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PACBI-Say it ain't so, (La) MaMa: Legendary NY theater helps whitewash Israeli Apartheid

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Paul Ben-Itzak | The Dance Insider | 13 January 2011

Say it ain't so, (La) MaMa: Legendary NY theater helps whitewash Israeli Apartheid

Earlier this week, La MaMa, one of the most revered counter-cultural theatrical institutions in the world, presented a work, "Show Your Face," part of the Under the Radar festival, in which the performers, after depicting a demonstration in which the demonstrators were mowed down by securitiy forces, ranted at the audience for turning a blind eye to torture, repression, and war crimes, terminating with the accusatory refrain, directed at the spectators, "And you do nothing!" Perhaps they should have been directing their outrage at the theater's co-director, Mia Yoo.

On January 31, La MaMa will collaborate with the Israeli government by hosting a gala to raise money for an 'Israeli Dance Week' at the East Viillage theater this spring whose net effect will be to help whitewash Israel's ongoing Apartheid policies, destruction of Palestinian homes and olive orchards, theft of Palestinian land, failure to take any responsibility for what a UN investigation deemed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in its invasion of the Gaza strip in which it killed 1400 people, the majority civlians, lethal attack on the Turkish flotilla attempting to break Israel's illegal Gaza blockade of vital goods, denying Palestinians married to Israelis the right to even enter the country, new restrictions on Israeli peace groups, and, most recently, killing a Palestinian woman who was simply watching a demonstration against Israel's illegal Apartheid wall with American-manufactured tear gas.

La MaMa's defenders will no doubt cry "Artistic freedom" and pout that "Art should be separate from politics!", but this retort applied to this particular case is becoming old. From the moment they and their tours get government support -- and this festival, featuring five Israel-based dance companies, is officially supported by the Israeli Consulate in New York -- Israeli dance companies aren't just accidentally implicated in Israeli policy -- they are active collaborators in it. In its attempt to counter what it considers little more than a PR problem, Israel's response to criticism of its Apartheid policies, war crimes, and illegal settlement building is not to actually own up to any of this, but to counter it with what's officially called the Brand Israel program, actually a Re-brand Israel program in which the Israeli government officially funds Israeli arts organizations to travel abroad and spread a kinder, gentler, softer, more beautiful, and ultimately peaceful image of Israel, to counter the negative 'image' its deeds produce. To insist that state-funded Israeli artists are just passive by-standers who shouldn't be sullied by the violent actions of their government is to deny that they have already made the decision to sully themselves by jumping enthusiastically into Israel's propaganda mud.

By hosting -- hosting -- an Israeli Dance Week, preceded by a gala to raise funds for it, La MaMa has now jumped into that mud with them, and in helping to whitewash the, among other things, racist policies of the Israeli government, sullied its own reputation as an arts organization that not only values but advances pluralism.

On January 1, a 36-year-old Palestinian woman, Jawaher Abu Rahmah, from the West Bank village of Bil'in, died in a hospital from the effects of tear gas inhalation suffered at a protest she was watching the previous day against Israel's construction of a wall and settlements on Bil'in's land. Her brother Bassem Abu Rahmah was killed in April 2009 when he was hit in the chest with an extended range tear gas canister fired directly at him by an Israeli soldier during a peaceful protest in Bil'in.

And you, Ellen Stewart, not only "do nothing," you help to white-wash such crimes. For the rest of you. please, do not do nothing. Please boycott La MaMa's Israeli Dance Week this spring and, above all, please do not buy tickets for the January 31 gala to support it.

Posted on 16-01-2011

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