Human rights activists from Vermont, New York and Israel interrupted a performance of the Israel Ballet at the Flynn Theater in Burlington, VT on Friday, February 19th, calling attention to the dance company’s complicity in Israeli war crimes.
Using two banners that read "No Tutu is Big Enough to Cover Up War Crimes" and "Sponsored by Apartheid Israel", the activists, who had purchased tickets to the show, positioned themselves in front of the stage during the opening scenes of the performance. Two audience members attempted to pull the banners down but the activists managed to hold onto them for about 30 seconds before being asked to leave by ushers.
Former Israeli soldier and human rights activist Yonatan Shapira, who took part in the action said: "The Israel Ballet comes to the U.S. during a concerted effort by the Israeli government to use arts and culture to whitewash Israeli war crimes and to conceal facts about its occupation and racial discrimination against the Palestinian people. Rather than distancing itself from the Israeli government, the ballet has proudly embraced its ties with the state." The Israel Ballet receives around $1 million annually from the Israeli government and is being advertised as a valued cultural representative of the state by the Israeli Consulate in New York. The dance group also boasts holding "special performances" for Israeli soldiers. Shapira is an army refuser who is active with Boycott!, the Israeli group who supports the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli state.
Also joining in the action were Burlington-based David Symons who is a performer of Yiddish music, and Brooklyn-based theater artist and teacher Brian Pickett, who commented: "We took this action tonight to educate the public and to deliver a strong message to the Israeli government and affiliated institutions, that while Palestinians are being denied their rights, there will not be business as usual." In a letter to Israeli news website YNET, Symons explained the action further: "As performers and people in the arts ourselves disrupting a ballet was not something we took lightly. It was ultimately decided that there is always a price to pay when one wishes to change the status quo and, in light of Israel’s outrageous and unacceptable behavior toward Palestinians and Lebanese, and its attempt to distract attention from its crimes with brightly-colored artistic and cultural products, the price, in this case, was worth it."
The action in Burlington takes place as part of a larger call to boycott Israeli Cultural and Academic institutions that do not openly denounce Israeli crimes against Palestinians and dissociate themselves from Israeli policy. The boycott call has its roots in Palestinian civil society, which in 2004, led by the newly formed Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), called on colleagues in the international community "to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions until Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid."
The Israel Ballet will continue on the East Coast leg of its 2010 US tour, with additional protests planned for its Worcester, Brooklyn and Buffalo performances. The call to boycott the Israel Ballet’s U.S. tour has been endorsed by Adalah-NY, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within, and American Jews for a Just Peace .
Sam Mayfield is a Burlington, VT based videographer and editor. Her video stories have appeared online in the Nation magazine, Alternet, Z-Magazine, the Progressive, on Grit TV and on Democracy Now!.