Israeli Show, Once Closed by BDS, Returns to Edinburgh Fringe

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The New Scotsman, 29.08.17

Brian Fergusson

An Israeli theatre company forced to cancel its show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe three years ago because of political protests is to return to the event for the first time this year.

Incubator Theatre was targeted by anti-Israeli protesters in 2014 because it received funding from the Israeli government. The company was able to stage just one performance before its venue pulled the plug on safety grounds.

The group, which is supported by the Israeli Ministry of Culture, accused the Fringe of “giving up” on the company and handing victory to “political gladiators” who vowed to try to halt performances.

But its “whodunnit hip opera” The City, which was believed to be the first Fringe show to be cancelled due to political pressure, will be back in Edinburgh 8-10 August as part of a celebration of Israeli culture.

The three-day International Shalom Festival, which will be staged at a high school in Edinburgh, has been backed by the leaders of Scotland’s three main political parties.

Three years ago more than 50 leading cultural figures, including playwright David Greig, poet Liz Lochhead and artist and novelist Alasdair Gray, put their names to an open letter calling for the show to be scrapped for the “brutal assault by Israel upon the people of Gaza”.

Promoters Underbelly pulled the plug on The City after more than 150 protesters turned up to the preview performance.

Arik Eshet, Incubator’s artistic director, said: “I felt the whole thing was a crime against artistic expression and freedom of speech. It was shameful for the Fringe, the police and the council in Edinburgh. We haven’t had problems putting the show on anywhere else. It’s now been on tour in the Czech Republic, Georgia, Russia and Poland.

“The organisers of the International Shalom Festival insisted we come back this year. We want to right the wrong and state our rights to perform anywhere.”

Nine performances are planned of The City, a “mesmerising musical tale of vanity, lust and murder,” which is the flagship theatre production at the International Shalom Festival, a celebration of “working together for peace in the Middle East”.

A spokesman for the festival said: “It aims to build cultural bridges between Israel, Scotland and the wider UK by showcasing inspirational examples of conflict resolution and reconciliation. Contributors will explain how their work in Israel reflects a commitment to universal human rights, and how it builds trust and cooperation, leading to enhanced religious, racial and community harmony, and peace.”

In a message to the festival First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “We recognise the importance of the International Shalom Festival in promoting peaceful coexistence and I wish you all the very best for a successful event.”

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale also gave their support to the festival. Davidson said she was “proud of the fact that it allows, Scots to show they support a path to peace which rejects the demonisation of any group.”


COMMENTARY — THE TIMES 8 August 2017 – By John McLellan

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival Needs Bridges, Not Boycotts, to Produce Peace

The late professor John Erickson, who was director of the Centre for Defence Studies at the University of Edinburgh, succeeded in putting the city on the map as a haven for peaceful coexistence by instigating the Edinburgh Conversations during the Eighties. They allowed senior military leaders and diplomats from Nato and the Warsaw Pact countries to come together in seminars alternating between Edinburgh and Moscow. Attitudes thawed, friendships were formed and peace prevailed at a time of heightened mistrust between the east and west.

Is it possible that Edinburgh could once again become a haven for peaceful coexistence: a safe space where people from parts of the world that we associate with conflict can come together and show the world that Scotland’s capital city is a place of harmony and tolerance?

I certainly hope so, which is why I will be attending the International Shalom Festival, an exciting part of this year’s Fringe, which runs until August 10 at Drummond Community High School.

The Shalom Festival focuses on the rich and diverse cultural traditions of Israel and Palestine. The organisers believe that shalom, or peace, can only be achieved if it is based on democracy and respect for coexistence.

More than 2,000 people attended the first Shalom Festival last year. This year the organisers are running the event for three days rather than one to allow for even greater attendance.


The Jerusalem Post, 11 August 2017

By Amy Spiro

This time, they were ready.

But it didn’t come alone.

The group appeared starting Tuesday as part of the International Shalom Festival, which provided a framework, and they even brought with them activists from the Reservists on Duty group to provide backup and support.

And when the three-day Shalom Festival kicked off, there were a couple of dozen protesters outside, but the artists knew they weren’t going to be intimidated.

“There have been some demonstrators outside,” said Hadar Galron, the artistic director of the Shalom Festival.

“But I think on the whole the police outside have been almost as much as the amount of demonstrators,” she said.

And in addition to the police, four activists from Reservists on Duty, an NGO that works to counter BDS efforts, were on hand.

“This is what we do,” said Jonathan Elkhoury, a Lebanese Christian who works with the group and flew to Scotland to offer support.

“If we have any Israelis or any Jews or pro-Israelis who are having events and people who are trying to shut down their events, we’re going to be there to support them, and to make them feel like they have support,” he said.

Elkhoury, who fled from Lebanon to Israel in 2001 at age nine, said a couple dozen protesters gathered the first day of the festival with loud shouts and megaphones.

Reservists on Duty didn’t try to shut them down, said Elkhoury, “because we’re not like that.”

Instead, he said, “we came there with our Israeli flags…

to show a bit of support to the festival and to make a presence that we are there, that we are not silenced, that we will not be afraid to talk anymore.”

Amit Deri, the executive director of Reservists on Duty, said they sent a delegation of four people to the festival a couple days before it began, “to get ready.”

Deri said the group planned for every possible outcome, since “this time we didn’t want them to succeed in canceling the shows.”

Alongside The City, the play which was canceled in 2014, the Shalom Festival screened several films, brought over a variety of speakers and have a gala concert planned for Thursday night – the final event of the festival – featuring Ethiopian-Israeli singer Meski Shibru and the band Jamaya.

Galron said Thursday morning that they hadn’t seen a huge turnout on Tuesday and Wednesday, though they hope the Thursday evening gala will bring the biggest numbers.

“We’re not in the center” of the Fringe Festival’s activities, she said.

“That was one of the prices we had to pay for all this security.”

She said people have come from London and Manchester and even farther away to offer support, and things have been running smoothly.

“We are far from where we were last year,” she added.

“Last year there were hundreds of people outside shouting very horrible things at us.”

But this year, she said, she thinks many were deterred by the public message of support from the Scottish government, and the full-hearted support of the police and city council.

“We invited the protesters in but they didn’t want to come in,” she said.

The police officers, on the other hand, have been taking turns coming in to see the show, said Galron.

“It’s really a very very strong and important message,” she said. “And it really changes people’s way of thinking of Israel.”