Bowing to public pressure and an almost total boycott of advance ticket sales, the Haifa Municipal Theater on Tuesday canceled two scheduled performances by British actress Vanessa Redgrave, whose years of militant support for the Palestine Liberation Organization led many here to view her as an enemy of Israel and anti-Semitic.
Amalia Eyal, a spokeswoman for the city-owned theater, said it told Redgrave that "we were facing a situation in which she would be playing to an empty hall" because of an intense campaign against her appearances in Haifa, her first in Israel.
Redgrave, whose films include "Howards End," "Julia" and "The Bostonians," was to have appeared next week in "Brecht in Exile," a selection of works by German playwright Bertolt Brecht while he was in exile from Nazi Germany. In one segment, Redgrave plays a Jewish woman in Nazi Germany.
"In our naivete, we thought the time was appropriate (to bring Redgrave to Israel), that something had changed in the Israeli public," Eyal said. "Regrettably, we were wrong."
Redgrave, who had long advocated a cultural boycott of Israel because of its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, had agreed to come to Haifa after Israel and the PLO signed an agreement on Palestinian self-government and Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza.
Oded Kutler, the theater director, who has staged a number of politically controversial plays, had wanted to bring Redgrave to Israel "as a chance for Israelis to see a great artist on the stage--and as a chance perhaps to set a precedent."
"She has her beliefs, but the main body of her work is to be a great actress, perhaps one of the greatest actresses," Kutler added in announcing the performances in early June.
But the protests began immediately and grew in volume to the point where the Haifa city council was to debate the matter.
Posters of Redgrave were torn down and ripped up during the last month, many of the theater's normal outlets refused to sell tickets, and opponents of the performance set up a stand outside the theater to collect signatures on a petition demanding that the mayor stop her from coming to Haifa.
A picture of her carrying an AK-47 assault rifle and dancing with Palestinians was turned into a poster against her appearance here, and a "struggle committee" put out leaflets recalling her past denunciations of "Zionist hooligans" and her justification of a major Palestinian attack on Israeli civilians as "a legitimate military action."
With only 150 tickets sold out of a total of 1,600 for the two performances, the theater's board told the management earlier this week that it was free to make its own decision on whether to proceed.
Zvi Dahari, chairman of the board, said, "Redgrave was to come as an actress, not as a politician.
"A new page has been turned in the Middle East," Dahari added, "and today we are already sitting with enemies who were greater than she."
Times researcher Emily L. Hauser in Jerusalem contributed to this report.