CAMPAIGNING filmmaker Ken Loach has accused the Bishop of Edinburgh of stifling free speech in Scotland after he refused to allow a Palestinian rights group to hold a meeting inside a church.

The award-winning director joined actress Miriam Margolyes and Scottish activists to sign an open letter to the Episcopalian Bishop John Armes, calling on him to the reverse the decision.

The Rt Rev Armes blocked the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) from holding a talk at St Columba’s Church on Monday night, saying there was a danger it could encourage antisemitism.

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The talk was to be given by Jackie Walker, a prominent campaigner for Palestinian rights, and was to be held at the church after another venue backed out of playing host.

In the letter - published today in The Herald - Mr Loach and the other signatories said: "We regard this as a serious breach of the right to freedom of speech in Scotland.

"It is now becoming clear that Zionist individuals and organisations in Scotland are working hard to stifle all debate on the war crimes and human rights abuses of the Israeli State.

"Bishop Armes should be aware that Zionists comprise only a small minority of Scottish Jews and certainly do not represent the Jewish community in Scotland."

The letter continues: "Complaints of "antisemitism" directed against pro-Palestinians in Scotland have consistently proved to be exaggerated and spurious.

"They, nevertheless, continue to be repeated with monotonous regularity, such that they have reached almost Trumpian proportions."

Mr Loach, a Cannes Palme D'Or winner, has been a vociferous critic of Israel in the past, calling for the country to be made a "pariah" state by the international community and for a boycott of all cultural and sporting events supported by the Israeli state.

In 2009 the Edinburgh International Film Festival handed back a £300 grant from the Israeli embassy in London to cover the travel expenses of filmmaker Tali Shalom Ezer, whose film Surrogate was being shown in Edinburgh during the festival, after Loach protested.

Backed by pro-Palestinian campaigners, the British director had urged filmgoers to boycott the festival.

Other signatories to the letter include the artist Jane Frere, Naomi Junnor of the Scottish Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

In an e-mail seeking to justify the ban the rector of St Columba’s, David Paton-Williams told SPSC he had been contacted by a member of the Jewish community in Edinburgh expressing concern over the event.

The rector went on to say “criticism of Israel’s policies can have unintended consequences, leading to an increase in anti-Semitic attacks”.

He added: "I have been in consultation with the Bishop, to gauge the wider implications of the event, and to ask his advice.

"Having talked it over with him, I am writing to let you know that St Columba's is cancelling the booking for Monday night's meeting. I do not do this lightly and I regret that it is at this short notice."

The Rt Rev Dr John Armes, Bishop of Edinburgh, stood by his earlier statement, which said:"We support freedom of speech; we also seek close and friendly relationships with people of every faith.

"On this occasion I considered that these two important values collided. I believe that the organisers of all political gatherings must take care to ensure that individuals and religious groups are not singled out for abuse because of their beliefs."