March 27, 2019, New York, NY - Sixty New York human rights advocates gathered this evening outside the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) for a music and dance-filled protest of the opening night performance of the Batsheva Dance Company, a leader in helping the Israeli government whitewash its systematic repression of the Palestinian people.
The protesters cheered an energetic sidewalk dance performance by the Freedom Dabka Group, chanting afterwards, “Freedom Dabka stole the show. Batsheva has got to go.” With musical accompaniment from the radical marching band the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, they sang a rendition of “Which Side Are You On,” which paid tribute to protesters killed in Gaza by Israeli snipers, like medic Razan Al Najjar and reporter Yasser Murtaja. They held signs saying, “Batsheva: Proud Ambassador of Racism” and “Don’t Dance Around Apartheid.”
The protest took place a few days shy of the March 30th one-year anniversary of Gaza’s Great March of Return. Over the last year more than 200 unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza have been killed by Israeli snipers, and thousands more maimed. In the last days Israel has intensified it bombing campaign of Gaza, ahead of the March 30 protest anniversary.
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls Batsheva one of “Israel's greatest cultural ambassadors.” As in past years, Batsheva’s performances are being promoted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is also helping to finance their tour, according to information in BAM’s program notes. These performances support the government’s Brand Israel PR strategy. An Israeli official explained Brand Israel to the New York Times saying, “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits …This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”
Alexis Stern from Adalah-NY commented, “Much like the dance Batsheva is performing tonight, which repeats the same choreography in each of two acts, Israel's actors and costumes have changed in the last 70 years. But Israel continues to dance the same dance of apartheid and continued military assaults on Palestinian communities in Gaza, and throughout historic Palestine, over and over again.”
Khaled Qatamesh, the Director of El-Funoun, Palestine’s premiere dance troupe, explained, “We appeal to all people of conscience to join the protests of Batsheva Dance Company, because Batsheva is aiding the Israeli government’s Brand Israel strategy of using art to divert attention from Israel’s systematic abuses of Palestinian rights. Support the rights of the Palestinian people and artists who suffer under growing constraints and limited opportunities due to the violations committed by Israel’s colonial, apartheid regime.”
Batsheva was met by protests in Seattle and Colorado, and a protest is planned for their April 6th Boston show. Adalah-NY has protested at past Batsheva shows, including in 2017 at BAM, and 2018 at the Joyce Theatre. In an email exchange, BAM’s President Katy Clark turned down a request to meet with Adalah-NY members to discuss BAM’s involvement in the Israeli government’s Brand Israel efforts.
The New York protest is also part of the 15th annual Israeli Apartheid Week, which is being marked worldwide in late March and early April. The protesters support the growing international movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to pressure Israel to end its human rights abuses. The Palestinian-led BDS movement is a nonviolent campaign for Palestinian rights inspired by the international boycott campaign that helped to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa.
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Click for protest songs and chants.