No Hebrew On Stage – Anti-Zionism or Anti-Semitism at the Globe to Globe Shakespeare Festival?

Posted: May 1, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The debate around the BDS’s call to ban Habima, Israel’s leading theater, from the Shakespeare Festival raises a few questions regarding the very fine line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and on which side of the line does BDS really stand.

Anti-Semitism is quite easy to define: suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews – it is quite simply, racism based on religion.

Anti-Zionism is a bit harder to nail down: opposition to Zionistic views and the state of Israel – it is, in the the BDS movements view, a political stance.

Let’s assume that anti-Zionism is strictly legitimate and political view and right to be held by anyone who wants to change the status quo in Israel. How does this view fit with trying to boycott the Hebrew language?

Plays at the Globe to Globe Shakespeare festival are enacted in 37 languages – From common English to Cantonese, Brazilian Portuguese, Yoruba, Hip Hop (!) and even Palestinian Arabic. But not Hebrew?

The Hebrew language belongs to the Jews through the Bible for thousands of years and is not dependent only on Jews who chose to live in Israel. It exists in religious ceremonies by Jews all over the world and has existed long before the state of Israel was established or even dreamed of.

The Globe Theater denounced early on the BDS’s call to bar Habima’s performance from the festival in an open letter  based on this simple point:

“Rather, we wished to celebrate the huge variety of languages and cultures which have encountered, learnt from and extended the reach of Shakespeare’s work, and as such we were determined to reflect as wide and as comprehensive a variety of languages as possible.”

Still, the calls to boycott or simply disrupt the Hebrew performance continue.

Is this a case of anti-Zionism or anti-Semitism or both? Or perhaps, anti-Zionism is simply anti-Semitism as was so eloquently put by the late Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King in his Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend:

And what is anti-Zionist? It is the denial to the Jewish people of a fundamental right that we justly claim for the people of Africa and freely accord all other nations of the Globe. It is discrimination against Jews, my friend, because they are Jews.  In short, it is anti-Semitism…The times have made it unpopular, in the West, to proclaim openly a hatred of the Jews.  This being the case, the anti-Semite must constantly seek new forms and forums for his poison.  How he must revel in the new masquerrade!  He does not hate the Jews, he is just ‘anti-Zionist’! Let my words echo in the depths of your soul:  When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews — make no mistake about it.”

I am sure that when the all the BDS supporters say “Zionist”, they are referring to all Jews living in Israel regardless of their age and political beliefs.

I am equally sure that 90% of them are simply anti-Semitic.

I am even more certain that boycotting a Hebrew version of Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” is quite simply anti-Semitism.

If you agree, support the Globe Theater’s decision on their facebook page, mention their twitter user @The_Globe and contact them here.

And if you are lucky enough to be in London on the 28th or the 29th of May, buy a ticket and experience Shakespeare in Hebrew.

May 2 update: Ian Thal wrote about this intelligently and exhaustively in his blog. Worth reading.

  1. gili says:





  2. Ofer N says:

    “The “MLK supported Israel” hasbara has been debunked for so long now, it’s a wonder it’s still popping up. Not only have analysts like Tim Wise (in 2003), Fadi Kiblawi and Will Youmans (in 2004) thoroughly dismantled this propaganda, the Zionist-apologist group CAMERA even conceded back in 2002 that the allegedly pro-Zionist/pro-Israel letter attributed to Dr. King (which forms the entirety of the MLK hasbara claim) was “a hoax.” Naturally, CAMERA tempered its admission with the ridiculous caveat: “However, the basic message of the letter indeed reflects the sentiments of Dr. King.”

    Nima shirazi

    • I can’t relate to this claim without links for evidence.
      Plus, you’re avoiding my key point, which is not whether MLK was pro Zionism, but rather that boycotting Hebrew culture is antisemitic – And not political.

    • Ian Thal says:

      What was debunked was the authenticity of the document titled “Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend.”

      Dr. King’s other statements condemning anti-Zionism as merely disguised antisemitism (not a topic he particularly dwelled upon, mind you) appear to be authentic. Clearly, he did not view anti-Zionism favorably, and recognized it as a form of racism.

  3. Alan Gadd says:

    So what did you expect from the British, nothing has changed since they voted against the establishment of the State of Israel, the are still living under The British Mandate

  4. Victor Friedlander says:

    Though I more less agree with the principles of your arguments, there is a far more reliable reflection on MLK’s views on Zionism and Anti-semitism than the citation used by your organization.

  5. Ian Thal says:

    Or, thank you very much for the link back to my piece. I tried in my essay to focus upon a.) the chronology of the boycott call (which was interesting in that The Globe had explicitly rejected the boycott call in early January, months before letter to The Guardian; b.) the legal claims that were being leveled at Habima; and c.) the fact that the play under contention is, after all, The Merchant of Venice.

    On the other hand, your observation that this was effectively an attempt to boycott the Hebrew language had oddly not occurred to me!

  6. AMY says:

    Much better without hebrow

  7. […] No Hebrew On Stage – Anti-Zionism or Anti-Semitism at the Globe to Globe Shakespeare Fest… Archives […]

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