Palestinian activists protest at Israeli Shakespeare production

May 29, 2012

Israeli national theatre company was invited to London Globe as part of Shakespeare festival


PRO-PALESTINIAN activists have been thrown out of a performance of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice put on by the Israeli national theatre company at the London's Globe Theatre.

The BBC reports that a silent protest descended into chaos with scuffles breaking out during the performance by Tel Aviv's Habima company (pictured) last night. Between 15 and 20 people were removed after unfurling banners and Palestinian flags. One man was arrested on suspicion of assault.

The performance continued despite the disruption.

The Thames-side theatre, which is showing 37 of Shakespeare's plays performed in 37 languages over six weeks as part of the Globe to Globe festival, was aware of the controversial nature of the production and had taken measures to minimise disruption. Organisers boosted security for the performance, using airport-style metal detectors and bag searches on audience members.

The protests came after a group of 40 high-profile film and theatre personalities, including Mark Rylance, Mike Leigh and Emma Thompson, called for the Globe to boycott Habima over its performances in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

In a letter to The Guardian they said Habima had "a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory". They added that, by inviting Habima to perform, Shakespeare's Globe had "undermined the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to break international law".

The Globe defended its decision by saying the festival was a celebration of languages, not nations or states, and that "people meeting and talking and exchanging views is preferable to isolation and silence".

Pro-Palestinian activists were not convinced. Protester 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."

But pro-Israeli groups thought it was only fair that the Tel Aviv theatre company should be allowed its moment in the spotlight. A spokesman for the Zionist Federation, Melvin Berwald, said: "This is a wonderful cultural event and is about celebrating Jewish culture. The Palestinian company were here a few weeks ago, now it's Habima's turn".

Sign up for our daily newsletter