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Disbelief as Scottish FM Supports Israel's Dark Arts

Disbelief as Scottish FM Supports Israel's Dark Arts

By YVONNE RIDLEY

Many of you across The Pond will probably not know the full extent of Scotland's proud history defending and protecting minority groups targeted purely for their faith, skin colour or culture.

It is the only European country where Jewish people have not been persecuted or threatened for their religious beliefs over the centuries. From the Middle Ages to the present day, levels of anti semitism frequently resulted in massacres and exile of Jews from various parts of Europe and, of course, the last century saw the Holocaust where millions were systematically murdered in a genocide coordinated by Nazis.  

Scotland might be small in size but it is well known for punching above its weight in terms of offering shelter and help to those less fortunate. In recent times, government ministers from the Holyrood Parliament have taken part in demonstrations and rallies in support of refugees and asylum seekers while these same groups have not been given anywhere near the same sort of welcome or support from their counterparts in the Westminster government.

I remember quite clearly when Scottish minister Humza Yousaf shouted out loud and proud in his Glaswegian accent: "Say it loud, say it clear: Refugees are welcome here." you'd certainly not get a UK Government Minister showing such solidarity with the refugee community in a march anywhere south of the Border.

So you can imagine the disappointment expressed in some quarters this week over a decision by Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to give open support to a cultural event organised by the Israeli embassy which represents and supports the brutal military occupation, imprisonment of children, building of illegal settlements and denial of human rights to Palestinians.

The Shalom Festival will showcase the Zionist State at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next month which is now the largest arts festival of its kind in the world. Shalom organisers boast the festival will help Israel "build cultural bridges and celebrate coexistence and peace".

However, Mick Napier, a co-founder of Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign said: "The partners organising this event are answerable to the Israeli Embassy. They defend every Israeli massacre, bulldozing of homes, the brutal siege of Gaza that constitutes collective punishment and causes such suffering.

"When not organising events to deny the harsh reality that Palestinians live under, the organisers can be found trying to close down events in support of Palestinian freedom. 

"In a well organised division of labour, the Israeli State uses harsh, violent methods to crush Palestinian aspirations while the Embassy and their agents here promote the aims of the Apartheid State and smear those who stand up for justice. "

Equally blunt, Tom Smith, an SPSC member from Stirling added: "Our First Minister and the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Kezia Dugdale, need to withdraw their endorsement of the Shalom Festival - they are supporting something that is very dark indeed. They should look at the evidence from Scottish supporters of Israeli genocide that chimes with the warning by Israeli General Yair Golan that Israel today is very reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s."

The SPSC says it is hopeful Sturgeon and Dugdale will reconsider and withdraw their support, especially in light of a protest involving nearly 90 theatre performers and Hollywood executives in America. An impressive array of signatories - including winners of four Pulitzers, three Tonys, and nine Obies -  signed the letter opposing Israeli government-sponsored performances by Israel’s Ha’Bima and Cameri theater companies at Lincoln Centre in New York this week.

The letter states that the group of artists were deeply troubled that one of the world's leading cultural institutions was helping the Israeli government to implement the "brand Israel strategy" of using arts and culture to direct attention from the Zionist State's brutal history of "violent colonization, brutal military occupation and denial of basic rights to the Palestinian people."

Calling on the Lincoln Centre to avoid complicity the group urges a cancellation of the performances. The grassroots campaign organisers Adalah New York helped organised the protest and now a huge debate and widespread media coverage in America is  underway into the Ha’Bima and Cameri theatre companies' performances which are sponsored by the Israeli government as part of the "Brand Israel" campaign. 

Critics accuse both groups of being actively complicit in the occupation and colonisation of the West Bank by repeatedly performing in illegal settlements, despite past opposition from artists including some of their own actors.  

The New York venue's president Debora Spar defended the performances by writing that "we do not make political statements and hope that the art we present can stand on its own."

However, as Scotland's First Minister will discover, supporting such events which receive Israeli government funding and backing IS a political statement. Does she really want to break with centuries of Scottish tradition by standing with the oppressor, or in this case an apartheid regime which is hellbent on the repression of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem?

It seems New York is leading the way on how to deal with attempts to normalise "Brand Israel" by using the arts and culture to try and disguise the disgraceful behaviour of the Zionist State. As a previous American President once said, it doesn't matter how much lipstick you put on this pig ... 

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