Last week Israeli dance troupe Batsheva’s performance at the Edinburgh Festival was repeatedly interrupted by a small number of protesters. Sadly, this is not the first time that Israeli artists performing in the UK have been targeted in this way. I, with the rest of the government, absolutely oppose this singling out of institutions and individuals for no other reason than they are from Israel.
Such action shows disdain for the fundamental principles of cultural freedom and tolerance which we cherish in the UK. Art often serves to brings together and unite people by expressing universal values. It should not be hijacked by crude political protest. The type of action we saw in Edinburgh is also misguided and counter-productive. The demonstrators’ actions, like those who would call for a boycott of Israel, do nothing to advance the cause of Middle East peace.
There is an important public debate ongoing in the UK, but it is not the one at the far fringes of political life. Rather, it is in the centre ground, where the issue is not opposition to Israel’s existence, or so-called “delegitimisation”, but a legitimate concern about the absence of progress on the Middle East peace process, on both sides.
Many ordinary British people, including many well meaning towards Israel, and utterly supportive of Israel’s security, are worried about the impact of Israel’s continued occupation, including abuses of human rights of the Palestinians and the continuous systematic expansion of settlements.
As a genuine friends of Israel, the government shares that concern. So do our European partners. We urge both sides to take decisive action to achieve a two-state solution. Such a solution — with Israel living side-by-side in peace and security with a Palestinian state — would greatly benefit the Palestinians and the region. It would, finally, give ordinary Israelis the peace they desire and deserve. And it would do more than anything to discredit the delegitimisers, and those who incite violence, to undercut Israel’s opponents, and allow Israel’s supporters to shift their energy away from defending themselves to embracing Israel positively.
Alistair Burt is Minister for the Middle East at the Foreign Office