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Defiant Israelis return to the Fringe

    Israeli acts appearing at the Shalom Festival include the band Yamma
    Israeli acts appearing at the Shalom Festival include the band Yamma

    A day-long cultural celebration of Israel will be held at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next month. But the International Shalom Festival is set to be opposed by Scottish pro-Palestinian activists.

    The Shalom event on August 17 is expected to sell out the city's 1,000-capacity Central Hall. It is being organised by the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland (COFIS) and StandWithUs.

    Actress Maureen Lipman has agreed to be an honorary patron of the evetn, which carries the slogan "building cultural bridges".

    But the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign has pledged to protest outside the venue as part of its "Don't Dance with Israeli Apartheid" campaign - the same initiative which the anti-Israel group used when the Batsheva Dance Company came to Edinburgh in 2012.

    On that occasion, activists repeatedly interrupted the dance group's three performances at the Fringe.

    Comedian Hadar Galron
    Comedian Hadar Galron

    In 2014 protesters forced the cancellation of Fringe performances by Israel theatre group Incubator.

    Nigel Goodrich, who founded COFIS and other friends of Israel groups around Britain, said he was expecting "a loud protest", but wanted to respond through positive means.

    "Meeting fire with fire? I'm not so sure about that," he said. "The International Shalom Festival is about peace, and peace means dialogue, not violence.

    "We'll probably ignore the protest and let the festival speak for itself. It's going to be the biggest pro-Israel event in the country," he added.

    Mr Goodrich emphasised that accusations from the SPSC that his event was financed by the Israeli embassy were "not true. We're not funded by the embassy. Not one shekel.

    "If it goes ahead it will be in spite of the embassy, not because of them. It's all down to people like me and the other organisers who have found these acts and arranged for them to come over."

    As well as food, music and stand-up comedy, the event will also feature the Rockets Into Roses exhibition, which displays Kassam missiles transformed into candlesticks, menorahs and flowers.

    Mick Napier, who is on the SPSC national committee, claimed it was "complete nonsense" that the Shalom event was a celebration of culture.

    He said he would attend the protest two days before the continuation of his trial at Glasgow Sheriff Court on a charge of aggravated trespass during a previous anti-Israel demonstration.

    Mr Napier emphasised that "our target is the Israeli state," accusing COFIS and StandWithUs of creating "an event to nakedly promote Israeli interests".

    The grassroots groups were "trying to whitewash the oppression of Palestinians" by promoting "Brand Israel", he argued.

    Mr Goodrich rejected the claims and said the event would be "cultural, not political" and would involve "Jews, Arabs, Christians and unaligned people".

    "That's what's really exciting about this, because art can cut across religious differences. It's all about peace and acceptance of others, in stark contrast to the hate of the SPSC."

    The stakes were high, though: "If we don't make it a success, the haters will have won - which is why it needs to be great."

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