Coffee House Culture House Daily

If the Edinburgh Fringe thinks it’s fine to give in to bigots, I might have to give up on the Edinburgh Fringe

31 July 2014

When is a great international arts festival not a great international arts festival? When it can’t uphold even the most basic principles of free speech. Last night a play by an Israeli theatre company was forced to cancel its run at the Edinburgh Fringe as the result of the barracking of a group of anti-Israeli thugs. The show, The City, is now homeless and on the hunt for a new venue.

Where exactly would they like these Israelis to perform, I wondered? Outside the walls of the city possibly? Would that be more conducive to their medieval vision of the world? Owing simply to their nationality – owing simply to their race – a theatre company is being silenced. What does the artistic community have to say about this capitulation? They’re rather in favour of it actually.

Why bring up race, you say? Because, make no mistake, race is the issue here. With every other nation on earth, extraordinary pains are taken to separate the government from the people. Putin, bad; Russian people, good. Chinese communist party, bad; Chinese people, great. Iranian mullahs, bad; Iranian people, lovely. Only in this one instance do we suddenly make an exception. Do we suddenly decide to demand the collective punishment of a whole population and its creative industries for the actions of its leaders. Strange, that.


When the state-funded Mariinsky Ballet come to town this weekend, there will be no letter asking the Royal Opera House to rescind the invitation. When the Qatar Philharmonic get a chance to show how cultured their slave-addicted state is at the Proms in September, there will be no commotion. When the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra drape themselves in the colours of a nation state that’s committed to abusing human rights whenever it can, we cheer.

And when, once in a blue moon, there’s a protest against an enemy that isn’t Israel, how do we behave? Last year there was the smallest, politest, most embarrassed-looking picket for the opening of the London Symphony Orchestra season with Putin-suck-up Valery Gergiev. Compare this to the ferocity of the protests when Jews are involved. Compare it to the humiliation of the Israel Philharmonic at the Proms a few years back.

We know what this is about. The lesson is all too clear. There’s no need to pretend, dear protestor. The key differentiating feature of the Gaza conflict is not the scale of the conflict (that’s exceeded by virtually every other war taking place in the world today), it’s the race of those many consider to be the offending party.

The irony is that, on paper, there are any number of good reasons to give this production a damn good kicking. It’s a hip-hop opera for Christ’s sake! ‘A cult hit – written entirely in rap and hip-hop songs’! It probably would have died on its arse within a few nights.

But this is now about something much bigger. It’s about defending artistic freedoms against xenophobia and racism. If the Edinburgh Fringe thinks it’s fine to give in to bigots, I might have to give up on the Edinburgh Fringe.

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • Mike Davidsohn

    What would we do if we gave independence to Wales after building them hospitals, schools and a great infrastructure that they then started declaring death to the English and firing missiles into Hereford?
    I suspect we would send in the troops and or fire back.
    Israel is doing nothing different to what any other country would do.
    The first rule of government is to protect it’s people.
    Most people who criticise Israel, when questioned as to their last visit have never even been there.
    They get their information from the biased media of from Pallywood (Palestinian home movies).
    The simple fact is that Anti Zionism is cloaked Anti-Semitism, Jew haters and Holocaust deniers hide their true agenda behind it to escape prosecution from hate laws.

  • Dave

    First of all, you are totally right about the hypocrisy of the protesters.
    But about the show? Totally mistaken. It’s the best show i’ve seen in my life!!!
    It’s original gener mix-up creates a uniqe, one of a kind performence. It could have been the biggest surprise of the festival, it’s a shame.

  • aviva1

    Even here in NY, the Met held politically controversial opera Klinghoffer. How utterly phony and what a strange cowardly act. After all more than 1,500 Pakistani civilians have been reported killed since the government’s offensive began in mid June. In Iraq, some 1,600 people were killed in the month of July. In Syria, more than 1,800 people have been killed in just the last 10 days. On Monday, the London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights reported the deaths of “at least 130 people, including seven children and 10 women,” at the hands of forces loyal to Bashar Assad. In Libya, roughly 200 people were killed last month in artillery and rocket clashes between rival militias. Another 22 were killed over the weekend as Islamist groups attacked Tripoli’s airport.
    In Nigeria, Boko Haram has turned its fury on Muslims who try to fight back against the jihadist group. Nearly 3,000 people have been killed so far this year, and another 500,000 have been made refugees. I ask, do you really care about Muslims?

  • Vingtras

    The sad truth is that it’s only when life starts to become uncomfortable for middle-class Israeli academics, writers, and artists that they might begin to take a stand against their government’s criminal policies. These are exactly the kind of people who have an outsized influence on public opinion. If they remain entirely shielded from the consequences of their country’s actions, then there will be little impetus for change within Israel. It’s a matter of inducing a collective feeling of shame to counteract the awful triumphalism which currently predominates within Israeli society.

    The analogy with South Africa is warranted because it was only when prosperous white Anglophone liberals began to feel deeply uncomfortable about their own involvement in the system (and the reactions they encountered abroad) that the flood gates opened. None of this is unproblematic; many decent Israeli academics and artists would suffer professionally as a result but that suffering would still be dwarfed by the suffering in Gaza and the West Bank.

  • Jack Dan Blake

    I see the point of your article and agree that if one is against the actions of the Israeli Government and the IDF, this shouldn’t translate to racism against Israelis. I would suggest, however, that your analysis of the reason for the high profile of the conflict being…

    “The key differentiating feature of the Gaza conflict is not the scale of the conflict (that’s exceeded by virtually every other war taking place in the world today), it’s the race of those many consider to be the offending party. ”

    This is reductive to say the least and completely misses the point of why there is so much concern. The ongoing occupation and settlements in the West Bank and blockade of Gaza, followed by a conflict where the civilian death toll to Israeli munitions plays no small part in the sadness and outrage that people are expressing.

    I would consider whether the anti-semitism is a result of outrage over this conflict rather than the cause of it. Unfortunate, but observable.

  • James Morrison

    “Two other Israeli shows are still running at the Fringe but as they do
    not receive public funding from Israel they have not been hit by

  • paul

    87% of Israeli people support the murder n slaughtering of the sleeping children in Gaza, fair play to Scotland for expressing their disdain for what is happening.

    • jjjj

      Ah diddums…can’t deal with reality so has to resort to lies. Bless! And I suppose this whole country should be banned from everywhere because of crimes committed thousands of miles away Iraq and Afghanistan. No doubt you scum will be demonstrating against Russian artists coming here.

    • Fred Scuttle

      Most of Hamas supports the slaughter and don’t care about the children either. If they did they would have stopped firing their pathetic and pointless rockets into Israel a long time ago.

    • Damaris Tighe

      No, 87% of Israelis support their government putting their civilians’ interests first rather than Gaza’s. I know this is a novel idea for people like you but I suggest you consider what you’d like the British government to do if your family were under sustained attack from a foreign city.

      • PhattElvis

        Somehow the fact that Hamas is indiscriminately firing rockets into residential areas gets glossed over. Further obliviousness prevails as to the fact that Hamas also fires into civilian areas of OTHER PALESTINIANS in Hamas’ civil war with Fatah, a more moderate group that is in power in the West Bank.

        Or that Hamas took billions of international aid — provided pursuant to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and allocated for the building of roads, bridges and other crucial infrastructure for the benefit of the People of Gaza — and

        The latent antisemitism in this selective moral outrage oozes to the surface when one points out that those condemning Israel would be so much happier if the conflict would only yield more dead Jews.

        The silence of the other Arab nations — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, etc. — and their open antipathy towards Hamas is instructive indeed. Even the Palestinian Authority leadership on the West Bank voices tepid support of Hamas at best. The Arab nations, along with Israel and the US, view Gazans as the victims and hostages of Hamas. Hopefully the Gazans will get it right in this next election this year.

        • Damaris Tighe

          all true

  • billy crazy

    Let’s bring some facts into the discussion. The Fringe. An umbrella organisation that does not manage venues did not cancel the show. The Underbelly, a company that manages venues pulled the show because the protest would disruptive many other shows in the immediate vicinity. Knowing the area I’d say maybe 4 or 5 rooms so depending on start times and the length of the protest 15, 20 shows perhaps.
    The Underbelly is a business. They have many shows on and they decided that they’d cancel the show so a lot of other artists could perform. The police should have been called in. You can protest all you like but if you’re so loud you’re running everyone else’s good time you should be moved somewhere else or made to be quiet. Many artists are outraged that this has happened.

  • gulberwick

    Bigots? You’re off your head.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here