IN PHOTOS ~~ SILENCING THE SONGS AND DANCE OF APARTHEID

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Anti-Apartheid Dance and Songs Meet Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company in Protest at Brooklyn Academy of Music

On busy Lafayette Avenue outside Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), 80 New Yorkers gathered last night to dance and sing in protest of Batsheva Dance Company’s performances in BAM’s 2014 Next Wave Festival (photos). Batsheva’s appearance is part of the “Brand Israel” initiativedesigned to distract from the facts of Israel’s ongoing occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, and its denial of rights to Palestinians the world over. The demonstration was organized by Adalah-NY and endorsed by 15 other local human rights organizations including the BDS Arts Coalition, Brooklyn For Peace, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and the Ya-Ya Network.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs touts Batsheva as “perhaps the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture.” Batsheva is funded in part by that government office as well as by the Ministry of Culture and Sports. While Batsheva artistic director Ohad Naharin has criticized Israeli abuses of Palestinians, Batsheva Dance Company continues in its role as a prominent cultural ambassador of the Israeli state.

The demonstration began with a dabke (traditional Palestinian dance) lesson led by Adalah-NY member Riham Barghouti, with musical accompaniment by the Rude Mechanical Orchestra followed by songs from Dave Lippman. Chants highlighted the disconnect between the Batsheva dancers’ virtuosity and their company’s political role, including, “Their range of motion cannot hide / Their support for apartheid” and “Batsheva gets no ovation / Ambassador for occupation!”

Protester Carlos Pareja, an independent media maker, said, “I support drawing attention to the abuses against the Palestinian people. We can’t have only the ‘nice’ face of Israel, which is what we often see here.” Barghouti echoed that point, telling the crowd, “Today, only a few months after the most brutal of all Israeli attacks against the Gaza Strip—which killed over 2100 Palestinians including 500 children and leveled whole neighborhoods, leading Amnesty International and others to accuse Israel of war crimes—yet again BAM has invited the Israeli dance company Batsheva to whitewash Israel’s crimes.”

Interactions with Brooklynites were mostly positive, as curious people tookflyers and asked questions about the activities. Passersby and BAM ticket holders alike stood and watched the high-energy Freedom Debka Group and the Columbia Palestinian Dabke Brigade, two Palestinian dance troupes. The protest ended with two moving dances by Cetiliztli Nauhcampa Quetzalcoatl, a Mexica danza group, who offered “dance and prayers for dignity and solidarity” with Palestinians during their performance. Dancer Karen Lopez explained afterward, “We are indigenous people who have been displaced and seen our traditions threatened with destruction. We are always there in solidarity and resistance with other displaced peoples, including Palestinians.”

Wednesday night’s protest is part of the global movement of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law. The Palestinian civil society call for BDS includes boycotting Israeli academic and cultural institutions complicit in Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights. Adalah-NY is also organizing a protest next Tuesday, November 18, at the concert of the Touré-Raichel Collective, which features another premiere Israeli “cultural ambassador,” musician Idan Raichel.

More photos from the protest can be found here.

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Photos © by Bud Korotzer, Commentary by Adalah-NY

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2 Comments

  1. joekano76 said,

    November 16, 2014 at 00:14

    Reblogged this on TheFlippinTruth.

  2. maxim waratt said,

    November 16, 2014 at 12:27

    Speaking from experience, when the headwinds of political protest target the arts, it serves mainly to weaken the capacity of an ally against injustice. Art and culture is regularly required to find inner resilience to overcome the undermining pressures that emanate from a combination of reduced resources, societal complacency and exploitable misconception.

    So when calls for a boycott against Batsheva Dance Company rise to the surface under the auspices of protesting the current Israeli government’s policy against the Palestinian people, I know what that means for those of us who work on behalf of the arts. Namely, we will be called to public account for inviting their performances to our venues; we will have to divert precious resources for increased security, and we will be bracing for a maelstrom of conjecture and misinformation of varied consequence.

    As a curator and venue director, these boycotts are designed to pressure organizations to cancel performances, or they apply pressure for the audiences to disengage from attending. They seek to divert people from the experience of the art itself in service to a separate agenda, which disregards the very possibility of having our complacencies disrupted through the expressive strength of being in contact with exceptional artistry. This is exactly what occurs in the choreographies of Batsheva – we are allowed to suspend our disbelief, our complacency is disrupted and new perceptions of what is possible takes root. As such, Batsheva is a voice which inspires authentic change – because it reconnects us to a recognition of responsible humanity. Their art directs attitudes of indifference back towards the lanes of compassion. Which is why the exploitation of their appearances as a political opportunity for boycott is ill conceived.

    Maligning artists as products of a national political agenda because they are citizens of a particular nation, and therefore perceived to be acceptible targets of political condemnation or scorn, is to disregard the role and importance of the arts. Far more often than not, artists themselves are targets of their own governments because they act within the liberty of creative integrity. They stand outside of the status quo and poke directly at corrupted policy. Mobilizing people to take up protest against a foreign government by attacking its artist citizens is to reduce that which activates the emotional terrain required for peace in the first place.

    As news of “a boycott” came to my attention from UCLA student and academic areas in advance of the appearances of Batsheva Dance Company at Royce Hall earlier this month, I recognized the hallmarks of an under-considered action (however well intended). In an attempt to develop and explore a political stance, educational energies began to divert from aesthetics and culture, and onto the organizing tactics and messages associated with the conventions of political action. While the latter is acutely relevant to education and democracy, my concern was that one principle was replacing the other. Dance and aesthetics was poised to be sidelined, and the substance of art and culture was again being neglected.

    In the shadow of this particular spotlight there emerged a palpable risk by association – Batsheva Dance Company would be revised as an instrument of Israeli politics in the hearts and minds of students, which is utterly untrue. It was important to me that in a research university, actual research and thoughtful analysis about the conditions, lineages and circumstances of these artists be incorporated as part of the appropriate need for dialogue. Without it, the ethos of politics and its instruments would dominate the narrative and act as a profound “re-branding” of artistic pursuit and cultural meaning.
    Below are a series of questions and considerations that were posited in order to re-open a dialogue about what it means to be a citizen of a country whose current political leadership you do not abide:

    What it is like to be an artist of the world, a humanitarian and citizen by birth of a country whose elected officials and
    political stances you utterly and painfully disagreed with – oh, wait, that sounds like a lot of people here! Do you
    immigrate? With what resources? And if so, on what grounds are you given permanent residency in another country?
    Are you accepted into another nation because you are a renowned dance maker? And in the very off chance that this
    would constitute justified entry – would that be achievable for your entire dance company, your family members, your
    kids? Could you also relocate the dance school you have built for international exchange? Or, do you walk away from
    your nation, heritage, family, friendships, cultural organization, and your employees and community because you can
    no longer accept or withstand your nation’s political leadership? If so, to what impact? Do you decide to seek asylum –
    and if you do, how might that be granted?

    AND/OR, As a national cultural treasure (established long before the current politicians were elected, and bestowed authentically
    rather than through some kind of application process for self-advancement), do you have responsibility to a bestowed legacy?
    do you remain within the volatility of your nation and circumstance and in so doing do you protest, argue for new policy, and
    utilize your status to generate public debate and inquiry (as Batsheva members do)? Do you have any impact whatsoever in the
    raging political machine of global dimensions? Is your voice – and the voices of your supporters, kin and fellow countrymen –
    worth a damn? At an artistic and humanistic level – which is vitally pertinent in this : Where do you draw strength? What keeps
    you going? How do you address and withstand the scorn of your nation’s politics and policies that are diametrically opposed to
    your artistic endeavor and cultural contributions? Will your dance matter? Will your courage to create — matter?


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