Artists Urge Lincoln Center to Cancel Israel-Backed Play

More than sixty artists, actors, directors, and playwrights have signed an open letter demanding that New York’s Lincoln Center cancel performances of a play that is coproduced by two theaters in Israel—the Ha’bima National Theater and the Cameri Theater of Tel Aviv—which have been criticized for previously staging productions in the occupied territories and for being backed by the Israeli government.

According to the letter, the play “To the End of the Land” is part of “Brand Israel,” a public relations strategy, launched by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2006, that aims to rebrand the country by representing it as “relevant and modern.”

“It is deeply troubling that Lincoln Center, one of the world’s leading cultural institutions, is helping the Israeli government to implement its systematic ‘Brand Israel’ strategy of employing arts and culture to divert attention from the state’s decades of violent colonization, brutal military occupation, and denial of basic rights to the Palestinian people,” the letter reads. “We call on Lincoln Center to avoid complicity with Brand Israel by canceling these performances by Ha’bima and Cameri.”

The letter continues to clarify that the signees are not protesting the content of the play. They are opposed to the institutions’ structural complicity with “a repressive state agenda that repeatedly violates international law.” In 2016, the theaters held performances in the settlements of Kiryat Arba in Hebron and Ariel in the occupied West Bank. Since 2010, more than 150 theater professionals have rallied against the playhouses for holding these illegal performances and many artists have refused to appear in them.

In response, Debora Spar, the president of Lincoln Center, told the New York Times, “While we acknowledge the feelings of those who would prefer that we not allow that performance to continue, we will not be canceling it. Lincoln Center receives requests from time to time, from a variety of advocacy organizations, taking issue with either some of the performers we bring to campus or the work itself. As a cultural and education organization, however, we are committed to presenting a wide variety of artistic voices and trust that the art we bring can stand on its own.”

Among those who signed the latter are Artists for Palestine UK, the Palestine Performing Arts Network, director Mark Armstrong, playwright Alex Borinsky, writer Deborah Eisenberg, actress and filmmaker Greta Gerwig, composer Gabriel Kahane, actor Niall Buggy, and Pulitzer Prize–winner Annie Baker.

Based on the 2008 novel by David Grossman, To the End of the Land is a story about a mother who goes on a hike in Galilee to assuage her fears sparked by her son’s military service. Performances at Lincoln Center will be held from July 24 to July 27.