Habima Plays On as Globe Protesters are Thrown Out

Habima Plays On as Globe Protesters are Thrown Out
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Protests spilled into the building on both nights of the company¹s
performances of The Merchant of Venice on Monday and Tuesday.

One pro-Palestinian activist was arrested and one pro-Israeli audience member
was reportedly removed for challenging a protester during the interval.

The scenes echoed the disruption to the Israeli Philharmonic’s performance
at the Royal Albert Hall last year. Unlike in September 2011, however, this
week¹s disruptions were minimal, and the performances, in Hebrew, were
hailed a success. Habima played on as security and police quickly bundled
banner-waving protesters, some of whom shouted their message from the
audience or simply stood up with their mouths taped. Outside the theatre,
ejected protesters emerged through a police cordon to a hero¹s welcome from
fellow campaigners.

Boycott campaign representative Ofer Neiman said tempers flared between the
groups as the audience left. “As people were leaving the theatre, a few of
us chanted slogans. I did so in Hebrew, saying Israel was an apartheid state
and Habima was an apartheid theatre. I faced some very hostile reactions
then.”

The authorities had been prepared for trouble. Police numbers were high and
Globe security personnel were deployed in significant numbers around the
perimeter. Anti- and pro-Israeli protesters were kept apart on opposite
sides of the theatre entrance.

There were Jews and non-Jews on both sides of the divide. Among those waving
Israeli flags on Monday was Belfast-born Simon McIlwaine, a co-director of
Anglican Friends of Israel, who called the anti-Israel protest “unwanted,
unwarranted and disgraceful”.

The spokeswoman for the campaign, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, is herself Jewish.
Trying to make herself heard over her colleague’s rendition of Ode to Joy,
she said Habima had made itself a legitimate target for protest because
Israeli national interests were served by the theatre.

Stefan Kerner, director of public affairs for the Zionist Federation, said
the counter-protest, comprised of up to 150 people, was intended to show
that the theatre was welcome. “The pro-Palestinian groups want to stop them
coming and boycott Israel, and we want to show that there is a different
side of the story. We’re standing up for what we believe is right, and to
defend Israel¹s honour.”

McIlwaine agreed with the sentiment. “There is far too much hatred of Israel
going around at the moment, and I think it¹s important for us decent people
­Christians and Jews alike ­ to stand up and be counted.”

Habima was one of many theatres from around the world invited to perform at
the Globe as part of the Cultural Olympiad. In March, a group of prominent
figures from the arts world called for them to be disinvited.

There was general agreement in some quarters that the protest against Habima
had back-fired. Board of Deputies CEO Jon Benjamin said: “The boycotters
ended up politicising the event with the unintended consequence of the
Israeli performance being full to capacity and the Palestinians¹ being a
sideshow.”

Liberal Judaism¹s chief executive, Rabbi Danny Rich ­ who was joined at
Tuesday night’s performance by the Chief Rabbi and the Israeli Ambassador -­
said: “I am not a fan of boycotts, but even less so when they seem to apply
to Israel and not, for example, to Syria or Saudi Arabia.”

Pro-Palestinian campaigners defended their actions. One, Zoe Mars, said: “We
tried non-violently to convey the message that culture may not be used to
give a civilised gloss to a state that perpetrates human rights abuses.”

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