Britain’s Globe caught in conflict over Israeli theater company

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Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London is in the middle of a political skirmish as a group of British cultural figures is demanding that the company disinvite an Israeli theater organization from appearing at an upcoming festival.

In a recent letter to Britain’s Guardian, the group is asking that the Globe withdraw its invitation to Israel’s National Theatre, Habima, which is scheduled to perform a Hebrew-language version of Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ at the Globe to Globe festival in May.

Among the letter’s signatories are Emma Thompson, Mike Leigh, Mark Rylance, Caryl Churchill, Miriam Margolyes and Harriet Walter. The group claims that Habima ‘has a shameful record of involvement’ with Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.

The Globe to Globe festival is part of London’s Cultural Olympiad, which will coincide with the Summer Games. The Globe is planning to host a number of Shakespearean productions, each performed in a different language.


As stated in the letter, Habima agreed to perform in two cultural venues located in Israeli settlements while other Israeli cultural organizations refused the opportunities. ‘By inviting Habima, Shakespeare’s Globe is undermining the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to break international law,’ the letter states.

One voice of dissent has come from author Howard Jacobson, the Man Booker Prize winner for ‘The Finkler Question.’ Jacobson has decried the attempt to ban the theater company as ‘McCarthyism.’ (The use of the term carries special meaning for the Globe, which was founded by Sam Wanamaker, the American actor-director who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era.)

A spokeswoman for the Globe told the Guardian that the company hasn’t changed its position regarding Habima and that the Israeli company is still invited to the festival.


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-- David Ng