‘Security’ scuppers Israel dance event in Brighton

Dancers from the Batsheva Company

Dancers from the Batsheva Company

A concert venue in Brighton has been accused of “giving in too easily” for cancelling an Israeli dance company’s performance following a campaign by anti-Israel activists.

The management of the Brighton Dome wrote to ticketholders this week explaining that it had decided to stage only one performance of Deca Dance by the Batsheva Ensemble, following discussions with Sussex police about audience safety and how best to limit disruptions from activists.

But the decision to scrap the Saturday show — which was to start two hours after Shabbat — in favour of Friday’s performance, has prompted anger among Jewish community members.

A spokesman said the Dome wanted to condense the shows in order to bulk up security on one night, adding that several school groups were booked in for the Friday performance, which was why it had not been cancelled.

The ensemble starts a four-week UK tour in Edinburgh next Tuesday, but supporters of a cultural boycott of Israel are planning to target each show with demonstrations and by interrupting the dancers. When the Batsheva Dance Company performed in Edinburgh in the summer, each performance had to be stopped because of protesters.

With boycott activists hailing the Brighton Dome’s decision a victory, Jewish ticketholders said they were furious that they would now not be able to go if they observed Shabbat.

Shirley Huberman, who was planning to attend with her daughter and son-in-law, said it could be that the venue felt having fewer Jewish audience members would minimise trouble.

“I’m really cross,” she said, adding that she was considering taking the refund and sending the money directly to the dancers. “It’s a sort of blackmail, you either go Friday, or don’t go. The boycotters have won with this decision.”

“I’m not going to be able to go now,” said Liz Shaw, who had booked with four friends. “They are giving in too easily. Because of the Eco-Stream protests [against an Israeli-owned shop in Brighton] they don’t want the same trouble.”

The Sussex Jewish Representative Council has written to Andrew Comben, the venue’s chief executive, asking why it chose to cancel the Saturday date. “We and many community members are very disappointed indeed that the Dome management appears to have given in to political pressure and allowed the principle of artistic freedom to be overruled by a wish to take an easy way out of a difficult situation.”

Mike Weatherley, Conservative MP for Hove, said it was disturbing to see the arts targeted for political ends. “I see this as a worrying trend that we should stand up against,” he said.

“You should always have concerns about security, but it’s disappointing that the activities of the protesters have resulted in this cancellation. We shouldn’t give in to the rabble: we should stand up wherever intimidation is prevalent.”

“When the threats of violence at a cultural performance become so grave that the performance has to be cancelled, this is clearly not just a problem for Israel but for any thinking person in Britain,” said an Israeli embassy spokesman.

Protesters are still planning strategies for the rest of the tour. “Following this breakthrough… we all need to appeal for a big turnout at each protest and internal protests every five minutes during each performance,” urged the Boycott Israel Network website.

Dance Consortium, which is running the tour, said that the other 14 dates would go ahead as planned. “Our main priority is to ensure the safety of both our patrons and the performers,” said Stuart Griffiths, its co-chair.

Last updated: 2:08pm, October 25 2012