Edinburgh Fringe: Second Israel-funded show pulled

AN ISRAELI arts company has pulled the plug on its Edinburgh Festival Fringe show - amid fears over the safety of its performers.
Protesters against military action in Gaza during a demonstration in Bristo Square. Picture: PAProtesters against military action in Gaza during a demonstration in Bristo Square. Picture: PA
Protesters against military action in Gaza during a demonstration in Bristo Square. Picture: PA

Student dance company Pola said it had been warned that its performers could be put in danger if they ahead with a show at the St Bride’s Centre.

The troupe, targeted by pro-Palestine campaigners because it is attached to the state-funded Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, were warned by the venue’s producers last week of the risk of large-scale protests outside if their visit went ahead.

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The university now says it is not willing to “compromise” on the safety of its performers, who were due to appear as part of the Acoustic Music Centre programme at the city council-owned venue from August 9-11.

Doubts over the group’s visit to Edinburgh emerged on Friday hours after the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign vowed to step up its campaigning by trying to have Pola’s show, La Karina, called as part of a “cultural boycott.” However both the council and the venue insisted the decision to cancel the shows had been taken by the university company.

Pola is the second Israeli arts company to be targeted, with Fringe promoters Underbelly still trying to find a new home for theatre company Incubator, after a major protest outside its first performance. Promoter John Stalker told The Scotsman it would be a “tall order” for them to get an alternative venue now.

Future performances at the Reid Hall were axed after more than 150 demonstrators turned up outside the venue and protested for several hours, disrupting a number of Fringe shows.

The Scotsman told on Saturday how Pola’s shows were expected to be pulled because of fears over the level of disruption that could be caused to the St Bride’s Centre and its neighbours in what is a quiet residential street.

Rivka Carmi, the university president, said: “The personal safety of the members of the dance company is the most important factor and we will certainly not compromise on that in any way. We received warnings that their participation could endanger the dancers, therefore, in consultation with the relevant parties, we made the hard decision not to send the company to the planned performances in Edinburgh.”

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John Barrow, director of the venue, said: “It is naturally a disappointment but we appreciate and understand the concerns of the students.”

The Pola dance company’s show, which was due to be staged on 9-11 August, is said to represent the changing environment in Israel and the impact it has had on the lives of the student performers. The group was one of several overseas outfits due to perform at the St Bride’s Centre.

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Police Scotland has pledged to allow peaceful protests outside Fringe venues this year - but has warned that “this will be balanced by the event, and the needs and rights of those impacted by the event, and the public can be sure that criminal activity will not be tolerated.”

Meanwhile the Scottish Government, which has opposed the calls for a cultural boycott, has denied claims it is helping Incubator Theatre to find a new venue. Ministers have also come under fire for their stance on the issue, with Fiona Hyslop declaring: “I don’t believe cultural boycotts are consistent with the rights of artists to the freedom of expression.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign said: “Over the last few weeks there have been protests the length and breadth of Scotland, demonstrating the public’s opposition to the brutal and criminal actions of the Israeli government.

“The killing in Gaza must stop and instead of aiding and abetting the Israeli government, Fiona Hyslop and the Scottish Government must stand with the people of Scotland and send a clear message to the world that we oppose the massacre in Gaza and will do everything in our gift to stop it.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have not been involved in the search for an alternative venue (for Incubator Theatre).

“We do not tell individual venues or galleries what they can or cannot programme and we do not advocate or support cultural boycotts.

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“We have made clear the Scottish Government’s position on the crisis in Gaza. We have repeatedly called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire to put an end to the violence and have offered medical help, pledged to accept refugees and are providing £500,000 to help people affected by the crisis.”