LEADING figures in theatre and film have called on Edinburgh’s famous Cameo cinema to cancel screenings of a festival they claim is part of an attempt to “art-wash” the state of Israel.

River City actor Tam Dean Burn, director Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty are among the signatories of a letter asking the cinema to withdraw support from 'Seret, The London Israeli Film & Television Festival (Seret 2018)' which they claim is funded and promoted by the “apartheid” Israeli State.

However as Picturehouse Cinemas, which owns the Cameo, insisted the screenings would go ahead, campaigners for Palestinian rights pledged to hold demonstrations outside the venue this weekend.

The letter, which is also signed by poet Christine de Luca, actor Pauline Goldsmith and art restorer Mary Fawdry, says Israel’s foreign minister has on record as saying arts events can be used to show the country’s “prettier face” to the world.

The letter claims: “This festival aims to promote the normalisation of Israel in the global cultural sphere, and whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights. Palestinian artists and Israelis who portray a genuine support for the Palestinian people are consistently denied access to state funding and are frequently persecuted for their work.

“Rather than opening its doors to films supported by an apartheid state, the Cameo should immediately cancel its showing of these two films and stand behind the call for a cultural boycott of events that seek to whitewash the brutal reality that is the State of Israel.”

On Sunday and Monday the arthouse venue will play host to the opening two screenings of Seret 2018 – the films The Testament and Ben Gurion, the Aftermath– before it moves to cinemas in London and Brighton.

A spokeswoman for Picturehouse Cinemas said the Cameo was an arts and cultural organisation and did not take up formal political positions.

“Our programme covers a broad array of cultural representations and artistic expression in film,” she said.

“At its heart we believe film gives people the chance to share experiences, truths and knowledge; and perhaps most importantly film can open the door to dialogue and understanding.”

She said Picturehouse was not sponsoring Seret 2018, simply hosting screenings and added: “We believe the program gives audiences an opportunity to see some of Israel’s finest film-making about Israeli life and culture.”

In a joint statement, the festival’s founders, Anat Koren, Odelia Haroush and Patty Hochmann, said: “We are pleased to have the Cameo Cinema at the first Seret Festival in Edinburgh. The Cameo Cinema has a well-deserved reputation for showing the best of world cinema, and we are delighted that they are including films from Israel within this category.

“Our Festival is a showcase for the many voices throughout Israel, including Arab Israelis and Palestinians, as well as religious and secular groups.

“Freedom of expression in the arts is something that the British have worked so hard to defend. An attempt to block the sharing of creative pursuits and the genuine exchange of ideas and values is a disappointing reaction to a Festival that sets out to open up lines of communication and understanding.”

Mick Napier, of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign said the festival was “a ‘re-branding’ and ‘art-washing’ exercise, organised while Palestinians continue to live under a brutal military rule.”