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An education of exclusion: Ofira Henig

INTERVIEW! Israeli director Ofira Henig premieres "Kind of", a play about the manufacturing of intolerance in her home country’s schools. Catch on opening night of the Schaubühne's F.I.N.D. fest (Apr 6) and Apr 7.

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Photo by Ofira Henig

Israeli director Ofira Henig premieres Kind of, a play about the manufacturing of intolerance in her home country’s schools.

Ofira Henig has a reputation for challenging Israeli audiences. Her intense focus on the actor’s presence has been compared to that of Peter Brook – and in fact Henig’s international career received a boost when Brook saw her work at the Israel Festival in 2007 and became a big supporter. Simply by virtue of her decision to work with Palestinian actors, her productions are often viewed as political, but her engagement with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes beyond that. When a state-funded performing arts centre opened in Ariel, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, she was among the artists who announced they would boycott its performances.

Kind of explores education as a system of exclusion. Was that your experience growing up in Israel?

I was born on a Kibbutz but grew up in a small city near Tel Aviv, where I attended a regular state school. My school years were around 1967, after the Six-Day War, and my experience was hard. It was not a time or place for a slow and dreamy child like me. All the focus was on creating the “new and strong Jew”, creating a new society. It echoed testimonies I’ve heard and read from witnesses to other dark periods in the 20th century.

Is there a story amidst the piece’s fragmentary texts?

The two main narratives are of the storyteller presenting the childhood of an Israeli girl in school, and of the Arab attendant who works in this school and becomes the ultimate victim. These stories are about my childhood. I’m exploring the educational system in the 1960s and 1970s in Israel. I’m trying to understand 
if the risk of fascism in our bloody, bleeding country is a risk that comes out only now with the right-wing government, or if it has deeper ideological roots.

Did you come to any conclusion?

I guess it was always there, but now, we have even lost our sense of shame.

Does the collage structure – mixing found material with original work – serve as a metaphor for the fragmented nature of Israeli-Palestinian existence?

I was expecting this question, but as you have noticed the idea of “co-existence” does not appear in my lexicon. I don’t like to talk about my dialogue with Palestinian artists as an example or will to “co-exist”. There is no “co-existence” and by working with my friends, I do not pretend to show it. The project is based on fragments because I love drama, poetry, documentary stuff, philosophy, I just love it all and am inspired by it. I love to “dance” with it on stage. And so do the actors.

Why did you decide to leave the Israeli state theatre system?

I have good friends in the big theatres and 
I don’t judge them. But to cooperate with the celebration of the status quo – that is a big “no” for me. So we decided to forego government funding to avoid being labelled as presenters of the state of Israel…

What do you think of the BDS movement? Some of its advocates want European institutions to boycott artists like you, who actually have similar desires, at least in terms of a peaceful and just resolution to the occupation…

Of course I feel sympathy for the BDS movement. I follow its activity and I believe in its power. But I think BDS advocates miss two issues: They injure people like me – which I accept – who are boycotted inside Israel and by doing so, they serve the right wing. And sometimes they conflate Judaism and Zionism, which I do not accept. By doing this, they lapse into anti-Semitism.

Kind of, Apr 6-8 (multilingual,with English surtitles) | Schaubühne