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Artists call for Fringe show from Israel to be cancelled

More than 50 cultural figures, ­including the Scottish national poet, have signed an open letter protesting against a show supported by the Israeli government at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The show, by Israel's state-funded Incubator Theatre, has sparked a row on the Fringe.
The show, by Israel's state-funded Incubator Theatre, has sparked a row on the Fringe.

The nation's Makar, Liz Lochhead, the author and artist Alasdair Gray, leading playwright David Greig, and theatre directors Ben Harrison, Graham McLaren and Cora Bissett are among more than 50 people who have signed an open letter urging the Underbelly venue to cancel its staging of The City by Incubator Theatre of Israel.

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The letter reads: "We the undersigned ... write to you to protest against your programming of a show entitled The City, by the Israeli company Incubator Theatre, during the forthcoming Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

"The current, brutal assault by Israel upon the people of Gaza, which is an appalling collective punishment, underlines the seriousness of your error in cooperating with a company which is funded by the Ministry of Culture of the State of Israel."

The letter, organised by theatre critic and writer Mark Brown, adds: "We strongly believe that there can be no 'normality' in international relations with Israel while it continues to oppress the Palestinian people.

"The State of Israel uses the international ventures of its artists to attempt to lend itself a sense of cultural legitimacy and to distract attention from the brutality of its illegal occupation.

"Some brave and principled Israeli artists oppose the Israeli State's cynical attempts to use them for propaganda purposes. In taking Israeli State funding, Incubator Theatre is not among them."

The letter asks for "Underbelly to show solidarity with the Palestinian people and to reconsider the decision to include Incubator Theatre in its Fringe programme."

The hour-long show, a hip hop opera, is supported by The Ministry of Culture and Sport Israel and is being promoted for the Fringe by John Stalker Productions. It is due to run at the Underbelly from July 30 to August 25.

The letter, published in The Herald today, is also signed by actors Gerda Stevenson, Iain Robertson and Gavin Mitchell, writers Ian Pattison and Peter Arnott, and groups such as Scottish Jews for a Just Peace and Scottish Friends of Palestine.

However, a spokesman for the venue said Underbelly believes that "all artists, from whatever creed or nation, must have the freedom of expression".

He added: "Incubator Theatre does receive funding from the State of Israel but to somehow deduce from that, without any evidence, that they are an agent or a cultural legitimiser for the State of Israel's policies is a non sequitur, in the same way as to suggest that any of the much-respected artists who signed Mark's letter are cultural legitimisers for the UK or Scottish governments."

The spokesman said that Incubator Theatre was "an agent for peace and dialogue in Israel." He said the company was founded in 2005 with the aim of developing an "urban climate of pluralism and openness that accommodates a wide spectrum of opinions and views".

The company's director, Arik Eshet, is a former board member of Waah-at i-sal-aam/Ne-ve shal-om, a community school jointly established by Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Incubator Theatre is also funded by the Beracha Foundation, which seeks to promote Jewish-Arab coexistence.

In a separate statement, Ms ­Lochhead writes: "I , Liz Lochhead, Scots Makar or National Poet of Scotland, wish to sign this letter in support of a Cultural Boycott of Israeli Artists and Academics where they are in any way funded by the State of Israel.

"This is part of a necessary process - this boycotting - if a painful one for all liberals - because we, the international community, must protest by any means possible Israel's current actions in Gaza, and indeed its ongoing illegal treatment of all Palestinians.

"The State of Israel is guilty of war crimes. Its leaders should be charged with them. Now.

"We must accuse our own government of complicity in these crimes."

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