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Batsheva in Edinburgh

Guest post by Jake Pearson

The Batsheva Dance Company returned to Edinburgh for two nights this week, this time with the Batsheva Ensemble, and they were the subject of protests – again. The show was interrupted well over ten times by anti-Israel activists demanding that we in the audience boycott Israel, but I am happy to note that all of their empty slogans were eventually drowned out by the audience’s applause for the dancers. One member of the audience became so annoyed at the constant interruptions that towards the end of the show he shouted at one activist in a thick Scottish accent loud enough for the whole auditorium to hear. His words were, “Aw piss off!” This request was met with laughter and applause from the audience, and the show carried on with overwhelming support from the viewing public.

A twenty-minute question and answer session with Batsheva mastermind Ohad Naharin was held at the end of the show. Most of the questions concerned the techniques of the dancers, the reasons behind certain pieces, and so on. However one woman managed to ask her obligatory question, “How can you defend taking money from an apartheid state?” Whilst the audience jeered at her, Naharin held up his hand as if to say: let her speak her mind. This is how the Don’t Dance With Israeli Apartheid campaign spun the situation:

During the Q&A session following last night’s performance in Edinburgh an audience member asked if the Batsheva representatives thought it was acceptable to tour using Israeli state funding in the same week that Israel is carrying out air strikes in Gaza. [Kate] Logan reports that, “when the woman was shouted down by the audience, Naharin did not challenge this behaviour and declined to engage with the question. This casts serious doubt on Naharin’s so-called commitment to ‘dialogue’”.

As a member of the audience who was there, unlike Kate Logan, I can tell you what really happened. Naharin asked for a repeat of the question and gave a very clear answer. He said that Batsheva receives its money from the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport, that he is personally opposed to the occupation, and that his aim is to create a dialogue through bringing dancers of many nationalities together. Word for word, he said: “If I thought for one minute that interrupting my show would help Palestinians, I would say ‘do it’. But it does not help them.” He was then interrupted by the activist, to which he simply asked that she wait until he had finished his answer. At this point the woman got up and started yelling other questions. Naharin carefully pointed out to her that there was a limited amount of time and that he would be quite happy to speak to her at the end. No one can tell me that he did not say this; I was there and I heard him. He said, “If you want to discuss this, I will talk to you at the end.” And just as he said this the protester got up and walked out. So much for Naharin not being interested in dialogue.

The fact that a member of the Don’t Dance campaign would publish such a blatant lie (that Naharin ignored her question and let the audience continue jeering) is shocking, but not at all surprising. After all, these are the philistines who try to censor art in the name of an extremist political cause, then have the temerity to spin it so that it seems Israelis are the ones not interested in discussing important issues. I had to walk into that theatre on my own, with a line of policemen separating me from 150 protesters screaming that my tickets were “covered in Palestinian blood”. These people are cowards who are simply not interested in reasoned, sensible debate, and they are not helping the Palestinian cause one bit.