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Hounding of Israeli troupe makes a mockery of access policy

Most countries embrace wry tropes about the national character of the "of course we Finns are really miserable" variety, but generally it is all done with the equivalent of a Gallic shrug or a Teutonic wink.

In bella Caledonia, however, such analysis seemed a national obsession long before the independence referendum debate.

My particular distaste is for the notion among some in the chattering and scribbling classes of the "Scottish cringe", and not because of the supposed inferiority complex for which it is crass shorthand. What anyone who uses the phrase is implying is that such a description could not possibly apply to them.

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We, the great mass of Scots, are guilty of failing to recognise our own worth, while the shining intellectuals, who are able to read the cultural and political DNA of those whose terrain they also happen to inhabit, are too sure of themselves to be gulled by any hereditary tendency to forelock-tugging. This superiority complex, the very opposite of the "cringe" the complainers profess to detect, is arguably the more identifiable characteristic among some revered Scottish figures now and in the past, and we have seen rather too much of it at the start of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

In a better world, Israel's Incubator Theatre company would be front-runners for our Herald Little Devil award. The partner to our Herald Angels for excellence at the Edinburgh Festivals, the Little Devils are given to companies or individuals in recognition of their determination that "the show must go on". Often the accolade springs from transport problems, lost costumes or rehearsal injuries, so it is rather too lighthearted to award to director Arik Eshet and his troupe, who were hounded out of the home they had booked in Scotland's capital by protesters, despite the backing of the venue and their local producer. Having failed to find another theatre space to perform in, and before they finally gave in and cancelled Incubator took their hip-hop opera, The City, outside to the public space of The Meadows (pictured) and found an audience there.

That is the only positive that can be taken from a saga that has shamed Scotland, immediately after the country was praised for the way Glasgow embraced the spirit of "the Friendly Games". While Incubator Theatre did their best to get on with what they came to Edinburgh to do, a student company of dancers from Israel's Ben-Gurion University cancelled its planned visit in the face of the protests, despite the fact it is a multi-cultural institution itself.

Sports analysts have pointed out that England's achievement in topping the medal table this year was more notable than the last time they did it, in Edinburgh in 1986, because those Commonwealth Games were diminished by a boycott. That equation is only amplified in the context of the open access policy integral to the Fringe.

The situation in Gaza is appalling, and most of the world is quite clear that the Israeli state's action has been indefensible and has done nothing but damage to its own standing in the world. This, of course, is nothing to the dreadful carnage that the Palestinian people have suffered. Those who wish to support them must lobby their governments and argue for whatever sanctions might bring about an end to the conflict, but support for the Palestinian people is not persuasively expressed by silencing artists whose own views on the behaviour of their home state have never been sought. As one of The Herald's correspondents on the letters page sagely noted, playwrights and journalists backing censorship is like turkeys voting for Christmas. Those who have done so also risk making us Scots look like a nation of anti-democratic, self-righteous prigs.

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