Israeli Choreographers Banned From Oslo Festival

Anti-Semitism takes center stage.

To judge by their Facebook profiles, Margrete Slettebø and Kristiane Nerdrum Bøgwald are a couple of busy young ladies. Together, they manage Feminine Tripper, an annual dance festival in Oslo, Norway, that focuses on “femininity and gender identity.” They both also work at the “Butoh-laboratorium” in Oslo, which sounds like something scientific but turns out to be a self-styled “collective” specializing in the Japanese dance style known as Butoh. A glance through the Oslo phone book shows that both women live in a couple of Oslo's nicest neighborhoods. In addition, Bøgdwald, whose father is a noted psychiatrist and researcher, belongs to a theater company called “Grusomhetens Teater” (The Theater of Cruelty). Slettebø, for her part, is a “Dance Artist at ACTS-laboratory for performance practices” and a communications adviser to Arts Council Norway, a government agency that, its website explains, “provides grants to art and culture throughout the country” and “advises the state on cultural questions.” And, to name a couple of activities that seem especially relevant to our story, Slettebø worked for several years as office manager for the youth wing of the Socialist Left Party (an ardent supporter of Palestinians and the BDS movement) and was also an active member of the Joint Committee for Palestine (“an umbrella organization for Norwegian organizations that support the Palestinians' cause”).

Anyway, here's the story. On Wednesday, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Feminine Tripper festival, which this year is being held from March 19 to 25 and which professes to welcome participants from around the world, had rejected an application by six Israeli choreographers – Eden Wiseman, Roni Rotem, Nitzan Lederman, Maayan Cohen Marciano, Adi Shildan, and Maia Halter – who had received letters from Bøgwald and Slettebø stating that Israel “uses culture as a form of propaganda to whitewash or justify its regime of occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people” and that they could not, therefore, “with a clear conscience invite Israeli participants when we know that artists from the occupied Palestinian territories struggle with very restricted access to travel to international art venues and that they have little opportunity to communicate their art outside of the occupied territories.” The Israelis did not take the rejection lightly. “Would you reject a Saudi artist for Saudi restrictions on women’s rights?” they wrote back. “Would you reject an American artist for the American policies regarding the ‘Muslim ban’ regulations?” 

The Norwegian pro-Israel organization MIFF also covered the story. In an article posted on Wednesday, MIFF quoted the organizers' letter as declaring that the Israeli occupation has lasted “more than 60 years.” As MIFF's reporter, Conrad Myrland, noted, this is either a typo, given that Israel has legally occupied the West Bank for only 50 years, or it's an indication that “Bøgwald og Slettebø share the view that is extremely common among Palestinians: Israeli itself is occupied territory, and the occupation has thus lasted almost 70 years.” Yesterday, in a follow-up piece, MIFF added the information that ten of 117 applications for the festival had come from Israeli artists living in Israel and that all ten had been rejected because of their nationality. As of Wednesday, moreover, access to the Feminine Trippers' Facebook page had been barred to Israeli IP addresses. Arguing that all of this mischief violates Norwegian law, MIFF reported the festival organizers to the police and to two anti-discrimination government agencies.

I reached Slettebø by phone last evening. When I explained the reason for my call, I was somewhat surprised at her apparent readiness to talk. We spoke for a couple of minutes. She seemed to find it important to let me know that the festival was enjoying a great audience response – as if this somehow validated her and Bøgwald's decision to bar the door to Israelis. When I mentioned that MIFF considered the festival's rejection of the Israeli artists a violation of Norwegian law, she said that she'd consulted a lawyer, who had told her that this charge was false. When I asked about her connection to Arts Council Norway, she immediately insisted that her connection to the agency is as a freelancer, not a regular employee. (After the call, I looked her up at the Arts Council's website and found her listed as an employee, with an office phone number and Arts Council e-mail address.) 

My main concern was to know whether this women's dance festival barring participants from Israel – the only country in the Middle East (hello!) where women enjoy full equal rights – had accepted funds from the Norwegian treasury. Had I, as a Norwegian taxpayer, helped to pay for this anti-Semitic event? In Norway, where the state's tentacles reach everyplace and where private philanthropy is relatively uncommon, the chances are very good that any given arts event has been bankrolled at least in part by the state. So my final query to Slettebø was a simple one: did the festival receive government financial support? After I posed the question, she paused for a moment – it was her first and only pause in the entire conversation – and then said, “Om det vil jeg ikke uttale meg.” Translation: “No comment.” Later, some online digging turned up the fact that the event had raised a pitiful 4,430 kroner ($572) through crowdfunding, and was otherwise funded by Krønsj treningssenter (a chain of gyms) and the Nordic Black Theatre – an outfit that, in turn, according to Wikipedia, is “operated with support from the Ministry of Culture, Arts Council Norway, and the municipality of Oslo.” In other words, taxes, taxes, and more taxes. 

It will be interesting to see what comes of MIFF's actions against these Jew-hating hoofers.