Protestors have greeted every booking of Israeli dance company Batsheva’s European tour. Its final appearances, at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal on 23 and 24 November, were no exception
Plymouth PSC organised protests on both evenings to raise awareness of Batsheva’s role in Israeli propaganda. Far from being an apolitical dance company, Batsheva is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and has connections to two arms companies. It’s part of Brand Israel, an attempt to whitewash Israeli crimes in Western public opinion. As Arye Mekel of Israel's MFA told a reporter in 2009, ‘This way you show Israel's prettier face’. PSC had asked the theatre to cancel the performances, or allow PSC to put on a talk before the show, but Batsheva had refused both requests.
The PSC protests outside the theatre were buoyant despite 60mph winds and rain, and clearly had an effect. During one performance, three women left the theatre telling us that they felt sick watching Batsheva after reading our leaflet. Another couple who were previously unaware of Batsheva's links to the Israeli government tore up their tickets and didn't go in.
Inside, campaigners on both evenings were able to take direct action to disrupt the performances. On the first night, PSC campaigner Terry Gallogley and Margaret Sheffield broke into the performance with cries of ‘Free Palestine’ before they were ejected to join the protestors outside. On the second night, the direct action was carried out by Joy and Sharen, who had travelled all the way from Dorset and has served twice as an Ecumenical Accompanier in the West Bank.
One of the protest organisers, Hayley Kemp of Plymouth PSC, explained why the protest was important. ‘It’s quite simple for me. People say there shouldn't be a cultural boycott and that people should be free to dance everywhere. But Batsheva are different because they are part of Brand Israel. They’re part of the propaganda machine whitewashing Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people.
‘We are here to say loud and clear that they won't get away with it any longer. The Palestinian people are not free to dance everywhere. The Israeli government would not give them permission to travel. There's a word for that - apartheid. One day I hope that Israeli dancers will return with their free Palestinian brothers and sisters to dance together; that would be a show worth seeing. The last two nights I have stood with others in solidarity with the Palestinian people. It has not been a chore; it has been a privilege to stand with people who despite their own problems they might be facing have not forgotten others who are oppressed and in danger.’