UPDATED, 1 PM: Better late than never? Greta Gerwig took to the New York Post‘s Page Six gossip column to renounce her prior support of a letter requesting that the Lincoln Center Festival cancel its presentation of an Israeli play back in July. The actress and director, along with a number of other theater, film and television luminaries, signed the petition (see earlier stories below), which was organized by Adalah-NY. The group supports the BDS movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israeli businesses and cultural organizations until the Jewish state negotiates a settlement with Palestinians.
The target was a co-production by two Israeli theater companies of To the End of the Land, an adaptation of David Grossman’s autobiographical novel. The New York presentation was underwritten in part by the Israeli culture ministry, a fairly common practice among foreign arts groups undertaking international tours.
Gerwig, who might have an Oscar shot with Lady Bird, her feature directing debut, said that signing the petition “was a mistake – my mistake” because she “was unfamiliar with the complexities of the letter and I did not take the time to study them.”
BDS – particularly as it is applied to cultural programming such as this along with Israel’s participation in international film festivals and academic conferences – has divided Jews and non-Jews, liberals and conservatives alike. The petition against To the End of the Land was particularly ironic because the show is in part a lament over the very issues that have seemed increasingly insurmountable. Lincoln Center rejected the request; the play was performed without incident.
Here is Gerwig’s complete statement to Page Six:
“This past summer, a close friend asked me to lend my name to a letter. I am generally careful about the causes I support, but in this case I was not. I was unfamiliar with the complexities of the letter and I did not take the time to study them. Instead, because the letter had already been signed by many other friends and collaborators I know to be thoughtful and honorable people, I agreed to add my name. While I respect the passion and integrity of others who signed this letter, for me to put my name to something outside of my personal realm of knowledge or experience was a mistake — my mistake — and I am sorry for any confusion or hurt I may have caused.”
Page Six earlier had reported that an anonymous source had snarked, “At the Toronto and Telluride[, Colo.] film fests, journalists were banned from asking Gerwig about her opposition to an Israeli-backed play at Lincoln Center. There is an Oscar campaign afoot for Gerwig, and her team doesn’t want her controversial anti-Israel opinions hurting her chances.” A spokesperson for Gerwig told Deadline today that no journalists were told what they could or could not ask Gerwig.
PREVIOUS UPDATE: CAA co-head of television Adam Berkowitz, WME head of TV Rick Rosen and Propagate Content co-CEO Ben Silverman are among the Hollywood brass who have signed a letter supporting Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ rejection of a request to cancel upcoming performances by a troupe underwritten by an agency of the Israeli government. “Selectively silencing art is dangerous,” according to a letter signed by nearly 50 execs (read it in full below). “Art unites us, and helps us get past what makes us different while connecting us at the core of what makes us similar. We — and especially Israelis and Palestinians, who require being brought together more than anything — need more of it, not less.”
PREVIOUSLY, July 6: Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts president Deborah Spar has rejected a request, supported by a number of well-known artists and scholars, to cancel upcoming performances by a troupe underwritten by an agency of the Israeli government. The request from Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel represents the latest move to link any activity, whether commercial or nonprofit, business- or culture-related, to the international Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement created to pressure Israel into addressing issues relating to Palestinians and the Occupied Territories.
The widely disseminated letter called for the cancellation of To the End of the Land, a theatrical adaptiaton of David Grossman’s bestselling novel by Israel’s Ha’bima National Theatre and the Cameri Theater of Tel Aviv. The presentation at the Lincoln Center Festival is underwritten in part by Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs in North America. The letter links the presentation to an Israeli government public relations effort, called “Brand Israel,” to present the Jewish State in a positive light.
“An important component of ‘Brand Israel’ involves promoting the country as a progressive center of the arts and culture,” the letter from Adalah-NY said, quoting an Israeli official, who said, “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits. … This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”
“To the End of the Land is going to be one part of the larger Lincoln Center Festival this summer,” Spar responded, “and we are looking forward to bringing many different performances from all over the world as part of the series.” The festival begins July 10 and runs through the end of the month. The performances of To the End of the Land are slated for July 24-27. “As I am sure you can imagine, Lincoln Center receives requests from time to time from a variety of advocacy organizations taking political issue with either the performers or the work itself,” Spar continued. “As a cultural and education organization, however, we do not make political statements and hope that the art we present can stand on its own.”
Among those aligning themselves with the Adalah-NY letter are Indignation filmmaker James Schamus, actress Greta Gerwig, actor Niall Buggy, Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, Vanya on 42nd Street director André Gregory, author Deborah Eisenberg, A Doll’s House, Part 2 director Sam Gold, that show’s playwright Lucas Hnath and colleagues Lynn Nottage, Amy Herzog, Annie Baker, Tracy Letts and Caryl Churchill. (See the complete letter and response below.)
Protests singling out Israel-subsidized cultural events have become a commonplace at film festivals and other arts gatherings around the world, with human-rights activists taking positions on both sides of the Israel-Palestine debate. They even strike at home: In May, a number of filmmakers and jurists withdrew from Tel Aviv’s LGBT-centered TLV Film Festival after being contacted by BDS supporters. In contrast, there have been no protests against scheduled Lincoln Center Festival performances by, to cite one example, the state-subsidized Bolshoi Ballet.
The timing of the protest against a work by one of Israel’s most popular writers couldn’t have been worse for liberals who support the nation even as it veers ever more sharply to the right under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s inconceivable to imagine an LGBTQ film festival in any other Middle East country, for example, where homosexuality is criminalized; at the same time, many American Jews feel betrayed by Netanyahu’s support of the religious right, which blocked a move to equalize the rights of women to pray at the Western Wall. That’s made it easier for some Jews who identify as progressive to align with BDS.
Free-speech groups the National Coalition Against Censorship and Dramatists Legal Defense Fund are among those defending Lincoln Center’s decision. “While they have the right to protest the production — a right that we have defended — cultural boycott campaigns like this one are a blunt instrument that exacts a high price: sacrificing the free exchange of ideas about the most important issues of our times,” they said in a joint statement.
“There is a distinction between polemic and sponsorship,” Peter J. Rubinstein, a leading American rabbi and Director of Jewish Community and the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA, one of New York’s most prominent cultural institutions. “David Grossman’s work is a response to the human condition throughout his life, and the sadness, the ramifications of this conflict.
“Throughout my experience,” he added, “culture has always been perceived as a solution, rather than as a problem. Even when governments were not talking to each other, the cultural world was meeting and exchanging ideas. It’s part of the American fiber.”
Rubinstein also took exception to Adalah-NY’s linking of “Brand Israel” to justify canceling the Lincoln Center Festival performances. “Every country brands its culture, whether formally or not. The fact that Israel has needed to brand itself is a response to those who have branded Israel ‘apartheid.’ It’s presumptuous and in someways lacking integrity. This is the political polemical part of the debate.”
Here are the letters, followed by Monday’s letter and its signatories:
Letter to Katherine Farley, Chairman of the Board, Lincoln Center
Debora L. Spar, President, Lincoln Center
Dear Ms. Farley and Ms. Spar,
As supporters of the arts and human rights, we are writing you to express our grave concern that Lincoln Center will be hosting Israel’s Ha’bima National Theatre and the Cameri Theater of Tel Aviv from July 24 – 27 for performances of the play “To the End of the Land.” Lincoln Center’s website notes that these performances will occur “With support of Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs in North America.” 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. We call on Lincoln Center to avoid complicity with Brand Israel by cancelling these performances by Ha’bima and Cameri.
In 2006 Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) launched its “Brand Israel” public relations strategy which aimed to “rebrand” Israel by representing the country as “relevant and modern,” while “avoiding any discussion of the conflict with the Palestinians.” An important component of “Brand Israel” involves promoting the country as a progressive center of the arts and culture. This was articulated by a MoFA official who, following one of Israel’s periodic military assaults on the Gaza Strip, told the New York Times, “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits …This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.” The advertised support by “Israel’s Office of Cultural Affairs in North America” for Ha’bima and Cameri’s performance at Lincoln Center fits precisely within that Israeli government strategy.
In addition to this government partnership, both Ha’bima and Cameri Theaters have long been actively complicit in the occupation and colonization of the West Bank, by performing repeatedly in illegal settlements there, despite calls by conscientious artists in Israel and around the world asking them not to do so. In 2016 Ha’bima performed in the radical settlement of Kiryat Arba in Hebron, and Ha’bima and Cameri gave multiple performances in the settlement of Ariel, which cuts 12 miles into the occupied West Bank, in flagrant violation of international law. Many courageous Israeli artists have protested over performances in Ariel, and have refused to appear there. The protests by Israeli artists were joined in 2010 by over 150 international theater and film professionals. In the UK in 2012, a group of prominent actors, playwrights and directors published a letter in the Guardian calling on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to cancel Ha’bima’s performance there due to its role in legitimization of Israeli settlements. Nonetheless, Ha’bima and Cameri continue to perform in these settlements.
Given this context, Lincoln Center cannot claim that hosting these theaters, with Israeli government support, is simply apolitical patronage of the arts, when these Israeli institutions are directly involved in supporting the repression of the Palestinian people, including Palestinian theater artists. To give just a few of the many examples of Palestinian artists being the targets of Israeli government repression: performers and staff from the Jenin Freedom Theater have repeatedly been subject to arrest and harassment. In June 2015, the Israeli government cut funding of one theater run by Palestinian citizens of Israel, and threatened the funding of a second theater over artistic decisions related to Palestinian rights. The Palestinian National Theater in East Jerusalem has been the target of years of persistent harassment and threats of closure by the Israeli government. The freedom of movement of all Palestinians artists is frequently restricted by Israeli occupation authorities, while Israeli artists travel the world freely.
We are not raising concerns about any artists’ content, or their nationality, but rather about institutions’ structural complicity with a repressive state agenda that repeatedly violates international law. Lincoln Center’s other programming, including the other performances in the international Festival from July 10 – 30, indicates its admirable intentions in highlighting varied voices in the region, allowing the arts to function as they so valuably can to raise critical awareness, facilitate active questioning and open space for intercultural understanding. But by hosting the Ha’bima and Cameri theaters, and partnering with the Israeli government in doing so, Lincoln Center too is actively supporting Israel’s decades of denial of Palestinian rights. It is now 50 years since Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been subject to a regime of military occupation and colonization, and 69 years that they have lived inside Israel as unequal citizens now subject to over 50 discriminatory laws, or as refugees in diaspora, denied the right to return to their homeland as guaranteed by international law.
These are our reasons for urging Lincoln Center to respect the Palestinian civil society call for a boycott of those Israeli cultural institutions that are complicit in the denial of Palestinian rights. This call is modeled on the global boycott movement that helped to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. To help to pressure the Israeli government to end 69 years of Palestinian dispossession and exile, and 50 years of military occupation, we ask you to cancel Ha’bima and Cameri’s July performances.
We would be very happy to meet with you to discuss these issues further.
Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, (US)
Al Harah Theater, (Palestine)
Al Kamandjati Association, (Palestine)
Artists for Palestine UK, (UK)
Ashtar Theater, (Palestine)
Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, (Palestine)
El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe, (Palestine)
Jewish Voice for Peace Artists Council, (US)
Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), (Palestine)
Popular Art Centre, (Palestine)
Popular Theatre Society for Performing Arts and Training, (Palestine)
Sareyyet Ramallah, (Palestine )
The Jenin Freedom Theater, (Palestine)
The Palestinian Circus School, (Palestine)
The Palestinian Performing Arts Network (PPAN), (Palestine)
The School of Hard Knocks, (US)
Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory (TOPLAB), (US)
US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, (US)
Yabous Cultural Centre, (Palestine)
Mark Armstrong, Director
Annie Baker, Playwright
Saleh Bakri, Actor
Clare Barron, Playwright
Alex Borinsky, Playwright
Stephen Brown-Fried, Theatre Director and Teacher
Leila Buck, Writer, Actor, Intercultural Facilitator
Niall Buggy, Actor
Sheila Callaghan, Playwright
Henry Chalfant, Filmmaker
Kathleen Chalfant, Actor
Linda Chapman, Associate Artistic Director, New York Theatre Workshop (denotes organizational affiliation, but not signing for entire organization)
Caryl Churchill, Playwright
John Graham Davies, Actor and Writer
Eisa Davis, Actor, Playwright
Thomas Dolan, Dramaturg
Sally Eberhardt, Co-Founder, Theaters Against War (THAW)
Deborah Eisenberg, Writer
Halley Feiffer, Actor, Playwright
Dan Fishback, Playwright
Will Frears, Director
Greta Gerwig, Actor and Filmmaker
Noelle Ghoussaini, Director, Playwright and Educator
Melissa James Gibson, Playwright
Sam Gold, Director
Kirsten Greenidge, Playwright
Andre Gregory, Director
Amy Herzog, Playwright
Lucas Hnath, Playwright
Samuel D. Hunter, Playwright
Kayhan Irani, Writer, Performer, Facilitator
Lanna Joffrey, Actor and writer
Melanie Joseph, Founder/Artistic Producer,The Foundry Theatre (denotes organizational affiliation, but not signing for entire organization)
Gabriel Kahane, Composer
MJ Kaufman, Playwright
Sibyl Kempson, Playwright
Ismail Khalidi, Playwright
Armina Lamanna, Artistic Director of Imagine Project
Paul Laverty, Director
Paul Lazar, Actor, Director
Young Jean Lee, Playwright and Director
Tracy Letts, Playwright
Ken Loach, Director
Kirk Lynn, Playwright
Taylor Mac, Theater Artist
Liz Magnes, Jazz Pianist
Karen Malpede, Playwright, Writer
Jen Marlowe, Founder, Donkeysaddle Projects
Brian Mertes, Director, Artist
Winter Miller, Playwright
Arian Moayed, Actor, Artist
Thurston Moore, Singer/Songwriter
Janine Nabers, Playwright
Lila Neugebauer, Director
Bruce Norris, Playwright
Lynn Nottage, Playwright
Jiehae Park, Playwright
Shajila Patel, Playwright
Katie Pearl, Theater Artist
Brian Pickett, Actor, Playwright, Theatre Educator
Max Posner, Playwright
Jens Rasmussen, Actor, Bechdel Project Founding Artist
James Schamus, Filmmaker
Betty Shamieh, Playwright
Wallace Shawn, Playwright
Jackie Sibblies Drury, Playwright
Cori Thomas, Playwright
Lily Thorne, Playwright
Kathleen Tolan, Playwright
Kaye Voyce, Costume Designer
Naomi Wallace, Playwright
Roger Waters, Singer/Songwriter
Edward Ziter, Theatre Scholar
June 27 email from Lincoln Center’s President to Adalah-NY
Thank you for your thoughtful note regarding the performances by Ha’bima National Theater and the Cameri Theater of Tel Aviv. “To the End of the Land” is going to be one part of the larger Lincoln Center Festival this summer, and we are looking forward to bringing many different performances from all over the world as part of the series.
It is part of our mission to bring the highest quality performances to the largest number of people, and we seek to bring a wide range of ideas and voices to our stages each year.
As I am sure you can imagine, Lincoln Center receives requests from time to time from a variety of advocacy organizations taking political issue with either the performers or the work itself. As a cultural and education organization, however, we do not make political statements and hope that the art we present can stand on its own.
With all best wishes for an enjoyable summer,
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Here is Monday’s letter of support, addressed to Farley and and signatories:
Dear Ms. Farley and Ms. Spar,
We at Creative Community For Peace (CCFP) applaud you for your principled stand in support of the arts. In the face of attacks by anti-Israel groups calling on Lincoln Center — one of the world’s foremost performing arts centers — to cancel the performance of the Israeli play “To the End of the Land,” you stood strong.
As an organization comprised of prominent members of the entertainment industry who believe in the power of the arts as a means to help build bridges towards peace, support artistic freedom, and counter the cultural boycott of Israel, we find the selective and politically motivated boycott directed at Israeli funding of the arts to be hypocritical, discriminatory, and dangerous to the arts and artists worldwide.
As we know, government support is crucial for the arts. Just this month, in fact, there are at least three other events at Lincoln Center that include support from governments around the world:
The film “Birdshot” — funded by the Doha Film Institute, a Qatari organization headed by the ruling Al Thani family — was screened there on July 6.
From July 3-8, the American Ballet Theatre — funded by the US federal government together with the governments of New York City and New York State — is performing its “Tchaikovsky Spectacular.”
And from July 26-30, the Bolshoi Ballet — which lists as its partners two Russian government news agencies — will perform “The Taming of the Shrew.”
While some of us at CCFP (and perhaps even at Lincoln Center) may disagree with various actions of these governments, we can all agree that punishing artists from these countries by shunning them for receiving crucial funding from their governments is not the answer. Depriving audiences of their work, their perspectives, and their contributions to culture around the world is imprudent.
Punishing artists from only one of these countries — as the signatories of open letter are attempting with Israel — is both imprudent and discriminatory.
In their letter asking you to punish Israeli artists, the signatories painted a very black and white picture of Israel — the only true democracy in the Middle East, where all people regardless of race, religion, or gender have full political and civil rights — ignoring the many shades of gray in its supremely complex and tragically ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.
They wrongfully accuse Israel of being a colonial, apartheid state, by using the type of emotionally charged and dishonest language which only serves to trigger further hostility and dampen hope for rational discourse, pushing peace further away.
They degraded Israeli artists, portraying them as no more than a tool used by the Israeli government to cover up its alleged crimes.
They demonized Israel, trying to make a sinister conspiracy out of Israel funding its artists, despite the fact that nearly every country on earth — from the freest democracy to the most oppressive dictatorship — does the same.
Again, we applaud you for standing firm in your support of the arts. If we had allowed their brazen efforts to single out Israeli artists for a politically motivated boycott to succeed today, who might have been the target tomorrow?
Selectively silencing art is dangerous. Art unites us, and helps us get past what makes us different while connecting us at the core of what makes us similar. We — and especially Israelis and Palestinians, who require being brought together more than anything — need more of it, not less.
We hope our colleagues who signed the boycott letter will follow your example and reconsider their support for this divisive movement. Instead we hope they will join us in ensuring that our industry is not used as a political tool of hatred and persecution based on misinformation and one sided biases.
Jason Adelman, former vp of strategic partnerships at Relativity Media;
Orly Adelson, former president of ITV Studios, America;
Craig Balsam, co-founder of Razor & Tie Entertainment;
Richard Baskind, partner and head of music at Simons Muirhead & Burton;
Aton Ben-Horin, global vice president of A&R at Warner Music Group;
Steven Bensusan, president of Blue Note Entertainment Group;
Adam Berkowitz, co-head of the television department at Creative Artists Agency (CAA);
Joshua P. Binder, partner at Davis Shapiro & Lewit et al.;
David Byrnes, partner of Ziffren, Brittenham, LLP;
Civia Caroline, president of Clic Entertainment;
Josh Deutsch, chairman/CEO of Downtown Records;
David Draiman, musician and frontman of Disturbed;
Craig Emanuel, partner of Loeb & Loeb LLP;
Ron Fair, record producer and former chief creative officer and executive vp of Virgin America;
Erica Forster, vp of Music Partnerships, DanceOn;
Gary Foster, principal of Krasnoff Foster Productions;
Daryl Friedman, chief advocacy and industry relations officer of The Recording Academy/GRAMMYs on the Hill;
Daniel Glass, president and founder of Glassnote Entertainment Group;
Andrew Genger, Red Light Management;
Jody Gerson, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group;
Gary Ginsberg, executive vice president of corporate marketing and communications of Time Warner Inc.;
David Glick, founder and CEO of Edge Group;
Trudy Green, Trudy Green Management/HK Management;
Neil Jacobson, president of Geffen Records;
Zach Katz, president repertoire & marketing, U.S., BMG;
Amanda Kogan, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (WME);
Rick Krim, west coast president of Sony/ATV Music Publishing;
Colin Lester, CEO of JEM Artists;
David Levy, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (WME);
David Lonner, CEO of Oasis Media Group;
Ben Maddahi, president of Unrestricted;
Scott Packman, Esq.;
Donald S. Passman, partner of Gang, Tyre, Ramer, and Brown, Inc.;
Dean Raise, C3 Presents;
David Renzer, chairman of Spirit Music Group and former chairman/CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group;
Hanna Rochelle, founder and president of Lyric Culture;
Rick Rosen, head of the television department at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (WME);
Steve Schnur, worldwide executive and music president of Electronic Arts;
Sam Schwartz, co-principal of Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency;
Ben Silverman, chairman and co-chief executive officer of Propagate Content;
Ralph Simon, chairman & chief executive officer of Mobilium Global Limited,
Jeff Sosnow, svp of a&r at Warner Music Group;
Gary Stiffelman, partner of Greenberg Traurig LLP;
Aaron Symonds, film composer;
Traci Szymanski, president of Co-Star Entertainment/Isrealife Media Group;
Adam Taylor, president of APM Music;
Sharon Tal Yguado, head of event series at Amazon