepting that funding, Gesher Theatre has allowed themselves to become a tool of a government that all people of conscience must oppose. This is not about their speech, artistry or identity – this is about the state that is exploiting them in the service of a cruel political goal."

Kate Daher from from the Pittsburgh Palestine Solidarity Committee, which has been organizing to oppose the performances there, added, “Until all Palestinians are able to move freely and to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and until they are living with full and unequivocal human and civil rights, the international community will continue the cultural and academic boycott.”

Citing recent cancelations of shows in Israel by performers like Lana Del Rey and Lorde, observers say that support is growing for the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS is modeled on the global boycott movement that helped to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa, and calls for freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people. The growing support has come against the backdrop of Israel’s killing of over 150 unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, its planned demolition of the West Bank Palestinian village of Khan Al Ahmar, and the official enshrinement of Israel’s apartheid rule over Palestinians through the new Nation State Law.

The letter emphasized that the signers “are not raising concerns about any artistic content, or the artists’ nationality, but rather about institutions’ structural complicity with a repressive state agenda that repeatedly violates international law.” In 2017 a number of prominent theatre artists signed onto a letter asking Lincoln Center to cancel Israeli government-sponsored performances by Israel’s Ha’bima and Cameri theaters.