By Barak Ravid and The Associated Press
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu On Sunday criticized a recent declaration by a list of prominent Israeli actors and playwrights that they would not participate in plays staged in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, complaining that the artists are playing into the hands of international efforts to delegitimize Israel with economic, cultural and academic boycotts.
“Israel is the target of an international delegitimization campaign – the last thing the state needs to do is fund bodies that are trying to promote boycotts from within,” Netanyahu told cabinet ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu’s sentiments echoed the remarks made by Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat on Saturday, who said that the actors’ boycott would “tear Israeli society apart.”
The actors’ boycott set off a firestorm last week just as Israelis and Palestinians are to embark on a new round of peace talks.
The settlements, built on land the Palestinians want for a future state, could derail talks shortly after they are launched Thursday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he will walk out unless Israel extends a 10-month freeze on settlement building, which expires on Sept. 26. Netanyahu has not committed to an extension.
Israelis are divided over the settlements, including how many should be dismantled, if any, to enable the creation of a Palestinian state. However, the artists’ refusal to perform in settlements seemed to draw more criticism than support, in large part because of great sensitivity to international boycott efforts against Israel.
The debate came to the forefront on Wednesday when Haaretz reported that a $10 million performing arts center in the settlement of Ariel, one of the West Bank’s largest, was to open in November. Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman said the main Israeli theater companies, including Habima National Theater and Cameri, had agreed to put Ariel on their tour plan.
However, opposition arose in theater circles, and so far more than 60 artists, including some of the country’s best-known stage actors, have signed a pledge not to perform in Ariel, said renowned playwright Yehoshua Sobol, author of the Holocaust play The Ghetto.
Sobol said he hoped the petition would shake up the Israeli public and prompt the theaters to reconsider their decision to perform in Ariel, a settlement of some 20,000 Israelis.
“There has been complacency in recent years,” Sobol said. “People somehow became indifferent to the many issues which are existential issues in Israel, and this may revive public debate.”
On Sunday, four of the signatories changed their minds and rescinded their signatures.