Anti-Israel protests fail to silence Habima Globe performance

Habima perform at the Globe

Habima perform at the Globe

Anti-Israel protesters attempted to disrupt the Habima Theatre's performance of The Merchant of Venice at the Globe Theatre on Monday evening.

As Shylock wrestled with removing his tefillin on stage, a group of pro-Palestinian activists unfurled flags and banners reading Israeli apartheid live on stage.

The Globe's artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole, appealed for protesters not to disturb the show in a speech before the curtain went up.

But the pro-Palestinian activists ignored him and several were removed from the theatre by security officials after shouting, waving banners and disturbing other audience members.

In his opening speech, Mr Dromgoole described Habima as "a fantastic company".

He said: "Could I urge people not to respond to protests: no vigilante behaviour, please. You are not watching politicians, but artists, who have come here to tell a story. Please listen to them with respect and containment."

Six protesters were also physically picked up by their hands and feet by security after they began screaming and refused to stop or leave the venue. A further five, one woman and four men, stood with gags over their mouths for the duration of the first half.

With pro and anti Israel demonstrators outside the theatre, there were lengthy security checks on arrival and a heavy police presence as well as extra security organised by the Globe. Demonstrators handed out leaflets reading "Shakespeare says No to occupation and cololonisation". The Zionist Federation responded with a flier that said: "Culture Unites, Boycotts Divide."

A man was arrested on suspicion of assault outside the Globe after a security guard was injured, and remains in police custody.

Despite protesters wielding signs that read "Israel is an apartheid state" the Habima actors maintained their composure and the show went on.

The Hebrew-language performance, the first of two, was arranged as part of the Globe Theatre's Cultural Olympiad Shakespeare festival. Habima's presence at the festival has been the subject of a concerted boycott campaign by anti-Israel activists, but despite the calls for the Globe to cancel the show, it went ahead with a sell-out performance.

"A great performance, great audience," read a message posted on Habima's Twitter account after the show. "Thank you everyone!"

Liberal Democrat MEP, Sarah Ludford, who attended the show, noted: "One could think of far stronger candidates [for boycott] such as China, so hypocrisy is at work here."

"As a basic liberal principle, freedom of artistic expression has to be protected. Wanting to block a bold Israeli production of Merchant with its antisemitic portrayal of Shylock is also a rich irony."

Last updated: 10:47am, May 29 2012