As Edinburgh’s annual Festival Fringe prepares to open August 1, a group of well-known Scottish cultural figures called for a boycott of “The City,” an Israeli play staged by Jerusalem’s Incubator Theater.
Some 50 figures in the Scottish arts scene, including playwright David Greig, author and artist Alasdair Gray, and theater directors Ben Harrison, Graham McLaren and Cora Bissett, signed the letter, calling for the theater company’s Underbelly venue to reconsider staging the group’s performance, since, they said, it is partially funded by Israel’s Ministry of Culture.
The letter said: “The current, brutal assault by Israel upon the people of Gaza, which is an appalling collective punishment, underlines the seriousness of your error in co-operating with a company which is funded by the Ministry of Culture of the state of Israel.”
Operation Protective Edge was launched by Israel on July 8 in a bid to stamp out rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip on Israel’s south and center. Airstrikes were followed by a ground incursion aimed at locating and destroying cross-border tunnels used by members of Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, to infiltrate and attack Israeli communities.
Scotland’s culture secretary, Fiona Hyslop, said she is against the boycott.
“In terms of cultural boycotts, I strongly believe in the freedom of expression, and I don’t believe cultural boycotts are consistent with the rights of artists to the freedom of expression,” wrote Hyslop in a statement.
“This company can speak for itself, in terms of its relationship with the Israeli government and the venue can take responsibility for the production, but I believe we have to be careful about restricting any artist, from any place.”
“The City,” an original hip-hop detective musical created by The Victor Jackson Show ensemble, is under the wing of Jerusalem’s fringe theater group the Incubator Theater. Performed by five actors, it is scheduled to be performed 27 times during the course of the fringe festival.
The director of the company, Arik Eshet, said he was saddened by the letter, whose signatories see the theater “in black and white.” He said he still intends to bring his company to Edinburgh.
“It is a question of freedom of speech and it is mystifying for me that people who believe in dialogue and dignity want a boycott,” he said. “We are not agents of the government of Israel. Yes, we do receive funds from them, although only in the last two years. We started in pubs making satire and it was usually at the expense of the establishment, and we get support from them even though we are not politically correct.”
The Incubator Theater is also funded by the Beracha Foundation, which promotes Jewish-Arab coexistence.
“The thing that frightens me is extremities,” added Eshet. ‘I would meet anyone to have dialogue. They have a right to boycott the play if that is their opinion, but it is not a political play.”
The Edinburgh fringe festival is considered one of the world’s largest arts festivals, held for three weeks every August with more than 2,000 performances. It has a board of directors, but no selection committee, and any type of performance may participate.
Comedian Yisrael Campbell, whose one-man show, “Circumcise Me,” is also set to play a two-week run at the festival’s Gilded Balloon theater, commented that he’s opposed to selective censorship of the Incubator Theater.
“I am also Israeli and there is no doubt tragedy all around this story of war,” said Campbell, who was born in the US and now lives in Israel. “But The Edinburgh Fringe Festival should be a safe haven for artistic expression without censorship.”
“The festival celebrates artists who come together from all around the world to entertain, educate and share stories and experiences,” added Campbell. “If you don’t want to go see their show, don’t see their show. The only loser in that situation will be those who don’t have an open enough mind to believe that artists can change the world.”