Why I cancelled my participation at the Israel Festival and joined the cultural boycott of Israel

The artistic director of the D. Maria II National Theater, Tiago Rodrigues, canceled his participation in the Israel Festival, scheduled to take place in Jerusalem next month, and announced his decision to join the cultural boycott of Israel, according to a statement released by the theater today.

Although I am strongly against the oppression of the Palestinian People by the Israeli government, I accepted an invitation to present my performance By Heart in the 2018 edition of the Israel Festival, in Jerusalem, promoted by a non-profit organisation that presents itself as an artistic project that promotes a diverse and peaceful society. I accepted this invitation because I believe that the People of a country and its political administration are not the same thing. When I perform in the USA, for instance, I am performing for Americans but I in doing so I do not condone the Trump administration. If anything, I perform against it. I also believe that artists can, while working in other countries, support the people there that stand for justice, freedom and equality, many times against their own governments.

However, after giving a series of interviews to Israeli media about my visit to the country, it was brought to my attention that the official communications by the Israel Festival announce that this year’s edition “marks the State of Israel’s 70th year of independence”. The mention of this celebration by the festival is not accompanied by a single word of criticism to the State of Israel for its conduct towards Palestinians during the last 70 years. This is a statement of political significance of which I was not informed when I was invited to perform in the festival. I do not accept the use of my artistic work for political purposes without my agreement.

I have also noticed that the festival organization widely announces the support of various branches of the Israeli government, but is silent about the unacceptable acts of violence ordered by this same government against Palestinians. Considering the rise of the number of victims in the last months, as well as the massacre of dozens of civilians by gunfire of the Israeli armed forces (that injured more than two thousand people and hundreds of Palestinian children among them) during the recent protests against the opening of the USA Embassy in Jerusalem, such omission is deeply troubling and I cannot stand by it.

I have decided not to perform in the Israel Festival in June because I believe that it is the only guarantee that my artistic work will not be used to condone and promote a government that deliberately violates human rights and is currently violently attacking the Palestinian people. I understand that professionals, both in Portugal as in Israel, have already worked to make these presentations happen. I understand that, because I am the artistic director of one of Portugal’s national theatres, this decision might originate diplomatic discomfort. I have pondered this decision and I must be true, above all, to my conscience. I have been advised by trusted friends and colleagues and I have also read statements by many artists and intellectuals, several of them Israeli. I also witness the terrible violent actions the Israeli government is currently perpetrating. I understand now that a clear position is absolutely necessary. That’s why I am not only cancelling my participation in the Israel Festival but I have also decided to join the cultural boycott of Israel, convinced that global and collective pressure might produce similar results to the boycott of South Africa during apartheid.

Tiago Rodrigues
The artistic director of the D. Maria II National Theater, Portugal