Israeli dancers in Edinburgh to defy boycotters

By Jennifer Lipman, August 30, 2012

Almost a year to the day after anti-Israel protesters disrupted an Israeli orchestra at the Proms, hopes are that activists will not blight an Edinburgh display by an Israeli dance troupe.

The world-famous Batsheva Dance Company will be in the Scottish city to perform Hora, choreographed by artistic director Ohad Naharin, for three shows from Thursday evening onward.

But since their inclusion was announced, an umbrella group of anti-Israel activists, under the banner of "Don't Dance with Israeli Apartheid" have sought to block the performances.

They called on the organisers of the Edinburgh International Festival to block Batsheva for being "actively complicit in whitewashing Israeli human-rights abuses, apartheid, and occupation of Palestinian land" because it receives funding from the Israeli government.

Last month they arranged for a letter, backed by MP Jeremy Corbyn, journalist John Pilger and Yvonne Ridley, to be sent to the festival's directors.

This week a letter was published in The Herald Scotland, with Sc o tland's national poet Liz Lochhead and author Ian Banks adding their names to the call for a boycott. The signatories said they did not accept EIF director Jonathan Mills' "assertion that art can be divorced from politics".

Writing in the Scotsman, activist Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi said: "As long as Batsheva continues in its role of paid ambassador for the Israeli F oreign M nistry, it should expect to be challenged by boycott campaigners."

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy pointed out that "it is a completely legitimate action of any democratic government to support culture.

"It tells us more about the writer of the article that when it comes to Israel and culture she looks for a conspiracy. It's a complete double standard and a lack of decency."

Mr Mills has told The Scotsman that he did not support the protesters' aim of disrupting the performances. He said he believed in the right to protest, but added that this could be achieved outside the confines of the auditorium. He has also stated several times that he will not bow to pressure from protesters.

Undeterred, the activists have announced plans to protest outside the venue, and are in the process of organising "demonstrations at every Batsheva performance during their 8-city UK tour", which will cover cities including Salford, Bradford and London.

On the website for the Scottish Palestine Solidarity campaign, a message reads: "Words need to be turned into acts for three evenings of protest…Bring your family for a peaceful and noisy protest."

The Zionist Federation has arranged a counter-protest outside the venue

Israel's Minister of Sports and Culture, Limor Livnat, is in the UK for this week's performances and for the Paralympic Games.

Last updated: 11:52am, August 30 2012