Actress Emma Thompson’s decision to join a group of 35 artistes protesting the inclusion of an Israeli theater in a Shakespeare festival this summer in London has sparked controversy.
The two time Oscar winner Thompson joined a list of 35 people from arts – playwrights, actors, film makers – who wrote a letter published in The Guardian on March 29 to regret that Israeli theater Habima would perform “The Merchant of Venice” at the Globe to Globe festival in London in May.
Habima, they argue, has “a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory. Last year, two large Israeli settlements established ‘halls of culture’ and asked Israeli theatre groups to perform there. A number of Israeli theatre professionals – actors, stage directors, playwrights – declared they would not take part.”
The letter goes on to state: “Habima, however, accepted the invitation with alacrity, and promised the Israeli minister of culture that it would ‘deal with any problems hindering such performances’. By inviting Habima, Shakespeare’s Globe is undermining the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to break international law.”
The festival will see 37 theater companies from around the world perform various Shakespeare’s plays in their respective languages. The Palestinian theater company Ashter will, for example, perform “Richard II” in Arabic. The world’s youngest nation, South Sudan, will perform “Cymbeline” in Juba Arabic.
Signatories of the letter say their protest is not about the inclusion of the Hebrew language in the festival.
“‘Inclusiveness’ is a core value of arts policy in Britain, and we support it. But by inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practiced by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company. We ask the Globe to withdraw the invitation so that the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonization of occupied land.”
Thompson has attracted the ire of many Jewish and Zionist supporters for her stance, with many blogs and users of social media calling for her films to be boycotted.
Others have pointed to the hypocrisy of the signatories for singling Israel out, saying there has been no protest at China’s inclusion at the festival, arguing that the Chinese state has occupied Tibet. Others have said that Turkish inclusion should also be protested since it occupies parts of Cyprus.
One blog writer by the name Speranza on The Blogmocracy wrote on April 1: “Add her to the list of actors whose films I will never watch even on cable. The funny thing is that I’ll bet in her heart of hearts she does not give a s*** one way or another about Israel, ‘Palestine’ or anything else. She just wants to stay ‘trendy and relevant’ in today’s Londonistan. The National Theatre of China is ok but not Habimah?”