Judith Ornstein
Passionately moderate

Are you Wild about Boycotting?

‘Have you seen’ Wild’ at the Hampstead Theatre?’ ask my friends.   ‘Have you seen ‘The Threepenny Opera’ at the National?’

No. I haven’t and I won’t. Why? Because the director  of ‘Wild’, James MacDonald, and the adapter of ‘The Threepenny Opera’, Simon Stephens, have both signed up to Artists for Palestine UK whose  website accuses Israel of:

‘ethnic cleansing, illegal colonisation, racism, torture, imprisonment of  children,  and the denial of statehood’.

Nor will I be taking anyone to see Mark Rylance in ’The BFG’ or seeing him in ‘ Nice Fish.’ He too is a signed up cultural boycotter. Here’s more from their website:

‘Cultural import and export are a crucial part of the ‘Brand Israel’ programme, a strategy aimed at overlaying the brutality of ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism with a veneer of civilised sophistication.’

The opinions of this group do not represent the multi ethnic and multi religious complexity of the  Israel I know and love. They do not recognise  that Israel was founded on the principle that Jewish people have the right to self determination. On the contrary, books  by Chomsky, Pappe, Butler and their ilk  accuse Israel of  ‘settler colonialism’ which is code for concluding that Israel never did, never has now , and never will,  have any right to exist. That’s what these boycotting ‘artists’ have signed up to.

It’s really easy to google  the Artists for Palestine web page which gives the signatories in alphabetical order.  It’s also easy to look at the pro BDS  American Jewish Voice for Peace, where Tony Kushner sits on the main advisory board. I cannot bear to give the links here.

The National Theatre is reviving Kushner’s  ‘Angels in America’ (2017) and in October Hampstead is putting on his ‘The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures’. Kushner has won the Pullitzer prize, and he is a very fine playwright but…..I am puzzled; no I’m actually perplexed.  I write to my friends and tell them about the boycotters; I put the lists on facebook pages and it’s as though I’ve said nothing. I am now actually embarrassed to say face to face ‘but I told you!’

Look – I know there are huge problems with antisemitism and anti Zionism in our own backyard and in the world. I know that each of us is busy. I know that if you’ve read this far you really care. I know that you do your own work to the best of your ability, and that there is loads of stuff to read, and do, and that it seems like an endless battle.   I know that when we go out we want to escape from our cares, from our work. So this is a big ask.  The  way I see it is that through our own informed individual choice of whom  to support in the cultural world,  we do have a chance, and a choice,  however tiny,  to make our mark.  Please understand – I’m not advocating boycotting but I would urge educated decision making.

And lots of littles make a lot! I believe that tenacious campaigning work carried out by a small group of us  may have effected change at the National Theatre. After Rufus Norris took over as artistic director their repertory  had disproportionately huge input from cultural boycotters.  Their most recently announced season is, so far, cultural boycott free, although casting has not yet been fully announced.

London has an overwhelming choice of cultural events; I would love to see everything, and could go out every day; but the presence of cultural boycotters now affects my choices.

By the way, it’s not just London – what on earth is going on in New York? Without close analysis I can see that ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is showing simultaneously in London and New York; both stage adapter Simon Stephens and author Mark Haddon are signed up cultural boycotters.

‘Nice Fish’ starring and co-written by  boycotter Mark Rylance is advertising itself as sold out in New York and starts in London in November.

And Hollywood too. Here’s my last puzzle: Steven Spielberg has now used Mark Rylance in two films and has signed him up for two more.  Does Spielberg know that Rylance, possibly naively, has signed up to a list whose ultimate aim is the end of Israel?

Everyone who signs up to the cultural boycott of Israel is closing down debate and supressing freedom of speech. Vitally,  each signatory is, possibly unknowingly, being manipulated into supporting the destruction of Israel.

The cultural world seems to get overlooked in our worry and our activism about Israel and antisemitism but it’s hugely influential. Can you find a little extra time to think about what you choose to see, and whom you wish to support?

About the Author
Judith Ornstein is UK based and a passionate supporter of the arts, who combats the cultural boycott of Israel. She is the instigator of the Whitewashed Project, fighting Labour's problems with Jews. The book, the film, and valuable links can be found at www.whitewashed.co.uk