Israel-funded artists are not independent
Mike Orr was spot on in his column about the forthcoming tour of the UK by the Batsheva Dance Ensemble (Don't dance with Israeli apartheid, Socialist Review, October 2012).
BRICUP, which campaigns for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, wrote to the Birmingham Hippodrome urging its management to suspend Batsheva's planned appearances in November if the group would not state publicly that it had no part in "Brand Israel" and would not take government money to fund foreign tours.
We received a bland reply from Stuart Griffiths, chief executive of the Hippodrome, stating that he believed Batsheva to be "independent artists". This is wishful thinking. The mere fact that Batsheva receives Israeli government funding for tours such as the present one makes it impossible for it to be independent. Such funding always has political strings attached to it.
Yitzhak Laor, writing in the Israeli paper Ha'aretz in 2008, revealed the text of the contract that authors and artists sign with the Israeli Foreign Ministry in exchange for funding for their trips to cultural and literary events, including film, theatre, and dance festivals. Paragraph 12 reads, "The service provider undertakes to act faithfully, responsibly and tirelessly to provide the Ministry with the highest professional services. The service provider is aware that the purpose of ordering services from him is to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel."
The next clause emphasises that "the service provider will not present himself as an agent, emissary and/or representative of the Ministry."
This is the clearest possible illustration of the spin and duplicity at the heart of "Brand Israel". Please come and support the protests around the country in November. For more information see http://www.no2brandisrael.org/.
British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP)
Alexandra Sayer's review of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (Reviews, Socialist Review, October 2012) was an excellent overview of the play.
Historically the portrayal of Hedda Gabler can veer between the archetypal villains with whom we are expected to have little sympathy, and one of the strongest female roles in theatre, that of a woman trapped in circumstances not of her choosing. She never takes her husband's name (Tesman) after her marriage, on which Ibsen noted, "My intention in giving it this name was to indicate that Hedda as a personality is to be regarded rather as her father's daughter than her husband's wife."
This particular production is bristling with vigour and is suitably melancholy. The carefully considered lighting and music contribute to the darkness of the play. It's not all doom and gloom, however.
The constant quipping gets the audience chortling, no more so than in the closing moments, when the excellent Judge Brack delivers another burst of lighthearted tomfoolery soon to be shattered by the gruesome conclusion. It is a very well done finale.
The tragedy of Hedda Gabler's ever-increasing entrapment is the central theme of the play. But Hedda is perhaps best seen as a proxy for the battles and developments of her day. Her aristocratic birth serves to hide the imperfection of character that is exposed at certain key moments. Falling into the dependable arms of George Tesman provides security but also adds to the sense of desperation felt by the increasingly anxious Hedda. The entrapment deepens.
And it is this descent into an insurmountable feeling of hopelessness that marks the contradiction at the heart of Hedda Gabler: on the one hand an aristocrat who is unable to take part in the advance of women's rights, on the other a woman who abuses her servant.
The future unfolds centre stage, but Hedda will not be a part of it. Instead Mrs Elvsted's collaboration with one of the key characters on an intellectual project is the one place where hope in the play lies. A fitting quote for the play is the epigraph to Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, where he quotes John's gospel, "that which dies brings forth much fruit."