Five professors from the Yale School of Drama joined 150 American theater and film professionals last week in signing a statement in support of the Israeli artists who are boycotting the controversial new theaters in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
In late August, more than 50 prominent Israeli actors, directors and playwrights issued a petition declaring their refusal to perform in the state-financed theaters in Ariel because they say the settlement violates international law and hinders the Israel-Palestine peace process.
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Parliament members responded with swift condemnation, the protesters gained endorsement from American artists, including celebrities such as Julianne Moore, Theodore Bikel, Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Kushner. Five members of Yale School of Drama — Dean James Bundy DRA ’95 and professors Elizabeth Diamond, Elinor Fuchs, Gordon Rogoff ’52 and Paula Vogel — as well as Divinity School visiting professor David Michalek also registered their support.
“In signing the letter, I was voicing my support for artists whose moral choice is not to provide their services in the settlements,” Bundy said in an e-mail. “It seems to me that their stance is based on reasonable and honorable perspectives they have expressed both about international law and about their contractual obligations.”
Bundy added that to suggest that culture should be separated from politics, as several Israeli officials have, is to neglect fundamental responsibilities of the artist and of the democratic state.
“Truly, even an apolitical artistic response in this case would have been political,” he said. “If these artists had agreed to perform in the settlements, they would have been supporting political policy with which they do not agree.”
The West Bank was Jordanian territory between 1948 and 1967, when the Israeli military conquered the area. Since then, some 300,000 Jewish settlers have moved into the West Bank, which is primarily occupied by Palestinians.
The endorsement signed by Yale professors and organized by Jewish Voice for Peace, an American left-wing Jewish group, says the artists “deserve the respect of people everywhere who dream of justice.”
“You have this impasse that is ridiculous and cruel to the citizens of both sides, ” Rogoff said. “I think the theater group in Israel is doing an honorable thing to really raise a fuss about the treatment of people who also belong there and constantly being ignored or condescended to.”
The theaters subjected to the protest operate largely under public funding. The Israeli government threatened the theaters with a withdrawal of funds if they failed to continue performing.
“It’s not like in an American situation, where individual actors might be taking individual actions,” Fuchs said. “Here the state is asking them to appear there. This is a much more direct, active resistance. It does strengthen my feeling of solidarity with them.”
One of the first plays scheduled to be staged in Ariel, Bertolt Brecht’s “Caucasian Chalk Circle,” focuses directly on a dispute over which of two groups should have the right to live and work on a contested piece of land. The theaters have announced they will go ahead with the shows as planned and the boycotters will be replaced with other performers.