More calls for Gilad Atzmon concert ban

The organisers of a political song festival in Bradford have defied mounting local pressure to cancel a concert tonight by the Israeli jazz musician and self-proclaimed "self-hating Jew", Gilad Atzmon.

There have been growing calls to withdraw the invitation from the city's Trade Union Council, the anti-racist organisation Hope Not Hate and MPs.

But leaders of Raise Your Banners - which received a lottery-funded grant from the Arts Council of £4,000 for the event - say that claims of antisemitism against Atzmon are "not justified".

Gerry Sutcliffe, the Labour MP for Bradford South, said: "I am extremely concerned about Gilad Atzmon's presence at what should be a celebration of music and art. His previously stated views are extremely offensive and the organisers of the festival were wrong to invite him. It is not too late for them to rescind the invitation - and I would urge them to do so." He added that allowing Atzmon to perform would be a "stain" on the city's "long and proud tradition of fighting discrimination and extremism of all kinds".

Atzmon's ensemble had been due to play at Bradford Cathedral but the venue was changed earlier this month because of slow ticket sales. The cathedral's dean, the Right Reverend David Ison, said this week that he supported calls for the concert's cancellation, "in order to show solidarity with the small Jewish community in Bradford".

The festival organisers were wrong to ask him

Sarah Colborne, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, was keen to distance the PSC from the event after Raise Your Banners had claimed it had the organisation's backing. She said: "I am very concerned at what appears to be an attempt by Raise Your Banners to misrepresent the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. PSC has made clear to Raise Your Banners that we have no links with Gilad Atzmon, and that Palestine Solidarity Campaign does not work with him. When a representative from Raise Your Banners contacted the PSC office some months ago, they were urged to take seriously the concerns of those who had raised this issue."

The Arts Council declined a request from the Board of Deputies to stop the concert, saying it was not its policy to restrict artists from expressing their views. The Department for Culture, Media and Sports said the funding was a matter for the Arts Council. But Rotherham MP Denis MacShane wrote to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, calling for his intervention, "as I am sure that every Yorkshire MP will be disgusted at the Arts Council funding the presence of an antisemite in the north".

Atzmon's recently published book The Wandering Who? has been branded by the Community Security Trust as "quite probably the most antisemitic book published in this country in recent years".

Hope not Hate co-ordinator Nick Lowles, on his blog, accused Atzmon of flirting with Holocaust denial, citing a number of passages from the musician's writings.

But the musician, reacting on his own blog, argued that sentences from different paragraphs had been "stitched together" by his opponents to "give the impression that I am indeed a Holocaust denier or an antisemite".

He added: "Rather than deny the Holocaust, I actually want to strip from it its primacy and turn it into a universal and ethical message".

In the past, Atzmon has insisted that there is "not a single trace of racism or antisemitism in my writing".

The festival organisers stated this week that Gilad Atzmon's "philosophical and political writings stir up keen arguments about identity politics within the socialist movement, as well as a strong reaction from their main target, the Israeli government".

Last updated: 12:57pm, November 24 2011