31 - 05
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
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
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
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.”