Birmingham Hippodrome: no to Israel boycotters

The chief executive of one of the largest touring venues in Britain has rejected calls by anti-Israel activists to cancel a show by Israeli dancers.

Israel's Batsheva Dance Company is set to take to the stage at the Birmingham Hippodrome next month, following its successful shows at the Edinburgh International Festival.

But ahead of the Birmingham dates, which are part of a national tour by the company, the dancers are being targeted by supporters of a cultural boycott of Israel. The same campaigners staged protests outside of the venue in Edinburgh and also disrupted the performances by shouting and waving banners about Israeli apartheid.

The Birmingham boycott campaign is being led by the umbrella group "No 2 Brand Israel" with the help of Sue Blackwell, a former lecturer in English at the University of Birmingham known for mounting attacks on Israel.

Last Friday she helped arrange a day of Action pushing for the Hippodrome to cancel Batsheva's two performances, asking supporters to tweet the venue using the phrase "#noaparthediinbrum".

But Stuart Griffiths, the Hippodrome's chief executive, said the venue was delighted to be welcoming Batsheva's dancers to the UK as part of the Dance Consortium programme.

He described the company as "a group of artists who are leaders in the world of international contemporary dance" and said that while different opinions would always exist "the artist is the first to stand up for free speech and freedom of expression".

He added: "We hope UK audiences will gain inspiration and enjoyment from Batsheva's artistry when the company visits Birmingham in November.

Campaigners are also challenging invitations to Batsheva to perform elsewhere in Britain, including in Salford, Bradford and Brighton.

Last updated: 12:33pm, October 5 2012