Southbank Israel debate turns into ‘hate-fest’

Carol Gould: abused

Carol Gould: abused

The Southbank Centre has defended its planning of a debate on cultural boycotts, which one Jewish panellist said had turned into a "hate-fest".

Palestinian boycott activist Omar Barghouti, Guardian and JC columnist Jonathan Freedland, American writer Carol Gould and British-Sri Lankan poet Seni Seneviratne spoke at the London Literary Festival session on July 10.

Throughout the event, Ms Gould and Mr Freedland, who both spoke against cultural boycotts of Israel, were bombarded with questions by the audience, which was made up largely of anti-Israel activists.

Concerns have since been raised with organisers at the Southbank Centre after it was revealed that the event had been planned with the help of poet Naomi Foyle, a founder of the British Writers In Support of Palestine (BWISP).

Ms Foyle's involvement led Tony Greenstein, who attended the debate and is a founding member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, to write in a blog: "A big thank you to Naomi Foyle for all the work she put in to organise the event."

The Southbank Centre said it had "consulted widely" with organisations including Jewish Book Week when putting together the panel.

But JBW officials claimed the consultation had amounted to a brief email asking them for names and contact details of possible speakers. They were not told who was on the final panel and had therefore chosen not to promote the debate.

Ms Gould said she felt as though she had been "tricked" into taking part in a "hate-fest" and accused the Southbank Centre of "naivety" over the planning of the event. She said: "Omar Barghouti's picture was on the website from the beginning and it was changed very late on to include Jonathan's picture, but without his name.

"They did not have my name anywhere and there was only one line about Seni. It's very hard to encourage pro-Israel people to go if they only see that Omar will be there."

Ms Gould added: "No matter how hard I tried to keep my dignity, I was laughed at, shouted down and generally abused. I did not expect that level of venom."

A Southbank Centre spokeswoman said: "Programmers consulted widely with organisations and individuals in putting it together. Naomi Foyle was among several individuals and organisations consulted in its planning."

The absence of Mr Freedland and Ms Gould's names in the festival brochure was due to late confirmation that they would appear, she said.

The centre added that writers including Howard Jacobson, Ian McEwan, Amitav Ghosh and Sir Tom Stoppard had been invited to take part in the debate, but declined.

    Last updated: 2:46pm, July 21 2011