UK arts venue called on to reinstate celebration of Gaza literary event

A Manchester theatre complex has been accused of making 'a cowardly decision' to cancel the event

Atef Abu Saif had been scheduled to attend the event. AP Photo
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More than 300 artists and cultural workers have urged a Manchester arts centre to reverse its decision to cancel an event celebrating Palestinian voices.

The Voices of Resilience, A Celebration of Gazan Writing event, scheduled for April 22, was called off by Home Manchester last week.

The venue said it had cancelled the event due to “recent publicity” and safety concerns for audiences and artists.

The move came in the wake of a letter to Home from the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester, which called for the evening to be cancelled.

The JRGCM 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”.

The organisation also claimed that a featured writer, Atef Abu Saif, who is also the Palestinian Authority’s Culture Minister, had engaged in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

Comma Press, which organised the event and has previously published Mr Abu Saif, said the allegations were “baseless and libellous” and that it was considering legal action.

The open letter from artists to Home accuses it of making “a cowardly decision” and having “contributed to the silencing of Palestinian voices at a time when they most need to be heard”.

The letter goes on to say “suppressing those who speak of this experience is a form of genocide denial,” and “to cancel an event based on the ethnicity and nationality of its participants is discrimination, which directly contradicts Home's stated commitment to “anti-racism, equality and diversity”.

“We condemn this cowardly decision to silence the voices of Palestinians and to contribute to their erasure during an ongoing genocide.”

“All arts institutions should fulfil their legal and moral obligations to uphold freedom of expression and anti-discrimination,” the letter said.

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

Readers at the event included actress Maxine Peake, fellow actor Kingsley Ben-Adir and the award-winning author Kamila Shamsie.

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.”

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Updated: April 04, 2024, 7:22 AM