Stars of theatre and literature split over invitation to Israeli company to stage Merchant of Venice in London
Habima was invited to perform The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew as part of an ambitious programme to stage 37 Shakespeare plays, each in a different language, during the six-week festival. Yet a letter signed by 37 leading actors, directors, producers and writers – including Emma Thompson, Mike Leigh and Mark Rylance – published in the Guardian last week, called for the invitation to be withdrawn because Habima had performed in Israeli settlements.
The letter, also signed by Miriam Margolyes, Richard Wilson and Jonathan Miller, said: "We ask the Globe to withdraw the invitation so that the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land. By inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion preached by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company."
But now there has been an equally passionate counter-attack. Jacobson, winner of the 2010 Man Booker prize for his comic novel The Finkler Question, about what it means to be Jewish, said artistic critics were wrong. Writing for the Observer, below, he said: "If there is one justification for art… it is that it proceeds from, and addresses, our unaligned humanity. Whoever would go to art with a mind made up on any subject misses the point of what art is for.
"So to censor it in the name of political or religious conviction… is to tear out its very heart. For artists themselves to do such a thing to art is not only treasonable, it is an act of self-harm.