Cirque du Soleil faces criticism prior to performances in Israel

Ati Metwaly, Thursday 26 Jul 2012

Tadamon, a Montreal-based collective, issue an open letter asking Cirque du Soleil to cancel performances planned for August in Tel Aviv

Art work by Palestinian artist Nidal Elkhairy to accompany letter issued by Tadamon! to Cirque du Soleil. Source: Tadamon!

On their website, Tadamon describe themselves as a collective that “works in solidarity with struggles for self-determination, equality and justice in the ‘Middle East’ and in diaspora communities in Montreal and beyond.”

The Canadian group that describes the policies of Israel as "colonisation of Palestine" expresses its support for the July 2005 coalition of Palestinian civil society organisations asking for a global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. The international boycott of cultural exchange with Israel is led by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), launched in Ramallah in April 2004 by a group of Palestinian academics and intellectuals, since 2005 part of the BDS movement.  

In early July, Tadamon issued an open letter to Cirque du Soleil, a Canadian and world-renowned circus arts and street entertainment company, asking them to respect the cultural boycott of Israel. The group is asking Cirque du Soleil to reconsider its upcoming performances of Alegría in Tel Aviv, planned to take place between 8 and 18 August.

The open letter states: “It is not uncommon for internationally renowned artists such as Cirque du Soleil to be invited to Israel. You may not be aware, however, that by performing in Israel, well-known artists provide credibility to, and indirectly endorse, the actions and policies of the Israeli government. In fact, the Israeli government is actively and openly pursuing a policy to attract artists to Israel in an attempt to whitewash its own violations of international law and the apartheid laws it imposes on Palestinians.”

“In order to stay true to its stated principles, Cirque du Soleil must recognize that performing in Israel today disrespects the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel that aims at ending Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights,” the letter continues.

A number of organisations and individuals have also expressed concerns regarding the Cirque de Soleil's plans. The Palestinian Circus School sent a letter to the general management of Cirque du Soleil calling on it not to perform in Israel.

“We do not take lightly calling for Cirque du Soleil, or any circus for that matter, to not perform in Israel, especially since we ourselves are totally committed to the art of circus and are committed to bringing the circus everywhere we can,” the letter states. “However, for circus to be faithful to its art form, we are also unrelentingly committed to human rights. Thus, we write to request that Cirque du Soleil reconsider its planned performance in Israel, and join other artists from around the world who have called on you to support human rights and the right of all people to be free from military occupation.”

The tour of Cirque du Soleil across the Middle East has included shows in Amman, Jordan, at the end of June. Saltimbanco, the iconic performance of Cirque du Soleil, gathered thousands across four days though illicited mixed reviews. Many in Amman spoke against August's scheduled shows in Tel Aviv.

Prior to the Amman shows, when Friends of Jordan Festivals (FJF), a non-profit organisation, bought tickets to distribute among under-privileged children, one organisation rejected the free tickets, in response to the planned performances in Tel Aviv.  

Not all agree. In his analysis of the Cirque du Soleil Middle East tour and Jordan’s support for the BDS campaign, Sami Jitan of The Electronic Intifada quotes Abdul-Wahab Kayyali, a senior associate at a Jordanian business intelligence magazine, as saying: “Good cultural products have a human quality, appealing to all races, genders and nationalities. Culture is exceptional at exhibiting heterogeneity and displaying it. In reality, politics shouldn’t factor into which shows Friends of Jordan Festival brings to Amman … Seeing it as the fault of Cirque du Soleil is not the right paradigm.”

Mixed feelings were apparent in Doha, where Saltimbanco was performed at the beginning of July, enthralling some and polarising others.

The news of Cirque du Soleil's schedule Tel Aviv shows has led to wide discontent among pro-Palestinian activists. The recently launched Facebook group “Boycott Cirque du Soleil show in Israel. قاطعوا عرض سيرك دوسوليه في إسرائيل" has started gathering members from the Arab and international arena expressing their support for a cultural boycott of Israel and disappointment with the circus’s planned shows.

For the time being, Cirque du Soleil's plans to perform in Tel Aviv remain unchanged. From Israel, Alegría, a show that according to the Cirque du Soleil is A baroque ode to the energy, grace and power of youth” will travel to Greece and Turkey in September and Italy in November. In parallel, other shows of Cirque du Soleil are on tour across the world, mainly in the North and South America, Europe and Australia. For the time being, there are no plans for Cirque du Soleil to perform in Egypt.

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