[Please see our follow-up post for an update: participants at the meeting organised by Habima include a former director of Mossad, former head of the security section in Shin Bet, and former Director of the Counter Terrorism Bureau of the Israeli PM’s office.] 

The purpose of the open letter is to protest the participation of European theatres in a Brand Israel exercise led by Israel’s national theatre, Habima. The ‘Terror Special conference’ is part of ‘TERRORisms’, a two-year project by the Union of Theatres of Europe, under the leadership of its current president, Habima’s Artistic Director Ilan Ronen.

As Habima has boasted, ‘Membership in the UTE is honor and privilege for Israel’s National Theater, the only member not on the European continent, tying Israeli theater to the center of artistic Europe.’ One look at the current homepage of the U.T.E. website tells one a lot about the disproportionate role that Habima – and Israel – play in its 2014 programme.

* The following theatre companies are listed as participating in the ‘TERRORisms’ project:
Staatsschauspiel Stuttgart, Germany 
National Theatre of Oslo, Norway 
Jugoslovensko Dramsko Pozoriste, Belgrade, Serbia 
Habima – National Theatre of Tel Aviv, Israel 
Young Vic Theatre London, England [an associate member of the project, not attending the Tel Aviv meeting] 
Shiber Hur Company, Palestine [withdrawn] 
Comédie de Reims, France

Letter in French here

Dear members* of the Union of Theatres of Europe:

We write as citizens of various countries in Europe, as enthusiastic patrons of independent and challenging theatre, and as people who cannot forget the terror visited on the civilian population of Gaza in July and August this year.

We note with some amazement that the Union of Theatres of Europe is about to hold its general assembly in Israel, a country that is not in Europe. We note with equal surprise that the current president of the Union of Theatres of Europe, Ilan Ronen, is Israeli.

Ronen is the artistic director of Habima, the national theatre of Israel. His name became familiar to a wider public in Europe in 2012, when he argued that Habima could not refuse to perform in Israel’s illegal settlements, including Ariel, in the West Bank: ‘Like other theatre companies and dance companies in Israel, we are state-financed, and financially supported to perform all over the country,’ he told the Observer newspaper in the United Kingdom. ‘This is the law. We have no choice. We have to go, otherwise there is no financial support.’ This is the line Ilan Ronen continues to take.

In the spring of 2014, an open letter was sent to Norway’s National Theatre (NT) asking it to withdraw from the partnership with Habima. The National Theatre responded by asking Habima to stop performing in the illegal settlements, as a pre-condition for continuing their collaboration. However Habima’s director explicitly refused to meet this pre-condition. Then in August came the Israeli assault on Gaza that left 2,000 Palestinians dead – 500 of them children – and over 10,000 injured. A further petition against NT’s collaboration was delivered to them, signed by actors from a range of Norwegian theatre companies. Responding to the controversy the Haifa-based Palestinian theatre, ShiberHur, did decide to withdraw from the project. Nevertheless, and despite Habima’s refusal, the National Theatre dropped its principled pre-condition, and decided to continue its partnership with Habima.

In other countries in recent years, people alleged to have broken international law have been referred to the International Criminal Court – but you, theatres of Europe, appear on the face of it to be willing to endorse Habima’s participation in the Israeli colonisation of Palestinian land and the apartheid practices of the settlers (how many Palestinian villagers whose land was stolen by the settlement of Ariel, for instance, do you think are allowed to attend theatre performances by Habima in Ariel?).

To say we’re surprised is an under-statement. To say we wish you were not holding your general assembly in Tel Aviv – and not participating in a four-day colloquium on the theme of TERRORisms (sic) conceived and organised by Habima – is to put it mildly.

We’ve had a look at the synopsis of God Waits at the Station, the Israeli play which will premiere on the first night of your meeting. It’s about a suicide bombing by a Palestinian woman inside Israel. Such things have happened. But we’ve scoured the rest of what’s publicly available of your programme to see where the terror experienced by Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank at the hands of the Israeli army and air force and Israeli settlers might be explored as dramatic material, workshopped for its potential to reach audiences in Norway, Germany, and so on. We can’t find any such thing.

You are using funds from the Culture Programme of the European Union to run a programme that sounds as if it was written by the Israeli foreign ministry: a one-day ‘Terror Special’ conference on the challenge of suicide bombings to democracies; a round-table on cultural boycott that sounds as though it’s already made up its mind: ‘Shouldn’t artists and cultural institutions make every effort to become a “bridge’ in conflict zones’, you say (while you sit in a country whose government uses culture not as a bridge, but as legitimisation for its project of colonisation).

We’re amazed. We think you shouldn’t go. We don’t understand how you’ve got yourselves into this relationship with Habima. Europe had experience of oppressive military occupations not so long ago. Have you forgotten the terror inflicted on those civilian populations?


April De Angelis, Playwright, UK
Sion Assidon, Human Rights activist, Morocco
Jean-Luc Bansard, Director, actor and head of the Théâtre du Tiroir, France
Ronnie Barkan, Co-founder of Boycott from Within, Israel/Palestine48
Laurent Baudoin, Historian, France
Sebastien Benedetto, Theatre director, France
Paul Birchard, Actor, director, teacher, Scotland
Bernt Bjørn, Actor, Norway
Professor Haim Bresheeth, UK
Michel Bühler, Singer, writer, Switzerland
David Calder, Actor, UK
Juan Carlos Hernandez, Photographer, Switzerland
Taghrid Choucair-Vizoso, Actor, UK
Caryl Churchill, Playwright, UK
Mike Cushman Convenor, Jews for Boycotting Goods, UK
Joseph Daher, PhD student/University assistant teacher, Switzerland
Jonathan Daitch, Photographer, France
Annalisa Dal Pra, teacher, Norwegian Theater Academy, Norway
Jihad Darwiche, Storyteller, France
Raymond Deane, Composer and author, Ireland
Tam Dean Burn, Actor & theatremaker, Scotland
Elyse Dodgson, International Director, Royal Court Theatre, UK
Joss Dray, Photographer, auteure, France
Camilla Eeg-Tverbakk, Dramaturg and associate Professor, Norway
Helga Edvindsen, Freelance tour/stage manager and actor, Norway
Liz Elkind, Scottish Jews for a Just Peace, Scotland
Marius von der Fehr, Artist, writer, Norway
Denise Fischer, Switzerland
Françoise Fort, Festival du film, Palestine: Filmer c’est exister, Switzerland
Pauline Goldsmith, Actor, writer and director, UK
Julianna Herzberg, Actress, Germany
Catherine Hess, Palestine: Filmer c’est exister, Switzerland
Thomas Hildebrand, Actor and musician, Norway
Selma James, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, UK
Kai Johnsen, Theatre director, Norway
Michael Kalmanovitz, No Israeli Funding of the Arts
Eleanor Kilroy, Artists right to say ‘no’, UK
Marius Kolbenstvedt, Actor and musician, Norway
Birgitte Larsen, Actress, National Theatre, Norway
Alphonse Layaz, Artist, Switzerland
Béatrice Leresche, Storyteller, switzerland
Les Levidow, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, UK
Amber Lone, Writer, UK
Dr. A.M. Mechan, Scotland
Hafid Melhay, Bookseller, France
Jenny Morgan, Film-maker, UK
Trond P.S. Munch, Actor, Norway
Ofer Neiman, Co-editor of The Occupation magazine, Israel
Diana Neslen, Stop G4S Campaign, UK
Liv Kathrine Nome, Singer and musician, Norway
Nina Ossavy, Actor and director, Norway
Mohamed Paz, Artistic director of Prana Natyam, France
Miranda Pennell, Film-maker, UK
Bernard Pesant, Director, France
Jacques Pous, Writer, Switzerland
Kamal Rawas, Director, actor and head of the Théâtre Rire du Miroir, France
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, UK
Sabine Rouve, Switzerland
Claire Salmon-Legagneur, Visual artist and costume designer, France
Seni Seneviratne, Writer, UK
Sara Serrano, theatre director, Spain
Kamila Shamsie, Writer, UK
Michele Sibony, French Jewish Union for Peace, France
Brita Skybak, Visual artist, Norway
Gillian Slovo, Writer, UK
Callum Smith, International Administrator, Royal Court Theatre, UK
Gerda Stevenson, Actor/writer/director/singer/songwriter, UK
Vanessa Stilwell, UK
Julia Taudevin, Actor, Scotland
Richard Twyman, Theatre Director, UK
Nicolas Wadimoff, Film-maker, Switzerland
Dror Warschawski, Researcher, France
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, UK
Demian Vitanza, Playwright, author, Norway
Dominique Ziegler, Writer, theatre director, Switzerland

About the Union of Theatres of Europe (U.T.E.):

U.T.E. was founded by French politician Jack Lang in 1990 and established under the presidency of Giorgio Strehler and the directorship of Israeli director-producer Eli Malka. Jack Lang served as France’s Minister of Culture from 1981 to 1986 and 1988 to 1992. It has been funded by the French Ministry of Culture since its establishment.

Jack Lang continues in the role of U.T.E. ‘member of honour.’ This Electronic Intifada article from 2003 offers an important insight into the sympathies of U.T.E’s founder:

a mere statement by the administrative council of the prestigious University of Paris-VI has caused an uproar in Europe over alleged “boycotts” of Israeli academics. On December 16, the French university’s administrative body approved a motion calling on the European Union to suspend financial support for Israeli universities on the grounds that “The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza renders impossible teaching and research by our Palestinian colleagues.” This decision produced a near hysterical reaction among some of France’s celebrity intellectuals and political figures. Philospher Bernard Henri-Levy declared that “The professors who voted for this motion conducted themselves like the most extremist of extremist Palestinians,” and went on to compare the motion to the 1933 Nazi laws against Jews. The leftist Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, called the resolution a “shocking act and a tragic error,” while former French culture minister, Jack Lang, opined that “Israeli universities are oases of tolerance,” and calls for a boycott “encourage fanaticism.” http://electronicintifada.net/content/israels-academic-freedom-defended-while-palestines-destroyed/4325

An article in Aftenposten (Norwegian for ‘The Evening Post’), Norway’s largest newspaper: ‘It is the artist’s right to say no

See also this video with interviews of artists and activists from Palestine and Israel urging the National Theatre of Norway to stop co-operating with the Israeli National Theatre, Habima.

From the 2012 campaign calling on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to disinvite Habima. Their participation in the festival was strongly opposed by many actors, playwrights and directors.