Hundreds of anti-Israeli – and, in some cases, anti-Semitic -- protestors have disrupted shows at both the International and Fringe festivals this year. Two shows at the Fringe have been shut down by the protestors: The City, a hip-hop opera from The Incubator, a Jerusalem-based theater company; La Karina, a dance recital by the Pola Dance company from Ben Gurion University; and a third show, The Jewish Chronicles, a solo songfest performed by Daniel Cainer, was singled out for public condemnation.

Cainer is British, not Israeli, but that didn't stop the militants from targeting him. Carrying “Free Palestine” and “Isolate Israel” signs, they demonstrated in Bristo Square, burning tickets and shouting anti-Semitic slurs at all those waiting on line to see the show.

At The Playhouse, where the Batsheva Dance Company from Israel was performing Hora as part of the Edinburgh International Festival, protestors not only gathered outside the venue but managed to slip into the auditorium, where they disrupted the recital and heckled the dancers. A dozen protestors were ejected, but the disturbance did not result in the show being cancelled.

A group called The Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign was behind the cultural blockade. This past July, when Israel and Palestine went to war in the Gaza Strip, fifty Scottish artists and writers -- led, shamefully, by Liz Lochhead, Scotland's national poet -- signed a letter calling for the banning of all Israeli shows at the Festival. "We should send a message that governments must take steps to isolate Israel immediately," said the letter, adding that "it was necessary to avoid Edinburgh being seen as a place where regimes can send funded works to help whitewash violence with art."

The Incubator Company remained in Edinburgh for a brief time after the SPSC shut it down, staging a private performance for friends and family. Then it returned to Israel. Arkik Eshet, Incubator's artistic director had this to say:
"I do feel that we didn't get much help from the Fringe. It just seemed to be easier and more convenient for everyone to close our show rather than fight for the purpose of freedom of speech. It was a very big deal for us to come to the Edinburgh Festival as we had heard that it was a place where you can come and say what you want. There is a big question mark over that now."

One of the few Fringe officials to come out strongly against the anti-Israeli boycott was John Stalker, a well-known producer. "The city of Edinburgh should be hanging its head in shame over the treatment of Israeli artists at the Fringe," he said. "It sent a message to the world that artistic freedom within Edinburgh is subject to the whim of whichever fanatical protestor shouts the loudest."

A few ordinary Scots weighed in on Stalker's side. In an email to the editor of "The Scotsman", one of them called the protestors "hare-brained, unfair and anti-Semitic people from the loony left, and layabout students."


Key Subjects: 
Edinburgh Festival, Anti-Semitism, Fringe.
Willard Manus
August 2014