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.
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.