By Julie Webb-Pullman
In a desperate attempt to stem the tsunami of international public support for boycott, divestment and sanctioning of Israel for its illegal activities in Palestine, an Israeli Rent-a-Crowd from a local evangelical church turned up to try to counter a picket by Kiwi anti-Zionist protestors of a performance by Israeli government-funded dance company Batsheva at the St James Theatre in Wellington, New Zealand on Saturday night.
The NZ performance was under the auspices of the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts, and partially sponsored by the Israeli Embassy in Wellington.
Despite numerous kiwi appeals to organizers to cancel the troupe’s invitation, and to the government to refuse them visas, both the festival organizers and the NZ government turned a deaf ear.
Not so the audience, who were left in no doubt as to the implications of their attendance at the event.
Waving placards and banners, the anti-Zionist protestors pointed out that The Batsheva Dance Company is part of the Israeli propaganda effort to deflect criticism of its policies towards Palestinians and other Arab countries. As the troupe is largely funded by the Israeli Ministry of Culture & Sport, the City of Tel Aviv and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who praise the troupe as “ambassadors of Israeli culture,” the NZ protestors said that supporting the performance is tantamount to supporting the oppressive – and illegal – practices of the Zionist regime.
To cheers from the crowd, some 15 people decided to forgo their tickets, saying they had no idea it was an Israeli-government sponsored event, and would never have bought them if they had been aware.
Shouts of “Shame” accompanied those who continued through the doors.
Meanwhile, in what is the clearest evidence yet that Israel’s propaganda campaign is an abject failure, the Rent-a-Crowd in the front line demonstrated not only their ignorance of the issues at stake, but also their general ignorance.
Waving placards with personal jibes at one of the anti-Zionist protestors, yelling personal abuse at the picketers, and merely screaming “lies” without providing any supporting evidence, this pro-Israel frontline showed none of the usual slick hasbara, but instead publicly displayed an appalling lack of personal respect and diplomacy, as well as a paucity of any arguments in Israel’s defence – quite possibly because there are none. Israel must surely be desperate to resort to such ‘supporters.’
As the anti-Zionist protesters said loud and clear, in a message which obviously rang true for many of the audience, “For the same reasons New Zealanders called for the end to rugby links with apartheid South Africa, we are calling for the cutting of ties with apartheid Israel.”
They also had a message for those who make the spurious claim that dance has no place in politics. Quoting University of Auckland Dance Studies Associate Professor Nicholas Rowe:
“If Ohad Naharin and Batsheva Dance Company would have the courage to refuse to offer their bodies up to the Israeli Defense Forces for annual military service, if they would have the courage to publicly condemn the illegal military occupation of the West Bank and the ongoing theft of land and property by the government that pays them to tour in the name of Israel, if they would have the courage to publicly state that they do not judge people by their religion or ethnicity and so would welcome the return of non-Jewish refugees back to their homes inside what is now Israel, then they would be touring to New Zealand as dance artists, and not just as political puppets.”
Israel, by its own efforts, has booked its ticket in history alongside the South African apartheid regime. A Rent-a-Crowd of slogan-shouters hurling personal abuse is not going to save it from admission to a similar fateful performance.
– Julie Webb-Pullman is a freelance journalist from New Zealand who has been living in and writing from Gaza since 2011. She contributes to SCOOP Independent News, Palestine Chronicle, and other online news sites. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.