Ohad Naharin, Charity Is Not Solidarity!

Poster used for the Ballet BC Campaign. (Photo: Supplied)

By Marion Kawas

Recent articles in the Israeli media have highlighted a controversy surrounding renowned Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, former artistic director of Batsheva and recently also connected with Ballet BC in Canada.

He made comments on Israeli military radio leading up to a fundraiser for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which he was promoting. And although his comments are not new, the reaction to them by current Culture Minister Miri Regev and other right-wing Israelis was more virulent than in the past.

So, this new brouhaha might be based more on the growing dichotomy within Israeli politics, and between liberal Zionists and the more extremist Zionists. (And a quick note to Miri Regev, who is threatening to withdraw Israeli state funding for presumably the Batsheva dance company and others who don’t pass the “cultural loyalty” test, please go ahead.)

Ohad Naharin, to sum up, criticizes the occupation and says he WOULD support BDS if he felt it would help Palestinians or end the occupation. But before the Haaretz headline of “Israeli top dancer accused of supporting BDS..” gives one renewed hope, read what the article also quoted him saying on May 26, 2019:

“The Batsheva Dance Company often faces BDS protests and demonstrations when it performs abroad. I’ve always said and I’ll continue saying that this doesn’t help the Palestinians and won’t result in anything,” Naharin said.

“I explicitly said I don’t support BDS, but I can relate to its agenda against the occupation. It’s pretty sad, a lot of energy is invested in a boycott that doesn’t help promote a solution to ending the occupation,” Naharin said.

“I didn’t voice support for BDS, but rather against the occupation. I’ve said that many times before and in even harsher terms,” Naharin added.

So let’s unpack this trend of liberal Zionists (and other artists) who claim to support Palestinians but refuse to honor the one request Palestinian civil society has made of them. But of course, like all good liberals, they know better than the oppressed indigenous people what is needed and what is the right tactics and strategies. Mandatory to this approach is also to pledge money to an organization that gives one the cover of not just talking the talk but in this case, allegedly dancing the dance.

Two years ago, leading activist groups in North America called out Naharin on precisely these points in a statement issued by Adalah NY, regarding the tour of the Israeli Batsheva Ballet Company. They told him that his comments originally gave people hope but then his actions did not follow through. They told him that as an international figure, he could make a difference.

They noted:

“Brand Israel is an effort to show ‘Israel’s prettier face,’ as stated by Arye Mekel of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Unfortunately, your inaction is part of what has allowed for the most right-wing government in Israel, now supported by the most right-wing government in the United States. With the oppression of the Palestinian people growing even worse than before, it is time to take a principled position by no longer allowing your government to use your name to whitewash occupation.”

And then recently he became involved with Ballet BC and is one of several Israeli choreographers connected with that dance company. Is it just a coincidence that in January of this year, for the first time ever, Ballet BC went to Israel and performed in Tel Aviv?

If one really believed in helping the Palestinians, could his influence not have been used to dissuade other performers from going on inaugural trips to Israel at this critical juncture? Could he not have spoken out about what a dangerous precedent this was? Or like all good liberals, he would tell us this “building bridges” through music and dance is somehow going to benefit the most vulnerable Palestinians?

Here are a few simple points for such famous artists who could actually do something significant and take a stand for Palestinian rights. One, charity is not solidarity. Two, you do not know better than the people living under the boot of Israeli oppression what is needed for their liberation. This is the worst kind of supremacism. You are not entitled to tell even the smallest child in Gaza or Khan al-Amar or a refugee camp what is good (or not good) for them.

If you can’t support the one non-violent tactic of BDS that has been requested of you, then step aside and don’t tell us how you want to help the Palestinians. As a person of privilege and resources, the minimum needed is to honor the Palestinian picket line. Otherwise, Mr. Gaga, get off the stage and let more genuine voices speak about solidarity with Palestinians.

– Marion Kawas is a member of the Canada Palestine Association and co-host of Voice of Palestine. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.cpavancouver.org.

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