Liz Lochhead calls for Israeli dance group performance to be cancelled

Dance company: Image from Batsheva's production 'Hora' by Ohad Naharin
Gadi Dagon

Scotland's makar Liz Lochhead has called for an Israeli dance troupe to be pulled from the Edinburgh International Festival.

The Batsheva Dance Company is due to perform a one-hour show at the Playhouse in the capital on Thursday.

Lochhead, who is Scotland’s national poet, has joined a group of writers and artists in asking the director of the festival, Jonathan Mills, to cancel the performance.

But the festival has said they support "the rights of all artists… to have their voices heard".

On Wednesday, Lochhead said she had travelled to Palestine and seen for herself the way the Palestinians are treated.

She said: "Obviously in principle I am against the censorship of ideas. But having visited Palestine in June this year, and having seen how Palestinians are treated like non-humans, I believe we must use sanctions in the way they were used to bring apartheid to an end in South Africa."

An open letter from Lochhead and other writers, including Iain Banks, sets out the group’s objections.

It read: "Jonathan Mills, director of the Edinburgh International festival is wrong in refusing to cancel the performances of the Batsheva Dance Group at this year's Festival. We do not accept his assertion that art can be divorced from politics.

"The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs states on its website that Batsheva is 'the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture'.

"Haha Awaad of El Funoun, one of Palestine's premier dance troupes, encapsulates Israel's cultural apartheid well when she states: 'While Israeli artists and performers have freedom to tour, exhibits and performances by Palestinian artists are systematically banned, sabotaged and closed down by Israeli occupation'.

"Artists themselves are targets of violence, arbitrary arrests and deportations. Israel's three-tiered system of occupation, colonisation and apartheid ruthlessly suffocates the livelihoods of Palestinian communities, including the right to artistic expression."

A festival spokeswoman said: "The festival supports freedom of expression and people's right to protest. It welcomes constructive criticism, regularly facilitates debates and recognises the right to peaceful and orderly protest in any public place including outside its theatres.

"Equally the festival defends the rights of all artists, irrespective of nationality, creed or culture to have their voices heard."