Response: “Should Companies Be Blamed for the Policies of the Governments That Support Them?"

Updated: Apr 1, 2019

Brian Schaefer’s Dance Magazine article, “Should Companies Be Blamed for the Policies of the Governments That Support Them?” is unsettling and damaging. While its superficial exterior appears innocuous to an uninvolved reader, its interior bleeds with wounds inflicted upon the very livelihood of an entire people.


The article begs the question, “What does Batsheva have to do with Israel’s geopolitical conflicts?” Schaefer contends the company has nothing to do with Israel and that dance should separate art and state. What Schaefer fails (or chooses not) to acknowledge is that dance is inherently political and that companies have a duty to use their art responsibly.


Batsheva’s status as “Israel’s premier dance company" confirms Batsheva “belongs” to Israel. The company is identified by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as “one of Israel’s greatest cultural ambassadors” and they receive sponsorship by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Israeli Consulate in Toronto and Western Canada, and the Israeli Embassy of Canada. Though the United States has faults of its own in regards to using the arts to distract audiences abroad, the author uses whataboutery rhetoric to distract readers from the true purpose of these protests.


The protests were not directed at the company (as stated in the article) but as an academic and cultural boycott. This boycott (modeled after the boycott issued during the South African Apartheid) is not the first of its kind. Schaefer wrongfully proposes that other countries do not face the same backlash for their political stances as Israel does when it comes to arts funding. This simply isn’t true as countries have long been influenced by their nation’s policies. For instance, Mary Wigman’s school in New York was rebranded to Hanya Holm due to Wigman’s affiliation with Nazi Germany. While companies like the Bolshoi Ballet do not face the same political outrage in regards to separate states (though the author seems to forgetting their blackface scandal), Israel is one of the few countries that classifies its citizens as holding different nationalities; thus citizenship rights and national rights are separate.


Even so, choreographer of Batsheva, Ohad Naharin continues to claim his work is apolitical stating,  “I have very clear political views; I’m very clear with where I stand...it’s not interesting to me to convey those ideas when I choreograph. But, as a byproduct, these ideas sometimes penetrate the work.” Yet Naharin’s traces of dabke and dervishes (both dances that do not belong to Israel) reflect that no work or body is apolitical.


Palestinians actually looked toward Naharin as an ally in the past. Naharin has publicly stated he sympathizes with the Palestinian cause and advocates for peace. Yet he’s received funding for Brand Israel, an organization that is blatantly distorted in this article by the authors warped agenda. In response to the protests, Naharin has expressed that their efforts are “pointless” and should be directed elsewhere.


The author asks the reader to see people rather than policies; but for those impacted by the harsh realities of politics, that is not a luxury afforded to them. So while a company may come in peace, if they are supported by a country that believes peace is achieved through silence, then their efforts are futile. By sending Batsheva as cultural ambassadors, Israel is allowing us to become distracted by the inhumane treatment their government is inflicting upon others.


In fact, Batsheva’s Young Ensemble recently toured “Naharin’s Virus” (created in 2002), where in reference to the protesting, director of the young ensemble, Idan Porges said his dancers joked, “let them come in, let them see what we are doing, let them feel this...They would know that really, we come in peace.” The piece itself, performed with text from Peter Handke’s “Offending the Audience” states “You will see no spectacle. Your curiosity will not be satisfied. You will see no play...We are no representatives. We represent nothing. We demonstrate nothing.” Yet how can an artist truly represent nothing?


Unfortunately, the truth is that “demonstrating nothing” is impossible when its performed with the financial backing of a country that neglects a faction of its people. Who is on the stage, who is creating work, and who is writing that work tells us that people and policies are inextricably linked. Without ever talking about Israeli policy, Schaefer writes, “If the goal is to get people to talk about Israeli policy, well, here we are, talking about Israeli policy.” For the casual reader, this article might seem like a call for peace but for those impacted, it’s a declaration of ignorance.


A company as established at Batsheva could certainly survive without Israeli government affiliations. I am not suggesting that Batsheva’s work is repressive to the Palestinian people or that Ohad Naharin is an enemy of Palestine. Instead I am recommending that audiences recognize that dance is a political entity, and as such has a duty to serve all people. History is written by winners and as long as an audience is silenced, an untapped reservoir of culture and art are being lost in time. Fortunately, we as artists can rectify that. So let’s do it responsibly.


Original link to Schaeffer's article here https://www.dancemagazine.com/separation-of-art-and-state-2632865675.html


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