Jackie Kemp of Edinburgh, Scotland is a freelance journalist and writer on education for several newspapers. She is also the granddaughter of Robert Kemp, a Scottish playwright, who was one of the founders of the Edinburgh Festival in 1947. She was therefore personally offended when an attempt was made to cancel the performance of the Batsheva Dance Company from Israel at the Edinburg Festival in 2012.
The Batsheva Dance Company was scheduled to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival on August 30th, August 31 and September 1, 2012. Novelist Iain Banks, Scotland’s national poet Liz Lochhead, short story writer AL Kennedy, and seven others, had a letter published on August 29, 2012 in Glasgow Herald in which they asked the director of the festival, Jonathan Mills, to cancel the performance of the Batsheva Dance Group at Edinburgh on the basis that it is a “global ambassador of Israeli culture”.
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'.
This attempted cultural boycott was preceded by an effort to have the Israeli theatre company Habima banned from taking part in an international Shakespeare festival at the Globe Theatre in London. And the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was loudly jeered as it performed at the Proms.
An Edinburgh festival spokeswoman said: "The festival supports freedom of expression and people's right to protest. It welcomes constructive criticism, regularly facilitates debates and recognizes 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."
Jackie Kemp reacted to the letter by writing on August 31, 2012 her own views on the boycott for the Glasgow Herald.
I was shocked by the letter signed by a number of writers attacking Jonathan Mills for inviting Israel's Batsheva Dance Company to the Edinburgh International Festival.
How can they denounce other artists without even seeing their work? Do they know what they are trying to communicate?
Between them these writers have taken a good amount of money from the British state in the form of grants and so on. Does that make them responsible for the invasion of Iraq? We have artists from China and Russian state companies who are not held responsible for government actions.
Perhaps they just don't "get" the EIF. I have spent the last year researching a book (Confusion to our Enemies: Selected Journalism of Arnold Kemp (1939 to 2002)) and in the course of that I researched my grandfather Robert Kemp's work – he was one of the founders of the Edinburgh Festival and coined the term the Fringe.
It was started in the aftermath of the Second World War, to bring back the joy, colour and vibrancy of cultural expression into people's lives which had been, for many, grey and miserable. It was started so that people from different countries could communicate heart to heart in the international language of art and culture.
Sometimes I fear this noble purpose is slightly obscured by the corporate-branded festival that much of the Fringe has become.
But there are still real and brave attempts to use art to break down barriers and to glimpse the world from other people's perspectives. Batsheva Dance Company's's performances offer us an opportunity we should grasp.
It would be a tragedy if people like these writers who live, not in the shadow of war but in relative ease and comfort, manage to achieve their wish and create a cultural climate in Scotland where it is impossible for Israeli artists to come here to perform.
The opening performance by The Batsheva Dance Company on August 30, 2012 was disrupted three times during its performance at Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre by protesters.
The Batsheva Dance Company performed the dance "Hora". The dance has been described as a thrilling spectacle of movement that successfully highlights – in a company that deliberately works without soloists – the uniqueness of each one of the dancers.
The dance is performed to Isao Tomita’s alien soundtrack which blends great classical works by Wagner, Ives and Debussy with the theme from Star Wars and music featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey, as the dancers twist, jerk and articulate their way through Naharin’s striking choreography with insect-like precision and grace. Sexy and elegant, Hora sees contemporary dance flirt with science fiction in a production that is out of this world.
Earlier in the evening, around 150 protesters organized by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign gathered outside the theatre chanting pro-Palestine slogans, calling for a boycott of the performance, brandishing signs that read "don't dance with Israeli apartheid," and shouted “Burn Your Tickets” at audience-goers. They were joined by Scottish “Jews for a Just Peace.” A smaller counter-demonstration was held by the Zionist Federation of Great Britain.
However, security efforts to keep the protest outside the festival halls did not succeed, as dozens of pro-Palestinian activists managed to enter the dance hall where over 1,500 people were watching the performance. The Batsheva dancers had to stop the performance several times, while police took control of the situation, and ejected up to 12 protesters from the theatre. During the several imposed breaks, the audience stood on their feet and cheered on the Israeli dancers, urging them to continue dancing.
The first interruption came ten minutes into the one-hour performance. Four people with banners stood up in the grand circle and shouted “free, free Palestine” and “Your tickets are covered in Palestinian blood”.
The second interruption, also in the grand circle, came ten to 15 minutes later when three protesters waved placards and shouted slogans.
The final protest, in the stalls, involved two protesters unfurling a Palestinian flag. On each occasion the dancers stood still on stage, the curtain was lowered and the house lights brought up until the protestors were ushered out by theatre staff.
The Israel ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, and Israeli Culture Minister Limor Livnat attended the show. "The activists' attempts to prevent Batsheva from performing and putting Israel's fine culture on display have failed," said Livnat. "We will not surrender to cultural terror by Israel haters. The show was spectacular. The Scottish audience applauded the dancers while activists were hurling anti-Israel slurs at them," Livnat added.