Dance Europe And Israel

by Neil Nisbet

The news story reported yesterday on Article19 and a few days before in the dance ‘blogosphere ‘ concerning Dance Europe and their policy of not featuring Israeli dance companies unless they denounce their own government’s policies regarding The West Bank and Gaza Strip shows a disturbing level of arrogance and lack of accountability in the all too cosy world of arts journalism.

That any publication would demand the stating of a political position, or worse, the pretense of adopting a political position to stand a chance of being featured is so utterly bonkers that when we first learned of the story we thought somebody must have gotten this very very wrong.

Dance Europe have declined to speak to Article19 about the issue but not before firing off some strongly worded emails to freelance writers and publications that make their position all to clear.

A quick browse of the magazine ‘s website reveals a links page bereft of an entire country ‘s dance companies. Failing to acknowledge even the existence of Israel ‘s dance makers, who play no part in their governments position on the Palestinian issue, is disturbing and carries with it a sinister undertone.

Naresh Kaul, the advertising manager for Dance Europe, is quoted as saying;

“We are opposed to the occupation. If any company in Israel co-operates with us by adding a disclaimer saying it is opposed to the occupation, settlements and everything else, we will co-operate with them.”

A further statement, quoted in the Jewish Chronicle, reads; “There ‘s a reason for people to become suicide bombers. Their land has been occupied.”

Generalised, sweeping statements of this nature give a faint suggestion that Mr Kaul advocates suicide bombing as a recourse to political problems. Do we believe this man supports suicide bombing? We doubt it but what these comments illustrate to Article19 is a complete lack of both communication skills and political sophistication within Dance Europe. They also seem to have little, if any, understanding that they have painted themselves into a very dangerous, xenophobic corner.

The Israeli government’s policy toward Gaza and The West Bank is not really the issue here however. Such matters are not the stuff of dance publications unless a particular dance maker chooses to make work that relates to those issues. In that instance it is for the publication to ask the questions about the work and report the position of the artist. Insisting that the artist holds a particular viewpoint before a discussion can even take place is nothing more than blackmail.

With this policy in place, written or otherwise, Dance Europe have chosen to reduce Israel to nothing more than a one issue country. Nothing but the continuing struggle with the Palestinians should be of any relevance or importance to Israeli ‘s, artists or otherwise. Unless you state your opposition to the ongoing problems, as massive and destructive as they are, your views are simply unimportant in the eyes of Dance Europe.

It is also curious that the magazine ‘s policy is specifically focused on Israel. The current world climate offers plenty of targets for such an absurd editorial demand. At present US and British troops are occupying Iraq. Are British and American dance makers required to denounce President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair before they are granted publication and advertising rights within Dance Europe ‘s pages? A quick glance of their previous issue would suggest the answer is no!

Emma Manning, the editor of Dance Europe, has said that; “as an editor, I am entitled to choose what to print. It is my prerogative”. This much is true. As an independent publication the magazine does have a right to publish or not publish whatever it chooses and they are certainly not doing anything illegal.

Publications do have an ethical obligation however to their readers to represent their chosen platform with as much balance, objectivity and integrity as they can muster.

Dance Europe ‘s own editorial mantra reads; “The editorial policy aims to provide an unbiased platform for dance throughout Europe and beyond”. We can only imagine what depths the staff of this magazine think they have to sink to before they become biased?

Throughout our many years in dance we have been exposed to a lot of what Israel has to offer from its dance makers, resident in the UK and otherwise. From Ohad Nahrin to Vertigo to the recent features on Jasmin Vardimon Company and Hofesh Shechter what is clear to us is the prodigious skill, talent and creative flair that transcends these dance makers nationality.

They choose to make work covering an array of subjects far removed from the political troubles of their home country but that does not mean they are ignorant of the situation. In the work we have seen thus far they have simply chosen not to state their political position through their work which they, and every artist and individual has a absolute right to do, the childish fist thumping of Dance Europe not withstanding!

Solutions to the problems in the Middle East have eluded the brightest diplomatic thinkers for decades and hopes of a resolution seem faint for the time being. Written denouncements of the Israeli government in Dance Europe will help the situation progress not one bit and this publications stance is as unethical as it is absurd.

Dance Europe should publish an unreserved apology for all the statements it has made on the subject and immediately list all Israeli dance companies on its links page if for no other reason than to make a symbolic gesture.

Failing that, the owners of Dance Europe should remove Ms Manning and Mr Kaul from their positions forthwith.