Under pressure from pro-Palestinian BDS activists, a prominent British photography gallery has canceled the Israeli embassy in London's co-sponsorship of its exhibit opening Tuesday. The Stills gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland returned the 1,300 British pounds that the embassy had contributed to the show.
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An Israeli diplomat told Haaretz that the embassy's backing of the exhibit was part of its support for Israeli artists' work abroad. The embassy had contracted to partially underwrite the Stills exhibit because it includes the work of Israeli multimedia artist Yael Bartana, who is known, ironically, for her critical treatment of Israeli policy toward Palestinians.
The diplomat said he told the gallery that its cancellation of the embassy's financial contribution was out of place because its only purpose was to pay for Bartana's expenses in attending the show's opening. The gallery's owner, according to the diplomat, told him he did not support the boycott of Israel, but was compelled to return the money due to threats lodged against Stills by one of the artists taking part in the show.
This artist threatened to disrupt the exhibit by whatever means necessary unless the embassy's connection with it was severed. "The owner of the gallery said he felt responsible to the artists and the audience, and was worried about the possible consequences, so he cancelled us," said the diplomat. The gallery published a new invitation to the show – minus the Israeli embassy's symbol. Bartana's participation in the exhibit was unaffected, however.
In response, the Israeli embassy in London took the issue up with British Culture Minister Ed Vaizey and the British Foreign Ministry. "This is an example of the actions of these activists, who often threaten violence and intimidate people who don't agree with them. This is pure blackmail," said the diplomat, who added that the matter was being dealt with by British authorities.
A British embassy spokesman called the gallery's decision "extremely disappointing."
"As you will be aware, the U.K. government strongly opposes boycotts of Israel," said the spokesman. "We are committed to further strengthening our flourishing partnership with Israel. As the prime minister David Cameron has said, this government will never allow those who want to boycott Israel to shut down 60 years worth of vibrant exchange and partnership that does so much to make both our countries stronger."
The pressure against Stills was brought to bear by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Its members threatened to mount non-stop demonstrations outside the gallery for the three-month duration of the exhibit if the Israeli embassy's sponsorship was not cancelled.
In recent years there have been similar incidents involving pro-Palestinian BDS activists acting against Israeli involvement in Scottish cultural events. In 2009 the Edinburgh International Film Festival returned 300 British pounds to the Israeli embassy in London, which had contributed the funds to pay for the attendance at the festival by an Israeli director.
In August 2012 pro-Palestinian demonstrators threatened to disrupt the performance of the Batsheva Dance Company at the Edinburgh Festival, but were kept away by security personnel. At the time a number of prominent British artists published a letter calling for a cultural boycott of Israel.