Even in the domain of dance, discrimination against Israel is present.When I left Israel in the mid-90s it was mostly because of burnout. A journalist with major international news organizations for a decade, I had had my fill of intifada, Gulf War, politics, bus bombings, infiltrations, funerals, demonstrations and general animosity dished up in a variety of flavors.
The burnout was ironic because in my young, early and enthusiastic days of journalism I met former CNN bureau chief Robert Wiener by chance while coffee’ing with some newbie journalist friends at east Jerusalem’s formidable American Colony Hotel. Wiener, who later wrote Live From Baghdad which was made into an HBO drama, warned cynically: Get out of this business while you still can. It’ll finish you.
What’s his problem? I thought. Years later I understood. He was burnt.
A decade of San Francisco life entailing shutting out the Middle East honestly deceived me into believing I could return to Tel Aviv and write about science, environment, culture, technology and human interest issues without ever touching hard news or the political realm. As my high school swim coach Larry Lyons used to joke: I’d be fat, dumb and happy.
But last week politics came crashing in when, of all things, I tried pitching a story about an exciting new Israeli modern dance company that I had profiled for ISRAEL21c to a London-based dance magazine. I was told by the magazine’s editor and head of advertising that they generally don’t run stories on Israeli companies because of the occupation, the wall and Israel’s policies vis a vis the Palestinians. They might consider running a piece, however, if the company’s artistic director publicly renounced the occupation and if the company’s funding did not come from the Israeli government or inside Israel.
I was stunned while listening to them speak and it took several minutes for me to fully comprehend their message. This was discrimination by someone who later admitted to never setting foot in the region, and was lecturing me on Israel’s policies. But this is about dance I thought.
Frankly, one of the first feelings that washed over me while listening was shame. Shame and an urge to apologize or comply somehow. Old feelings stemming from old habits. Why should I be ashamed, I thought as anger crept in. This company is trying to build bridges. The choreographer created a piece about breaking down political borders and boundaries. Why should she apologize when she’s already doing her part? This was blatant discrimination.
Further examination showed that in the magazine’s online listings a worldwide directory of dance companies is indexed by country. Several countries with questionable records on human rights are on the list. Guess which country isn’t included? Israel, of course.
Palestine and the El-Funoun Dance Troupe, however, are. Did anyone have to renounce suicide bombings in order for El-Funoun to get in? Nope. Because according to the magazine’s advertising head there’s a reason for people to become bombers. Their land has been occupied.
In addition, I discovered that ironically, in the magazine?s statement of purpose, that it intends to offer “an unbiased platform” for dance coverage.
Shortly after getting off the phone with the magazine I called a friend with connections in the journalism world and wrote about the ordeal on my blog: she wrote about it on hers as well. The story spread rapidly and was picked up by a host of other bloggers and by The Jewish Chronicle of London. Days later, comments are still coming in to my blog and others with discussions on anti-Semitism, the mix of art and politics, Zionism, South Africa and Israel, storm trooper tactics, Israeli policy, suicide bombings, right of return…
Clearly this specific incident created a platform for debate on searing issues that will not be resolved on my blog or anyone else’s.
For me, however, it has been fascinating to watch the passionate discourse – which has resulted from bringing the matter public and taking magazine policy to task. While the principle of free speech dictates that a magazine’s editor and publisher have a right to dictate policy, readers and advertisers have a right to know what that policy is.