Boycotting Israeli culture can't be justified

London Liberal Democrat MEP Sarah Ludford has expressed outrage over calls for a boycott of performance of the ‘Merchant of Venice’ by Israel’s national theatre company Habima. She is attending the performance (armed with an English text on her iPad as it is performed in Hebrew).

Habima is performing Shakespeare’s play at the Globe Theatre tonight. There has been lobbying from organisations, including famous actors, for the invitation to be rescinded on the grounds that the company has played to audiences in Jewish settlements on the West Bank. The Globe has warned ticket holders of increased security measures at tonight’s event.

Sarah Ludford commented:

“It is rarely justified to boycott arts or academic exchanges on the grounds of the policies of the home government, and certainly not in the case of Israel which has such a lively democratic debate. One could think of far stronger candidates such as China, so hypocrisy is at work here.”

“I too strongly oppose settlements, but my quarrel is with the Israeli government, not with artists. As a basic liberal principle, freedom of artistic expression has to be protected. Wanting to block a bold Israeli production of Merchant with its anti-semitic portrayal of Shylock is also a rich irony.” 

“One of Habima’s goals is to promote communication between Jews and Arabs and it employs both. Culture and art play a key part in building bridges and communication between communities and it’s absurd to undermine this when peace is the long term goal.”

Notes to Editors

More information on the production can be seen here:


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