Emma Thompson backs Israel boycott for Shakespeare festival

Emma Thompson

Emma Thompson

British Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson has added her name to a list of high-profile figures in the arts world calling on the Globe Theatre to cancel its invitation to an Israeli company to next month's Cultural Olympiad event.

Israel's national theatre company, Habima, was invited to stage one of 37 Shakespeare plays in foreign languages as part of the Globe to Globe festival.

Habima will perform The Merchant of Venice, while during the six-week festival the Ramallah-based Ashtar Theatre will put on an Arabic version of Richard II.

The invitation to the Israeli company had already raised concerns of disruption in the manner of the anti-Israel protests during the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's Proms performance last year. In January activists from Boycott From Within, formed by Israelis who back the boycott movement, urged Globe directors to stop the performance. The Globe said "active exclusion was a profoundly problematic stance to take".

Now 37 people have signed a letter calling for Israel to be removed from the roster, including the prominent Jewish anti-Israel activists Miriam Margolyes, David Aukin, Jonathan Miller and Mike Leigh. Also on the list is the star of the play Jerusalem, Mark Rylance.

Writing that Habima should be boycotted because it had performed in Israeli settlements, the signatories said: "By inviting Habima, Shakespeare's Globe is undermining the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to break international law."

The signatories said they had no problem with the Globe including a Hebrew - language performance. "But by inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practised by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company," they said. "We ask the Globe to withdraw the invitation so that the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land."

The writers added that "Inclusiveness" is a core value of arts policy in Britain, and we support it."

Earlier this year the Globe said Habima was "the most well-known and respected Hebrew-language theatre company in the world" and so "a natural choice to any programmer wishing to host a dramatic production in Hebrew".

"They are committed, publicly, to providing an ongoing arena for sensible dialogue between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians."

The letter provoked a response from Professor Geoffrey Alderman, who said: "The activities of the Habima theatre company in connection with the Israeli communities that live in these areas is therefore entirely legitimate."

Speaking to the JC last year, Rut Tonn of the Habima Theatre said it was a blessing that Israelis and Palestinians could take part. "We are always looking for collaborations which will help with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Last updated: 10:40am, April 2 2012