A representative of Sheffield City Council has said she was “angry and upset” to hear of how an event partially funded by the council was “hijacked” to include a panel discussion on Israel-Palestine – in which all participants were anti-Israel.
Rebecca Maddox, head of Business Development in the Culture and Environment office at the city council, told a member of the local Jewish community, Ellie Phillips, of her “extreme concern and displeasure” to hear about an “appallingly managed” panel event which took place after a theatrical production of My Name is Rachel Corrie, a play about the death of an American pro-Palestinian activist in Gaza.
The play was put on as part of a “Festival of Debate”, which took place in Sheffield ten days ago. As well as panels on other topics, it hosted six different events on the subject of Palestine/Israel, exclusively involving anti-Israel panellists.
When Ms Phillips expressed concern at the one-sided nature of the panels, the Festival of Debate pledged to cancel the discussion after My Name is Rachel Corrie and make sure the panels were more balanced. However, the festival appeared to then renege on its promise, with a Facebook post by the play’s production team revealing the panel discussion did indeed take place, featuring the same panellists but with a “different focus”.
The festival subsequently denied going back on its word, saying the decision to do so was made by the production team, “unbeknownst to us”.
Ms Maddox told Ms Phillips that Sheffield council had offered £500 of funding to match the production’s Arts Council application. However, she said she had not been aware that performances would also feature a panel discussion.
“I am angry and upset to hear that these were so appallingly managed, presented via an unbalanced panel, and continued even after you had raised your concerns,” she said.
“While the funding I offered in no way contributed to the ‘Festival of Debate’ panel, I would like to offer an unconditional apology that the performances were in effect hijacked in this way.”
Ms Maddox said she would be contacting both the Festival of Debate and the play’s production team “to express my extreme concern and displeasure, and to request a full apology from them to you”.