A show by an Israeli theatre group has been cancelled by the venue after protesters disrupted other nearby events.
The show was due to take place as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, an annual cultural festival in the Scottish capital that celebrates theatre, music and comedy. However, the Underbelly theatre was forced to cancel all performances of ‘The City’ by the Incubator Theatre group after anti-Israel demonstrators gathered outside, disrupting nearby events.
Described as “Humphrey Bogart meets Jay-Z in a gritty and darkly comic whodunit hip-hop opera”, ‘The City’ did not have political content yet various Scottish cultural figures called for a boycott as the Incubator Theatre group receives part of its funding from the Israeli Ministry of Culture.
The protests came despite the theatre group also receiving funding from the Beracha Foundation, which promotes Arab-Israeli co-operation, and company’s director also being a former board member of Waah-at i sal-amm/Ne-ve shal-om, a community school established by Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Writing for online magazine Spiked, author and academic Tiffany Jenkins said that the boycott had been orchestrated by over 50 Scottish cultural figures, who signed an open letter calling for the show to be cancelled. Signatories included poet Liz Lochhead, writer and artist Alisdair Gray, playwright David Greig and director Graham McLaren.
Incubator Theatre’s director, Arik Eshet, said:
“We are not agents of the government of Israel. Yes, we do receive funds from [the government], 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 [the government] even though we are not politically correct.”
Some figures from Scottish culture did oppose the boycott, however. Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop said: “I don’t believe cultural boycotts are consistent with the rights of artists to the freedom of expression”, while composer James MacMillan tweeted: “I would like to publicly support the Fringe in promoting freedom of expression for all artists, regardless of creed or nation.”
Speaking of the artists who called for a boycott, Jenkins writes:
“The demands for censorship speak to the illiberal tendencies of much of the art world and their self-important overestimation of the impact of cultural boycotts. They are the kind of artists who call for artistic freedom for themselves, and for those whose opinions they approve of, but deny it to those who they disapprove of, or, in this case, those whose countries they disapprove of.”