SCOTS screenwriter Paul Laverty, who penned the film I, Daniel Blake, is among a group of prominent artists, academics and campaigners calling for a boycott of next month’s Israeli International Shalom Festival in Edinburgh.

An open letter published in today’s Sunday Herald, and signed by more than 20 people, including Laverty, director Ken Loach, actors Gavin Mitchell and Tam Dean Burn and Dr Douglas Chalmers, vice-president, Universities and Colleges Union, describes the festival as “an attempt to undermine the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the Israeli apartheid state”.

Hadar Galron, the Artistic Director of the Shalom festival said its aim is to “help us build cultural bridges and celebrate coexistence and peace”. The festival, which runs for three days from August 8 offers demonstrations of Israeli cooking, performances by Jerusalem-based Incubator Theatre, screenings of short films and a Gala Concert featuring Ethiopian-Israeli singer Meski Shibru and Tel Aviv band Jamaya.

The open letter calling for a boycott has also been signed by representatives of Pro-Palestine groups including the Scottish Palestinian Forum and the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Laverty said: “The important thing is it’s coming from people inside Palestine. These are grassroots organisations, that’s the main principle. When they ask us for support, just like with people in apartheid South Africa, you either support them or you don’t.

“The last thing I want to do is stop the free flow of ideas but, given the human rights abuses, we have a choice to make and we support these grassroots organisations. The boycott is not against individual Israelis, it’s against projects supported and financed by the Israeli state.”

The open letter states: “The purpose of this festival, which includes the Israeli state-funded company Incubator, which was the subject of a successful boycott in Edinburgh in 2014, is to attempt to undermine the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the Israeli apartheid state…the Shalom Festival is part of the State of Israel's attempts to counter BDS. It claims to support peaceful coexistence in Israel/Palestine, while whitewashing Israel's violations of Palestinian rights. This is the language of the Israeli state itself, and is code for continued occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people and the ongoing denial of the right of return of millions of Palestinian refugees.”

Sunday Herald theatre critic Mark Brown, who was involved in drafting the open letter, said: “The Shalom Festival misuses and abuses one of the most beautiful words in the Hebrew language. There is nothing peaceful about attempting to whitewash the oppression of the Palestinian people and the apartheid nature of the Israeli state.

“The international Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel has the moral authority of the overwhelming majority of political and civic organisations representing the Palestinians. We call on all people of conscience to support BDS just as they supported the boycott of apartheid South Africa called for by Nelson Mandela and the black population of South Africa.”

Nigel Goodrich, chief executive of Shalom, insisted it is a cultural event “promoting coexistence, religious and racial harmony and human rights by showcasing examples of reconciliation and conflict resolution”.

He said: “All those taking part believe that engagement and dialogue provide the best path to peace. Intimidation and harassment do not serve the best interests of either Israelis or Palestinians.

Scotland needs cultural bridges not boycotts, hence the Shalom Festival has received endorsement from all three main party political leaders at Holyrood. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wrote: 'We recognise the importance of the International Shalom Festival in promoting peaceful coexistence and I wish you all the very best for a successful event'.

“Participants – including an Islamic cleric, and a Palestinian born in the Deheisha refugee camp outside Bethlehem who was jailed for his part in the first intifada – will sit with Christian, Muslim, Bedouin and Jewish artists to plan a shared future together. There is no path to peace; peace, shalom, is the path.”