Artists call on Manchester venue to reinstate event celebrating Palestinian voices

More than 300 cultural workers, theatre and film artists, including Maxine Peake and Asif Kapadia, have called for a Manchester arts venue to reinstate an event celebrating Palestinian voices.

Home Manchester last week cancelled the Voices of Resilience evening, scheduled for 22 April, citing “recent publicity” and safety concerns for audiences and artists.

The venue’s decision followed a letter to Home from the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester (JRGCM) calling for it to be cancelled, claiming that a featured writer, Atef Abu Saif, who is also the Palestinian Authority’s culture minister, had engaged in antisemitism and Holocaust denial.

The event’s organiser, Comma Press, which has also published Abu Saif, called the allegations against him “baseless and libellous” and said it was considering legal action.

An open letter signed by the theatre director Pooja Ghai, the playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and the dramatist April De Angelis, as well as the Academy Award-winning director Kapadia, who is a patron of Home, accuses the venue of having “contributed to the silencing of Palestinian voices at a time when they most need to be heard”.

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The Manchester venue HOME has cancelled 'Voices of Resilience', a sold-out event of Palestinian prose and poetry read by members of the Palestinian community. This followed pressure from a pro-Israel organisation. Cultural workers respond https://t.co/xlnP5Y1cek

&mdash; Artists for Palestine UK 🍉 (@Art4PalestineUK) April 1, 2024

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The Manchester venue HOME has cancelled ‘Voices of Resilience’, a sold-out event of Palestinian prose and poetry read by members of the Palestinian community. This followed pressure from a pro-Israel organisation. Cultural workers respond https://t.co/xlnP5Y1cek

— Artists for Palestine UK 🍉 (@Art4PalestineUK) April 1, 2024

It says: “As theatremakers, film-makers, artists and cultural workers, many of whom have had work staged at Home, we condemn this cowardly decision to silence the voices of Palestinians and to contribute to their erasure during an ongoing genocide.”

The JRGCM also complained about the use of the word “genocide” in publicity for the event, saying that “the only genocide that has been carried out was by Hamas on 7 October 2023” when approximately 1,200 Israelis were killed.

The ensuing Israeli offensive has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians. The UN’s top court, the international court of justice, is considering a complaint from South Africa that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, finding, in an interim ruling, that it was plausible that Palestinian rights needed protection under the genocide convention.

The playwright James Harker, who drafted the open letter with support from Artists for Palestine UK, said: “Home’s actions shame Manchester and they shame the arts world.”

Peake, fellow actor Kingsley Ben-Adir and the award-winning author Kamila Shamsie were among those supposed to read at the event.

A statement on Home’s website says it is “a politically neutral space, committed to welcoming the full range of artist expression. 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.

“Home must always be mindful of our responsibility to those who visit and work here, and our purpose of supporting a wide variety of artists and the audiences who want to experience them remains unchanged.”

The Guardian