Silencing Voices – Why Cancelling Incubator’s ‘The City’ Is Wrong.
This Spectator article says some of what I wanted to say about the cancellation of the Incubator (an Israeli theatre company) show The City at the Edinburgh Fringe. I disagree with some of it – the fact that the article dismisses the show as being automatically rubbish because it’s a hip-hop opera is potentially a flippant joke, but is actually a fairly idiotic comment. The genre of the show is irrelevant and so is the writer’s taste in theatre. The content of the show is relevant though. The show does not appear to be incendiary in any way. It’s not about the conflict. At least, I don’t think it is.
One of the many sad things here is that the company didn’t get the chance to perform their show once. They should have been judged, like all art, on the basis of merit and quality. Not on the fact that they come from a country that happens to be in the middle of a cyclical and on-going conflict. Further to that, it sets an unnerving precedent for other groups who enjoy a good protest. Oh, the EDL don’t like a show with mixed races in? Quick, stage a big enough protest and venues like the Underbelly will cancel the show. That’s not what the arts are about.
There are people on both sides suffering. But what’s reported is how many are dying. A friend of mine asked me recently in a heated and interesting conversation we were having if I wanted the Palestinian people to succeed in killing more Israelis and by proxy more Jews. She asked if that’s what I would prefer to the Israelis killing Palestinians. Perhaps I should be horrified but having thought about that, part of me wants to say yes. Because then the world would take note. If the planned Rosh Hashana attack had gone ahead, if the tunnels were successful and the death toll on the Israeli side rose, the world might not see Israel as terrorists. I don’t agree with the scale of the attack or with all of the decisions of the Israeli government, but the terrorism does not come from the side of Israel. That is the wrong word to use.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski said about China:
“Broadly targeting an entire religious or ethnic community in response to the actions of a few only increases the potential for violent extremism.”
He said it about China, but it applies here and it applies both ways. It applies to Israel’s treatment of Gaza and it applies to the way the world is treating Israelis and starting to treat Jews.
I don’t believe every Palestinian person is a terrorist bomber or rocket builder or launcher. I don’t believe every single one of them is evil. I do believe they live in a state of fear between the rock of Israel and the hard place of Hamas. I do believe that your average run of the mill Palestinian person is terrified because they face being dead if they do and dead if they don’t.
In their shoes, I’d probably decide that Israel was the less terrifying enemy too, and choose to fight them and here’s why:
Israel, eventually, will stop. There’s the possibility that if you stand there holding your child they won’t kill you. That’s why they keep using the children as human shields.
Hamas does not seem to show that kind of mercy so it makes a weird kind of sense to ally with them because although they are less powerful, if you fight them they probably won’t turn around and let you live. They may be less powerful but they’re more dangerous. What a horrible and terrifying choice to have to make. To allow your children to be brought up in a culture of hate and violence but to have no real way out aside from death.
But this has no bearing on a hip-hop opera from an Israeli, government funded theatre company. Incidentally, if the theatre group were from Gaza and funded by Hamas, an actual terrorist organisation posing as a political party governing Gaza, they wouldn’t have cancelled the show because there wouldn’t have even been a protest.
To the venue and protestors: You should be ashamed. Because you’ve taken a rare opportunity to allow something positive to come out of a country that has been at war and rather than embrace it, you’ve destroyed it. You’ve prevented something good coming out of that Israeli government money you hate so much and at the next budget meeting, perhaps that money won’t go into art, because they’ll see it as wasted. Perhaps next time, that money will go into weapons. How short sighted you are. Rather than protecting the art, standing by your choices as a venue, you caved instantly. Giving in to hate is never the answer. There appears to be no hate in this show. The art itself is not controversial. But you’ve shied away from the controversy that is political and that cannot be what art is. Surely that is where art should have the strength and support to stand up, to be seen and heard? Israel is not entirely defined by this conflict and it shouldn’t have to be. By destroying this art, you’re forcing a country and all its people into a box that is defined only by war.
Plus who are you all kidding? When a government gives grants to shows in the arts we don’t then give that money back to the government. It goes into developing more art. It’s not as if the ticket sales money is going straight into building another tank. And anyway, it’s the EDINBURGH FRINGE – you’ve basically created another dimension if you come out with any money at all, let alone a profit.
Qatar is a country that still has slavery and we’re holding the World Cup there. I don’t see any borderline violent protests about that causing them to change that decision or cancel the World Cup. And I think an entire culture of slavery where hundreds of people die from being over worked is worth protesting about. Where’s the big scene outside World Cup HQ? Anyone? Anything? No. Of course not.
The fifty arts figures who signed the petition to stop the show should also be ashamed and check to see if they’ve done that for the countries mentioned in the Spectator article I’ve posted at the beginning of this. I strongly suspect they haven’t. Never mind that this theatre group advocates peace and dialogue; they’re Israeli so they must be silenced and stopped. A better protest would be to not buy a ticket or to see it first and then decide whether it’s offensive to have it on. A better way for the Underbelly to respond would be to offer free tickets to the protestors and give them the opportunity to decide whether the show was offensive or not, again, based on the show itself not on where the people are from.
For some reason people don’t approach this conflict with moderation in their opinions. The extreme supporters on both sides, littering my Facebook wall and twitter feed, don’t allow there to be people from Israel who are just people or people from Gaza who are just people. The extreme supporters on both sides refer to the other as animals. None of them are animals. Don’t ever forget that.
In my first fringe, some years ago, I sat through a play at the fringe with genuine antisemitism in it. I felt uncomfortable sitting in the room and I would have left had I not managed to get my leg stuck and had it not been pouring outside. That play ran all the way through the fringe. I complained to the venue that it made me feel unsafe because of the violence of the antisemitism, the feeling in the audience that seemed to be supportive, and the way it was expressed. A wise representative said it’s part of the play and that art should explore things that make us uncomfortable. The theatre is a safe environment within which we can and should look at the parts of the world, at parts of ourselves and humanity that we don’t want to admit to or face.
By cancelling this show the message is that Israeli artists are not welcome here. The theatre is not a safe place for them because of where they are from, regardless of their message. I highly doubt the show will find another venue. No one will want to touch them. That show won’t be seen in Edinburgh.
The overspill and blurring of lines between attacking Israel and attacking Jews is starting to crop up and is being reported: The signs going up around Europe that Jews aren’t allowed in shops and cafes. The Belgian doctor refusing to treat a Jewish patient. You know, in Israel the Israeli doctors do not discriminate about who they treat? And you know that many of those doctors are Jewish? They treat Palestinian and Israeli and Arab and Jewish and Muslim and French and Belgian and English and Scottish and Chinese patients alike.
Is the hip-hop opera being cancelled in Edinburgh the same as what’s growing in Europe? I’m not sure. I’m very reluctant to cry antisemitism, but the interchanging of “Jewish” and “Israeli” is starting to look very much like that and, as a Jew who is not Israeli, I find that terrifying. Do not punish me for the actions of people on another continent. My actions are not the same as theirs and yes, I am Jewish and some of them are Jewish, but if you gave me a gun I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I would be afraid of pulling the trigger, assuming I knew how to take off the safety lock. If you put me in a tank, I’d sit there, useless and probably cry. I thought, naïvely perhaps, that we had moved past this system of judgment.
It is one of the saddest starts to the Edinburgh Fringe I have ever experienced. And I would be sad wherever the company were from. I might actually be sadder if the theatre group had been Palestinian and cancelled because it would probably mean that Jews who support Israel had been protesting and I don’t want Jewish people to be responsible for the death of expression. I don’t want Jewish people to be responsible for the death of anyone.