No room for extremists at Edinburgh Fringe

November 24, 2016 23:21

Since its launch in 1947, the Edinburgh Fringe has won fame for encouraging new and experimental acts. It pushes the boundaries. The Fringe – a bit like Limmud - is admired the world over for accommodating everyone who wants to participate and attend.

The Scotsman called the Fringe "one of the artistic wonders of the world".

And there’s no doubt it is. Having been a couple of times, there are shows around the clock – a mixture of big name comedians and theatre productions together with up-and-coming artists.

In 2014 though, The Scotsman reported: “An Israeli arts company has pulled the plug on its Edinburgh Fringe show – amid fears over the safety of its performers. Student dance company Pola said it had been warned that its performers could be put in danger if they went ahead with a show at the St Bride’s Centre.”

Intimidation and harassment led to other venues being withdrawn and Israeli acts unable to perform.

In 2015 there was no similar report in , The Scotsman because there were no Israelis at the Fringe. A silent boycott had crept in.

According to Ha’aretz in 2015: “Israelis are a walking shadow at this year’s Fringe. The Edinburgh Fringe this month isn’t hosting any Israeli acts, for the first time in many years.” It asked the question whether Israeli artists would have to hide their nationality to get back into the fold.

This year, the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign put the Fringe on notice that they had to keep the Festival “Israel free”. Their demand was simple: the Festival should “have nothing to do with this outlaw state”.

However, what the anti-Israel haters had not reckoned with was the growth of a vigorous grassroots movement for Israel across Scotland that wasn’t prepared to allow a cultural boycott to take hold for a third year.

Enter Nigel Goodrich, chair of Dumfries and Galloway Friends of Israel and convenor of the Friends of Israel groups across Scotland.

Cue Edinburgh Friends of Israel, Glasgow Friends of Israel, Highlands Friends of Israel…and half a dozen more.

For Nigel and his team the matter was about much more than Israel advocacy. It was about artistic freedom, building cultural bridges, and standing up to bullying extremism and censorship. Nigel had the vision and was prepared to put in the incredible hard work to push back the cultural boycott.

Maureen Lipman stepped in as Festival Patron and the main Jewish community organisations in Scotland and the UK assisted a really impressive grassroots effort.

As senior vice president of the Board of Deputies, I joined over 500 people for a gala concert – billed as the Shalom Festival – at the Central Hall, Edinburgh featuring the very best of Israeli musical and comic talent. The diversity and vibrancy of Israeli culture was showcased by bands Yamma and Anna RF, which in the best traditions of the Fringe, were lively and edgy in fusing different cultures and musical traditions. They had me and hundreds others dancing to their tune of peace and inclusivity.

Singer Tally Koren was hugely applauded for her message of love and harmony. Comedian, Hadar Galron, held the evening together with a blend of Israeli, Moroccan and British humour. We were addressed by Ishmael Khaldi, the first Israeli Bedouin diplomat, wearing traditional clothes.

The audience included members of the Scottish Parliament from different parties, Christians and Jews from the pro-Israel community, and ordinary Fringe goers curious to see what the Shalom Festival – and Israeli culture – had to offer.

Standing on the outside were a hundred or so extremists who displayed their negativity and hate by chanting abuse at those queuing to get in. But the game was up for them. There was no hiding their anger and frustration. Israeli artists and performers are back at the Fringe and back for good.

Richard Verber is the Senior Vice President of the Board of Deputies

November 24, 2016 23:21

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