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The Buzz, 2-19: Branding Israel
Boycott & Picket Batsheva at BAM & Everywhere

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2009 Paul Ben-Itzak

"I think it's not really going to make a difference to boycott a dance company.... The boycott is just preventing something that is good.... I think artists belong to a group of people who don't represent the ugly side of Israel."

-- Ohad Naharin, artistic director, Batsheva Dance Company, commenting in Straight.Com, February 12, ahead of Batsheva's Feb. 20-21 Vancouver engagement.

"The Brand Israel project, which was created during [foreign minister Tzipi] Livni's tenure, seeks to counter the country's aggressive and religious image abroad, using common marketing tools. If Israel is perceived as a hard, unpleasant place, resembling an armed evangelical village in Texas, then it is worthwhile to reveal softer sides to the West."

-- Aluf Benn, Ha'aretz, February 18

"What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.... A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the Earth."

-- The Bible

Here's the context of Batsheva's North American tour, which culminates March 4 - 7 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music: Rather than alter its genocidal policies towards the Palestinians whom, as an occupying power, it has a legal obligation to *protect*, Israel has responded with a PR campaign, "Brand Israel," designed to portray its 'softer' side and give a veneer of Western civilization to a country whose most recent slaughters in Gaza were barbaric. How could the beautiful bikini-clad Israeli soldiers featured in Maxim magazine in 2007 -- in a photo-spread *sponsored* by the Israeli Foreign Ministry -- possibly be guilty of the kind of war crimes reported by objective observers in Gaza, including dropping illegal phosperous bombs on a United Nations facility and bombing UN schools as well as hospitals and civilian homes, mowing down civilians after ordering them to leave buildings, killing more than 1300 people a third of whom were children, preventing medical aid from getting to the wounded, etcetera, etcetera?

A protester at a Chicago performance of Israel's Batsheva Dance Company. Photo by and copyright Christine Geovanis, HammerHard MediaWorks, Chicago.

So Ohad Naharin, rather self-servingly and -- for someone who claims the mantle of artist to confer on himself a sort of moral immunity -- cynically, thinks that "it's not really going to make a difference to boycott a dance company." A month and a half and 1,000 victims ago, I pointed out that the question was not whether a dance company should be singled out for boycott, but whether a dance company should get a get-out-of-boycott free card. What's so special, after all, about Ohad Naharin and Batsheva that they should merit such an exemption? Has Naharin, all of whose company, including himself, have served in the Israeli army, voiced any kind of objection to what his country has wrought that would lead us to believe he's not among the 90 percent of Israelis who supported those actions? No. But today, in the context of a PR campaign that seeks to distort the cruel Israeli reality by distracting us with images of (largely feminine) beauty, I would say that not only is Batsheva guilty of doing nothing to oppose its country's violence, but as a government-sponsored self-proclaimed ambassador of Israel, it is culpable in Israel's campaign to (literally) white-wash its bloody image. "I think artists belong to a group of people who don't represent the ugly side of Israel," Naharin says. Exactly. And this image is a lie. This is not America, where roughly 50 percent -- sometimes more, sometimes less -- opposed the Bush government's illegal and murderous war on Iraq, and where numerous artists didn't just impotently wring their hands about the violence on both sides but risked their careers to publicly denounce their own government's actions. This is Israel, where 90 percent -- *90 percent*! -- supported a policy in which civilians, including on internationally protected grounds, including women, children, and non-combatant men, were targeted and killed. (You aim at an obviously civilian facility, car, or home; you fire lethal weapons at it; you block medical aid from getting to the survivors -- voila, you're targeting civilians.) And where Ohad Naharin has not publicly denounced his country's actions. Brand Israel? I say that today, the Israel brand has come to represent genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and anything but Jewish values, never mind the Israeli rabbis who try to justify the killing of Arabs. I say that Israel and its ambassadors, including the 'artistic' ones like Ohad Naharin and his company, are now branded with the mark of Cain. I say, let's boycott this company and make it and any other representative of its country -- no matter how superficially beautiful -- a vagabond and a fugitive on the Earth until it stops slaying its brother.

For more on the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, click here.


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