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Manchester theatre allows Palestinian event to proceed after artists protest against cancellation

April 5, 2024 at 6:36 pm

An outside view of the HOME Cinema, Theatre and Art Gallery in Manchester on 7 March 2024 [@HOME_mcr/X]

The organisers of a Palestinian literature event, initially cancelled by a Manchester theatre, express “huge” gratitude as the venue allows it to proceed, following protests over its cancellation last week.

HOME theatre apologised for the controversy sparked by cancelling “Voices of Resilience” scheduled for 22 April due to recent attention and safety concerns for attendees.

Nearly 100 artists withdrew their work from an exhibition at the venue in solidarity with Comma Press, the event’s organiser, which explores the experiences of Palestinians affected by Israel’s war against Gaza.

The decision followed a demonstration on Saturday outside the arts space and a letter signed by nearly 300 artists, including Maxine Peake and Asif Kapadia.

The cancellation occurred after the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester (JRCGM) raised concerns about one of the speakers, Gazan writer, Atef Abu Saif, who is also Minister of Culture in the Palestinian Authority, accusing him of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

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Artist Mollie Balshaw, who was among those taking their work down on Wednesday evening, told BBC North West Tonight: “The decision that they’ve made is political and it’s a decision that I disagree with, as do so many other artists in the show and it felt like the right thing to do.”

In a statement posted on its website, the venue said it “recognised how deeply” the cancellation had affected communities in the city and further afield.

“We support Palestinian and all community voices, and acknowledge that we can learn from how this was handled. We regret that this has had such wide-reaching impact,” it said.

HOME further explained that ongoing discussions with all stakeholders had enabled them to “access additional resources” to facilitate the event. While reaffirming their dedication to “championing equality and diversity”, they admitted the need for efforts to rebuild trust and confidence.

Regarding the Gaza conflict, HOME said: “We stand with all innocent victims of this conflict, and call for a humanitarian solution.” Details regarding the rescheduled event will be disclosed soon, according to the venue.

“This is a potential watershed moment in the campaign against the intimidation that arts venues face for showcasing Palestinian artists and voices”, it said.

Meanwhile, the JRCGM expressed disappointment over the reversal, refuting claims of silencing Palestinian voices. It claimed it had addressed “legitimate concerns of our community around one of the contributors who has made disturbing and inappropriate references to the Holocaust.”

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