Wellington Scoop

Political protest against Israeli dance company’s visit for NZ Festival

Scoop report by Jamie Neikrie
There were protests this weekend outside Wellington’s St. James Theatre, which was hosting a performance by an Israeli dance troupe, Batsheva.

John Minto, a key organizer in the 1980 protests of the South African apartheid protests, led a pro-Palestinian group of 40-plus strong. Using much of the same rhetoric used in the South African protests, the protestors denounced the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israeli government.

While the protestors allowed visitors to enter the performance, many were discouraged from attending. The pro-Palestinian supporters highlighted the fact that the dance troupe received funding from the Israeli government. “I’m sure many of these dancers are lovely people,” acknowledged protestor Dougal McNeill. “But by coming to New Zealand and representing Israel, they are attempting to normalize an apartheid state and unjust treatment of the Palestinian people.”

David Zwartz, a leader in Wellington’s Jewish community, led an equally powerful and animated pro-Israel response to the protests. Chief among Zwartz’s criticism of the protest was the decision to picket an arts performance. “There are numerous examples in history of countries and governments using cultural outreach programs,” Zwartz said. “The New Zealand government sends dance troupes, symphonies, and other arts programs across the world. This is not a novel idea.”

The pro-Israeli side also took offence to the use of the word “apartheid.” “To compare to Israel to South Africa, or compare the Palestinians to the blacks in South Africa is patently false, and disingenuous.” Zwartz claimed.

An unlikely ally came to the aid of Zwartz and the pro-Israel side in the form of the Flaxmere Christian Fellowship. Over 20 of the church’s members, many of them Samoan and Maori, had travelled from Auckland to aid the pro-Israel side. “From a spiritual sense, we feel it is out duty to come to aid of Israel,” said Fellowship member Doug Ho, a leader in the church’s youth program. “But we also feel that protesting against a dance troupe just because they are Israeli is also wrong.”

News release from John Minto – February 22
A protest will take place tonight against the visiting Israeli dance troupe Batsheva. The protest is part of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign to isolate Israel and its apartheid policies towards Palestinians. The protest will take place outside the St James Theatre in Courtenay Place, Wellington from 7.30pm.

The government has given visas to this dance company despite appeals from Palestinian solidarity groups and 2014 being declared the United Nation’s “International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People”.

The Batsheva Dance Company is part of the Israeli propaganda effort to deflect criticism of its appalling policies towards Palestinians. It is largely funded by the Israeli Ministry of Culture & Sport, the City of Tel Aviv and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs who praise the troupe as “ambassadors of Israeli culture”.

The troupe’s participation in the NZ Festival is also partially sponsored by the Israeli Embassy in Wellington.

The protest will be calling for an end to Israel’s unashamedly racist treatment of its Arab-Israeli citizens; the construction of illegal Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land; the brutal military occupation of the West Bank Palestinian territory and the inhuman blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The BDS campaign was launched in 2005 by some 260 Palestinian civil society organisations as the best way for the international community to support the Palestinian struggle for justice and human rights.

While some may hide behind the excuse that art and culture is somehow apolitical, many (including Stephen Hawking, Emma Thompson, Miriam Margolyes, Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, Roger Waters and Peter Gabriel) are taking a stand.

For the same reasons New Zealanders called for the end to rugby links with apartheid South Africa we are calling for the cutting of ties with apartheid Israel and a boycott of the Batsheva performances in New Zealand. This call is being made by a combined network of Palestinian solidarity organisations in New Zealand.

The National Party was on the wrong side of history in the struggle against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s and seems determined to continue on the wrong side of this issue.

As University of Auckland Dance Studies Associate Professor Nicholas Rowe puts it:

‘If Ohad Naharin and Batsheva Dance Company would have the courage to refuse to offer their bodies up to the Israeli Defense Forces for annual military service, if they would have the courage to publicly condemn the illegal military occupation of the West Bank and the ongoing theft of land and property by the government that pays them to tour in the name of Israel, if they would have the courage to publicly state that they do not judge people by their religion or ethnicity and so would welcome the return of non-Jewish refugees back to their homes inside what is now Israel, then they would be touring to New Zealand as dance artists, and not just as political puppets. Anybody who seeks to watch Batsheva should be aware that Ohad Naharin and Batsheva have these choices to make. ‘


  1. OHAD NAHARIN, 23. February 2014, 9:05

    Since my appointment as an artistic director, 25 years ago, i have been condemning the occupation in the west bank. on dozens of interviews i have criticized the israeli government for allowing people to participate in crimes against the Palestinians people. every election i put my vote and encourage my friends to vote for the party with the agenda of putting an end to the occupation.

    in our work and philosophy we encourage yielding, caring for the weak, dialogue, equality and freedom of expression. we are the Israelis who belong to growing number of people who can make the difference and bring a change. it is not obvious to see, yet, look further and you might see that supporting us will do much better for the world than the call for boycotting us will..

    the complex of the situation is huge, the intolerable situation in the west bank is tragic, yet, disturbing our performances only show that some times frustrations make us lose clarity and make us take actions that promote little for the Palestinian’s cause and damage to others.

    it takes very little effort to destroy and much more effort, planning, skills and imagination to built something. i am a builder. it is hard to sustain it with so much vulgarity around, way before i met those who call for boycotting us….

    it will be the happiest day of my life to witness the signing of peace agreement with a Palestinian state. i often said to friends that i am not only ready to give up the west bank,
    i am ready to give up my own house for peace.

  2. Peter Wilson, 23. February 2014, 12:14

    I have some questions of Mr. Naharin. Which Israeli political parties have expressly stated they would end the illegal occupation of Palestine and move the nearly 500,000 squatters from the illegal settlements? At what point did he listen to the calls of Palestinian civil society for the implementation of a boycott, and if he did why did he ignore them? It is only racist Israel and its toadies that would have the world believe that the situation Israel has manufactured is in any way complex. This is the usual way that apologists for the racist regime develop their justification for the ongoing oppression of the peoples of Palestine

  3. Plane Spotter, 23. February 2014, 14:16

    Have we forgotten what happened between 1939 – 1945. Anti Semitism rises again. Arabs are welcome to live in Israel in peace but the Palestinian movement will stop only when the destruction of Israel is complete. Disarm the Arabs and there will be peace, disarm Israel and there will be no more Israel.

  4. Peter, 23. February 2014, 16:49

    For heaven’s sake Plane Spotter, get real. The actions of Germany between 1939 and 1945 are no excuse for the constant theft of land, violation of human rights, war crimes and the numerous violations of UN determinations that are being committed by the Israeli Government. That aside, the ignorance and racist ramblings indicated by your final comments can only be described as mind-bogglingly sick.

  5. Luke James, 23. February 2014, 22:47

    If arabs accepted 2 states , 1 Jewish , 1 Arab, there would be no issue. People seem to ignore the fact that all arab parts are jew free yet the Israelis allow Arabs to live in their state.

  6. Touvah Hawaikirangi, 23. February 2014, 22:57

    The only racism that took place at the protest was when the last 2 guys of Minto’s group left & said & I quote “thank u for showing up especialy u dark skinned ppl”. I thought it was hilarious. Reminded me of a Billy T skit when Queen Vick’s soldiers came over 2gt our land & asked how the maoris were going 2pay 4it with either visa or mastercard haha. Ok i’m rambling nw. Long story short. Go to Israel, find out yrself it’s not an apartheid state just like NZ isn’t a republic.

  7. Peter, 24. February 2014, 11:06

    Well done Luke – the classic re-write of history that has come to be expected from some quarters. Now which of the two states that you mention would be on the currently illegally occupied territories?

  8. Adam, 25. February 2014, 23:20

    Luke, are you referring to the 2 state solutions such as the 1937 partition? A UK parliamentarian at the time summed up the general attitude toward that partition quite well by saying “I hope that Jews will treat it [the 1937 partition] merely as a stepping stone to further advance”. The two state solution was a no win situation, the British promised too much in the heat of world war 1 and could not deliver to both the Palestinians (of whom they promised independence if they revolted against the Ottomans), nor the Jews (who were promised a ‘national home’ by the Balfour declaration in the hope of influencing support from American and Russian Jews during WW2). However the Palestinians certainly have a right to be angry, living in Israel and being an equal member of Israeli society are two very different things.

  9. Elaine, 26. February 2014, 11:21

    Plane spotter / Luke
    It would increasingly appear that Israel may be pushed back into the sea, but it will be because the huge rage they have instigated amongst the surrounding Arab peoples by their ill treatment of Palestine boils over. It didn’t need to be like this, Palestine is the sticking point in all issues within this region. Even I, once an apologist for those plucky Israelis making the ‘desert bloom’, have come to see the organised cruelty and racism leading to genocide of a people will have awful consequences for the following generation.