Published: Monday, March 2, 2009
Approximately 50 people protested outside Royce Hall at the performance of Israel”s Batsheva Dance Company on Saturday night in hopes of drawing attention to the recent Israeli incursion into Gaza.
The protest was organized by the recently created U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which saw its membership rise from 15 to more than 230 academics since its inception in January. The demonstrators were mostly professors, but many students participated as well.
“There were repeated efforts to initiate the boycott, but it was not taking off. This last Gaza incursion pushed people over the edge,” said Sherna Berger Gluck, an organizing committee member and professor emeritus of women”s studies and history at California State University, Long Beach.
“I believe that this was a massacre. A horrible, huge, monstrous massacre,” said Edie Pistolesi, an organizing committee member and art professor at Cal State Northridge, referring to the most recent activity in Gaza.
According to Palestinian officials, some 1,300 Palestinians – at least half of them civilians – were killed in the Israeli military incursion that began in late December. Thirteen Israelis were also killed, three of them civilians.
Organizing committee member Dennis Kortheuer, who is Jewish, of Cal State Long Beach said that during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War he thought Israel was “a David against a Goliath.” It was not until 1991 when he visited the Palestinian territory as a student to assess the situation for himself that his opinion changed when he encountered many roadblocks and saw that some of the villages were closed off to any access at all.
“It was like a siege,” Kortheuer said.
While some of the concertgoers expressed sympathies with the Palestinian position, many still disagreed with the dance concert as a forum for a protest.
“There”s not a black or white view on this. They”ve both wronged each other horribly on this. But (the dancers) don”t have anything to do with government officials making decisions,” said concertgoer Emmaly Wiederholz.
Wiederholz said the protest just appealed to people”s emotions without actual substance. She questioned the accuracy of the protesters” claim that 400 children died.
Others expressed frustration with the protesters.
“It really pisses me off as a Jewish girl,” said Judith Flex, a concertgoer. “If the Palestinians were the performers here, Israelis won”t be demonstrating against their culture. If they”d stop doing things like this they”d have their country by now,” Flex said.
Protesters disagreed that the dance performance was an inappropriate place to express their opinions.
“People feel that you can separate art and politics. But you can”t,” said Christine Browning, a program assistant at USC.
Many of the protesters maintained that the Batsheva Dance Company described themselves as Israel”s leading ambassador.
Ohad Naharin, artistic director and choreographer of Batsheva Dance Company, recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that if the protests are “against the abuse of power by the Israeli army in the (Gaza) war,” and “the occupation … I agree … on both of those things.”
Pistolesi said she thought the protest was actually true public art and a visual expression of a tragedy.
“Art is about culture, politics and life,” Pistolesi said, “whether you”re looking at a Vermeer or a peace poster.”
Some protesters saw the demonstration not only as a political statement but also as the beginning of a dialogue and forum for discussion.
“The American public has a lot to learn. People are starting to understand that something is not right,” said Paul Hershfield, assistant director of the Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid.
Several of the protesters insisted that Israel acts outside of international law.
“We want to let the Batsheva group know that we”re not going to treat Israel as a civilized country. Israel is a rogue state,” said Yael Korin, a pathology researcher at UCLA who is also an endorser of the campaign.
Korin, who was born in Israel and has family members who are Holocaust survivors, said it is very difficult for her family to come to terms with her political views.
“My mother is 92, and it”s hard for her to understand why I”m doing this. She is a victim of history,” Korin said. While understanding the history, Korin said Palestinians should not have to pay for what happened.
On Friday, Judea Pearl, a UCLA computer science professor and father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, told reporters at a news conference that Jewish students and faculty at California universities fear for their safety on campus because of threats aimed at them over the Middle East conflict.
Korin disagrees that there is a rise of anti-Semitism but said she is very pleased anti-Zionism is on the rise.
“People are intelligent in the peace community. They know the difference,” Korin said.
Charla Schlueter, a prospective UCLA graduate student from North Carolina, complained that she had been attacked and called anti-Semitic for expressing her political views.
“That sort of automatic response doesn”t work anymore. The whole world sees what the massacre was,” Schlueter said.
This protest took place amid preparations for a Gaza reconstruction conference in Egypt scheduled for today, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to attend.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Sunday as Clinton arrived in Egypt that Israel”s retaliation would be painful, harsh and strong if the rocket fire from Gaza continues.