The world of dance is in an uproar: British magazine Dance Europe was accused last week by the London Jewish Chronicle of politicization and racism after the magazine refused to publish an article on Israeli dance troupe Dance Drama, whose choreographer is Sally-Anne Friedland.
Several weeks ago journalist Stephanie Freid approached the editors of Dance Europe about writing a piece on Dance Drama. Freid notes that after interrogating her about Dance Drama’s views on the occupation, editor Emma Manning “told me they had allowed an Israeli advertisement once, but only with a disclaimer saying it disapproved of the occupation.”
Manning told the Jewish Chronicle that “as an editor, I am entitled to choose what to print.” The magazine’s head of advertising, Naresh Kaul, was even more explicit: “We are opposed to the occupation. If any company in Israel cooperates with us by adding a disclaimer saying it is opposed to the occupation, settlements and everything else, we will cooperate with them.”
The list of artists and troupes that appears in Dance Europe makes no mention of Israel. Under “Palestine”it lists the El-Funoun dance troupe from Ramallah. In response to a question from the Jewish Chronicle about whether the Palestinian troupe was required to condemn suicide bombings, Kaul stated that “there’s a reason for people to become suicide bombers. Their land has been occupied.”
“My blood froze”
Sally-Anne Friedland, who immigrated to Israel from South Africa, finds it hard to disguise her horror.
“When I heard about this for the first time my blood froze,” she told Ynet. “It was the first time I’ve experienced anti-Semitism. I always thought these things couldn't affect me as an artist since art has no borders, and it gives you the freedom to say and do everything. I have no doubt that this magazine is using the 'occupation' as an excuse for anti-Semitism, and this frightens me. We must fight this.
"I fled South Africa because of racism, and I try in my art to rise above all of that, but now Apartheid is being thrown right in my face. I am not ashamed of my world vew, but I don’t think I need to pay for being written about in such a magazine by condemning Israel. My opinions are none of a British magazine’s business. If they are interested in what I think, let them see my work.
"They don’t understand what damage they are causing. Art is one of the most important means of communicating and of breaking down the human and physical boundaries created by stigmas and politics. Who the hell are they to tell me how and what to think? This is terrible. I think the Israeli Foreign Ministry should get involved in this, and I hope that the whole world of dance will join a campaign against the magazine.”
Sally-Anne Friedland is not the only Israeli who has come up against the magazine’s policy. A year and a half ago Dan Rudolph, general manager of the Kibbutz Dance Company, was asked to publish a condemnation when he wanted to place an ad for dance auditions.
“I received a letter from the magazine that demanded a written declaration against the policy of occupation, and I got really angry. I called up Naresh Kaul, who had signed the letter, and I told him that our opinions of Israeli policy are none of their. I am a leftist and I oppose the occupation and the separation fence, but I still don’t think my views are relevant for publication in a professional magazine.”
Rudolph contacted the Israel Foreign Ministry and the British Council, but he was not satisfied with their replies. “They said that this is the internal policy of a private magazine,” notes Rudolph. “We had no choice, so the only protest we could make was canceling our subscription to the magazine. The Foreign Ministry should have handled this as it handles diplomatic incidents.
"It is inconceivable that Israeli culture should not be represented in an important leading magazine just because Israel’s political stance does not match that of the editors. I also demanded an unequivocal declaration from the British Council, but apparently they find it more convenient to give in.”
Israeli dancer and choreographer Sahar Azimi bumped into the magazine’s editor at the Fabrica Europa festival in Italy. “Manning participated in a panel of journalists from abroad, and we sat at the same table. She attacked me verbally and said that Israeli artists should represent the left and speak about human rights, that we must not sit quietly when atrocities are going on meters away from us.
”I said that I don’t think that art and politics must go together. She spoke about a Palestinian friend married to a friend of hers who canot get to the territories because of the occupation, and she asked if I watch al- Jazeera, claiming it is the only station to broadcast the 'truth' situation. I had the feeling that she was settling a personal account.
"I don’t think an artist has a sacred obligation to involve himself in human rights. Art is not limited just to that, and no one made me sign a contract when I was born saying I would get involved in politics. It's just twisted. Dance Europe’s policy perpetuates the taboo on Israeli dance that has existed abroad for many years. This is a destructive tendency not just for Israeli dance, which is a significant segment of world dance, but also for the entire dance community, wherever it is.”
Others on the Israeli dance scene differ. About a year ago, prior to auditions, Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak’s dance troupe agreed to denounce the occupation.
“I don’t remember that this was a condition for placing the notice, it was some time ago and it’s rather vague,” says Pollak, but “it was clear that there was something problematic in forcing people to take sides and in making the notice conditional on a declaration.
"But we have no problem saying what we think, it’s not a secret that we oppose the occupation. It’s the magazine’s right to place an embargo if that is the means of protest they see fit to use. You can get mad about this, but you have to remember that the problem is not Dance Europe, but the situation we live with. We don’t deal with politics in our work, and we try to be influenced by politics as little as possible, but it haunts us. Everyone should do as they see fit.”
Israeli Choreographer’s Assocation CEO Sigalit Gelfand said in response: “We see it as a serious matter that a cultural magazine sets political conditions that are completely unrelated to the (professional) issue. We intend to approach the British Embassy in Israel and to demand a thorough examination of this matter. Dance is the primary Israeli artistic and cultural export. Israeli artists and dancers are on all parts of the political spectrum, and their opinions are not relevant to the issue. We expect the embassy to answer us as soon as possible.”
Editor denies policy
Emma Manning, editor of Dance Europe, denied the magazine would refuse to publish articles or ads from Israeli artists, dancers, or choreographers, and said the magazine had no policy not to report on groups supported by Israel’s government.
She added that the magazine has published a wide range of articles in the past 10 years, and that Israeli dancer Rafi Sadi appeared on the cover of the magazine’s 10th birthday issue last December. The June 2004 issue included an interview with Israeli artist Ohad Nahrin, and it discusses his political views.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that it had approached the British Embassy and asked for a response on the issue, and that it had asked the Israeli Embassy in London to investigate the legal ramifications of the issue, and whether non-governmental organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League might have a role to play.
Ziv Nevo of the Foreign Ministry’s Cultural and Scientific Relations Division notes that Israeli dance is recognized and appreciated throughout the world, even in the most hostile of places. According to Nevo, it is a shame that a supposedly-professional magazine has chosen to completely negate the existence of Israeli dance, and to discriminate against Israeli artists only because they are Israeli.
The British Embassy in Israel issued a statement noting that it believes that cooperation and dialogue are the best way to promote understanding among different nations. The statement adds that cultural connections are an excellent way to encourage better understanding between nations, and that sanctions do not contribute to this goal.
The British Council in Israel notes that the Council’s role is to encourage cultural links between Britain and Israel, and that it has no influence on a private magazine. The Council statement adds that culture and politics shouldn’t be mixed, but that the Council cannot prevent others from mixing them. The Council deals with culture and not with politics, and does not tell others what to think.