Don't dance with Israeli apartheid

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Cultural boycott of Israel

Edinburgh International Festival director Jonathan Mills refused to disinvite Israeli dance troupe Batsheva from this summer's festival. But he had to eat his words when Scotland's national poet, Liz Lochhead, joined Iain Banks and AL Kennedy in defending the cultural boycott of Israel because of its violations of Palestinian human rights.

This August the Don't Dance with Israeli Apartheid (DDwIA) campaign targeted Batsheva's Edinburgh appearances and is now gearing up for action around their autumn tour of eight UK cities. The Edinburgh Festival protest lasted for three exhilarating nights outside the Playhouse. It saw more than 20 members of the audience demand a refund, in some cases tearing up their tickets on the theatre steps.

Some theatre goers had no idea about Batsheva's role as "culture ambassadors" for the Israeli government's Brand Israel project - but the Israeli ambassador made it clear when he attended Batsheva's opening night performance. Brand Israel is the state's main response to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign launched in 2005 by Palestinian civil society.

Arye Mekel, Israel's deputy director general for cultural affairs, was brutally honest after the bombing of Gaza in 2009: "We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theatre companies, exhibits. This way you show Israel's prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war."

So this is the reason for boycotting Batsheva, not because they are Israeli, but because they have so far refused to distance themselves from Brand Israel. That may change. Ohad Naharin, Batsheva director, spoke to protesters and offered to speak to his board in Tel Aviv about such a move. In the meantime, Batsheva plan to return to Britain at the end of October. Starting in Edinburgh, they will represent Israel all the way to Plymouth.

The Edinburgh protests, principally organised by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the student collective We are all Hana Al Shalabi, and Scottish Jews for a Just Peace, show that the opportunity to use non-violent direct action as part of the BDS campaign can draw in a wide range of people prepared to struggle for a better world. As socialists, we need to be involved in organising DDwIA protests across Britain and help send a clear message that the days of Israeli Apartheid are numbered.

Visit www.no2brandisrael.org/ for more information