Row Breaks Out After UK Theater Cancels Palestinian Writers Event, Citing Safety Concerns

UPDATED with Comma Press’ response: Less than a week ago, the UK’s popular art venue the Home Theatre in Manchester was sharing on social media that it would be “celebrating Palestinian voices” at an event called Voices of Resilience in April.

Two big acting names, Maxine Peake and Kingsley Ben-Adir, were among those set to perform at the event. Among the work scheduled to be read aloud was the poetry of Atef Abu Saif, also currently the minister of culture for the Palestinian Authority.

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Now, even though the social media post remains up, the BBC reports that the event will no longer go ahead, after the venue received a letter from the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester (JRCGM).

The JRCGM said the event must be cancelled, and claimed specifically that Abu Saif had previously defended Holocaust denial. Comma Press, who organized the event at Home Theatre, called these “baseless and libellous allegations,” and said they were disappointed by the cancellation of the event.

UPDATE: Comma Press on Tuesday reached out to Deadline to assert again that any claim that Atef defended a “Holocaust denier” was “utterly, absolutely and provably false” and that the letter from the JRCGM referred to a speech in which Atef defended Palestinian Authority President Abbas. “The speech by Abbas made some comparisons between different historical injustices that may be inaccurate, false, insensitive, etc, and may fall under the definition of ‘holocaust relativism’ (by virtue of comparing the holocaust to something else), but it is absolutely not ‘holocaust denial’ as the phrase is commonly understood,” the organization said in a statement.

Home Theatre later issued a statement saying it was “a politically neutral space, committed to welcoming the full range of artist expression.”

It said: “Our concern for the team at Home, our audiences and artists, and their safety is paramount. In the face of recent publicity around Voices of Resilience, we have cancelled this event.”

The JRCGM told the BBC they welcomed the decision, that there was no reason for Home Theatre to have safety concerns, but it believed giving a platform for Abu Saif’s works would “seriously damage community cohesion.”

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