Israeli ambassador joins Fringe free speech debate

The controversial boycott of two Israeli shows sparked a number of protests at last year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

The controversial boycott of two Israeli shows sparked a number of protests at last year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

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A LEADING Israeli cultural ambassador is to take part in a freedom of speech debate at this year’s Edinburgh Festival - a year on from a controversial boycott of performers from his country.

Two Israeli shows were pulled from the Fringe programme last year over the threat of prolonged protests because of their state funding.

Dan Golan, cultural attache at the Israeli Embassy in London, will be tackling issues raised by the row which flared 12 months ago, sparking headlines around the world amid concerns the Fringe’s long-standing “open access” policy was at risk.

Many of those embroiled in last year’s furore have agreed to take part in a series of debates which are being held at the Fringe over the next few weeks.

One of the two Fringe venues targeted last year is hosting Walking the Tightrope, a hard-hitting new show tackling issues of freedom of expression and censorship, in response to the events that unfolded last year.

The debates - which will also feature artists, broadcasters, festival organisers, politicians, activists and writers - will be held after each performance of a series of specially-commissioned short plays.

Underbelly’s directors were left furious after being forced to axe Incubator Theatre’s “hip hop opera” from its programme over safety fears for the Israeli performers and concerns about disruption of nearby venues.

Dozens of leading Scottish artists, including polymath Alasdair Gray, national poet Liz Lochhead and playwright David Greig, backed a cultural boycott protesting against the staging of the show at the venue.

Student dance company Pola was also forced to pull out of the Fringe after being warned that its performers could be put in danger if they went ahead with their show at the St Bride’s Centre.

The Scotsman theatre critic Joyce McMillan, Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland, Mick Napier, chair of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and actor Tam Dean Burn will all be taking part in the debates during the run of Walking the Tightrope.

Other confirmed panelists include Fringe promoter Tommy Sheppard, who was elected as an MP earlier this year, Fergus Linehan, the new director of the Edinburgh International Festival, his predecessor Sir Jonathan Mills, whose event had been targeted in the past for booking Israeli performers, and the theatre-maker Guy Masterson.

Also taking part is Greig, one of the nation’s leading playwrights, who ran a successful £10,000 crowdfunding campaign last year to help bring Palestine artists to this year’s Fringe.

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