70 artists call for cancellation of Israeli play in New York
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70 artists call for cancellation of Israeli play in New York

Actors, writers sign letter against Lincoln Center performance of show, based on David Grossman novel, and sponsored by Israeli government

Efrat Ben Zur in 'To the End of the Land' performed at New York's Lincoln Center July 24-27, 2017 by Habima National Theater and the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv. (Gérard Allon)
Efrat Ben Zur in 'To the End of the Land' performed at New York's Lincoln Center July 24-27, 2017 by Habima National Theater and the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv. (Gérard Allon)

Some 70 artists have signed an open letter to New York’s Lincoln Center calling for the cancellation of a play set to be performed by Israeli theater companies and sponsored by the Israeli government.

The play, “To the End of the Land” is based on a novel of the same name by Israeli author David Grossman, and depicts the emotional struggle of a mother as her son goes off to combat as an IDF soldier.

The play, performed by actors from the Habima National Theater and the Cameri Theater of Tel Aviv, is to run from July 24 to July 27 in New York, “with support of Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs in North America.”

An open letter was written by Adalah-NY, a group that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, to the Lincoln Center. It was signed by over 70 writers, directors, actors and others.

The letter stated that “by hosting the Ha’bima and Cameri theaters, and partnering with the Israeli government in doing so, Lincoln Center too is actively supporting Israel’s decades of denial of Palestinian rights.”

'To the End of the Land' performed at New York's Lincoln Center July 24-27, 2017 by Habima National Theater and the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv. (Gérard Allon)
‘To the End of the Land’ performed at New York’s Lincoln Center July 24-27, 2017 by Habima National Theater and the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv. (Gérard Allon)

The letter claims that Israel’s support for the play was part of its “Brand Israel” strategy intended to show the country in a positive light.

“It is deeply troubling that Lincoln Center, one of the world’s leading cultural institutions, is helping the Israeli government to implement its systematic ‘Brand Israel’ strategy of employing arts and culture to divert attention from the state’s decades of violent colonization, brutal military occupation and denial of basic rights to the Palestinian people,” the letter read.

Signatories include the playwrights Caryl Churchill and Annie Baker, actor Greta Gerwig, director Andre Gregory and the writer Deborah Eisenberg.

Debora Spar, the president of Lincoln Center, told The New York Times that the play would not be canceled.

“While we acknowledge the feelings of those who would prefer that we not allow that performance to continue, we will not be canceling it,” Spar said in a statement.

In a letter sent to Adalah-NY, Spar said that the theater was dedicated to art and avoids political statements.

“As I am sure you can imagine, Lincoln Center receives requests from time to time from a variety of advocacy organizations taking political issue with either the performers or the work itself,” she wrote. “As a cultural and education organization, however, we do not make political statements and hope that the art we present can stand on its own.”

Last month Grossman became the first Israeli writer to receive the prestigious Man Booker International Prize of 2017 for his novel “A Horse Walks into a Bar.” Grossman, whose son was killed in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, is an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

JTA contributed to this report.

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