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August 12, 2016 4:10 am

Artfully Countering BDS at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

avatar by Lana Melman

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A view of Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo: Wiki Commons.

A view of Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo: Wiki Commons.

How do you steal a beach? For the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, the answer is: one grain of sand at a time.

The cultural boycott effort seeks to rob the world of one of its most valued treasures — freedom of artistic expression — one artist, one performance and one exhibit at a time.

A case in point is the dangerous undertow at the Scottish Edinburgh Fringe Festival,

“The Fringe” is the largest performing arts festival in the world; it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every August and provides unparalleled exposure for up-and-coming performers.

The anti-Israel Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) has cast a shadow of censorship over this popular and important cultural exchange with protests against Israeli participation.

The protests date back to at least 1997, but have been growing steadily in their impact.

In 2012, performances by the world-acclaimed Israeli dance company, Batsheva, were continuously disrupted by protesters intimidating artists and audience alike.

In 2014, the Underbelly Theater was forced to cancel a performance of an Israeli rap opera, “The City,” because the protesters created such a disturbance that extraordinary security measures were needed and no additional funds were available. The performers said that they would sing in the streets if they had to, and they did. No other Fringe venue offered to host them.

In the same year, a dance troupe from Ben-Gurion University heard the reports about “The City” actors being cursed and called baby killers, and decided to cancel their planned participation in the festival.

In 2015, there were no Israeli state-sponsored performances.

The alleged justification for this assault on freedom of artistic expression is that the Israeli artists receive financial support from their government — a litmus test not imposed on artists from any other country.

The chilling effect on freedom of artistic expression imposed by this cultural boycott is undeniable. Wary musicians, dancers, comics and theatrical troupes from Israel fail to seek out much-needed Israeli funding.

Artists suffer damage to their careers, while politically motivated third parties dictate rosters to venues. Large demonstrations affect surrounding events (“The City” demonstrations were estimated to have affected 15 other venues), and international audiences must brave a gauntlet of hate upon entering.

The objection to state support of artists is Orwellian on its face. A hallmark of open, liberal societies is that they support their artists without censoring them; and such support should be applauded, not shunned.

Fighting for the right of all artists to be heard at The Fringe this year is the Shalom Festival, which will feature a gala concert with Arab, Jewish, Christian, Druze, Bedouin and Samaritan performers from all over Israel.

Led by Nigel Goodrich, a former preacher, it is being organized by the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland (COFIS), a Christian group, and will be an all-day event at the 1,000-capacity Central Hall on August 17.

As reported to Liberate Art by the London Embassy, “This is an event initiated, planned and funded entirely by grassroots supporters of Israel. The Israeli embassy has no part in its planning or funding, although we welcome the support which Israel has amongst the people of Scotland.”

According to Goodrich, an outspoken advocate for Israel, “The arts are central to the personal expression of our common humanity, and as such could hardly be more vital. They make us think, they make us feel, they challenge our assumptions and take us on transformative journeys. To deny artists’ freedom of expression is an affront to democracy and in fact an aggressive act of tyranny. All who value the arts and freedom should oppose such censorship.”

Deprived of state funding, the Shalom Festival organizers are raising much needed funds through crowdfunding at JustGiving.com.

In contrast to the celebration building cultural bridges inside the auditorium, the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign is planning to spend five days (August 13-17fomenting discord outside the auditorium. The programming, intended to attract hundreds, includes a one-day conference with speakers including well known Israel defamers Ilan Pappé and Omar Barghouti.

Support the Shalom Festival with your feet if you are in Edinburgh in August. And support the festival with your pocketbook, if you can.

To deny artists from any country their place on stage in order to advance a political agenda is censorship.

Placing obstacles in front of artists that discourage or inhibit their legitimate right to perform based on their nationality is discrimination, and creates a chilling effect on freedom of artistic expression for all.

Lana Melman is the CEO of Liberate Art Inc., a leading expert and commentator on the cultural boycott effort against Israel, and a professional speaker. For more information, visit: www.LiberateArt.net.

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