Last week a number of actors, directors and other theatre people called on the Globe Theatre to withdraw its invitation to Israel's Habima to perform in the upcoming Globe to Globe festival. In today's Guardian there's a response from Howard Brenton, setting out an opposing view:
I was sad to see the letter... from many eminent theatre workers... asking Shakespeare's Globe to withdraw the invitation to Israel's Habima theatre to perform The Merchant of Venice in its Globe to Globe festival this coming May. I think it's wrong-headed – could the signatories think again?
They argue that, by inviting the Habima, the Globe is showing support for the illegal settlements in the Palestinian occupied territories. But by inviting the National Theatre of China to perform Richard III, is the Globe also showing support for the occupation of Tibet?
The Habima's touring in the territories is sickening. Its staff are deeply divided about it. The arts become so twisted and torn about in a conflict as terrible as that between Israel and Palestine, used as a fig leaf for propaganda. Yet sometimes above the shouts of demagogues a true voice can be heard, even from the stage of an enemy.
I trust the Globe's international spirit and openness with which it has put together this amazingly diverse season of world theatre. For it to withdraw one of the invitations to the 37 companies – some with very questionable state affiliations – would be a disgraceful act of censorship.
Denounce, don't censor; argue, don't ban. I have long supported the cause of Palestinian freedom. But I am distressed to see British actors trying to stop Jewish actors perform on a London stage.
It should be elementary but it isn't: argue, don't censor. And, however many times the boycotters fail to answer, the question remains pertinent: why only Israel? Finally, 'I am distressed to see British actors trying to stop Jewish actors perform on a London stage': it registers the fine lack of moral perception of which even very artistic people are capable.