Don’t censor anti-Semites, argue with them
On Sunday, Alison Chabloz, a guitarist currently performing at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, caused a storm when she posted a photo on Twitter showing her doing the ‘quenelle’ in front of Edinburgh Castle.
The gesture, an inverted Nazi salute that, despite claims it is anti-establishment, is widely believed to be anti-Semitic, was, claims Chabloz, a riposte to the ‘group of hard-line Zionists’ who have launched a ‘smear campaign’ against her in recent years. Chabloz is a vocal critic of Israel’s treatment of Palestine and is believed, by some, to be a Holocaust denier.
— Autumn's Here (@AJCTmusic) August 16, 2015
The gesture led one individual to write to the Fringe organisers, asking them to cancel Chabloz’s show. And, some have claimed, her little twitpic may even have been reported to the police.
In a blogpost, in which Chabloz defends her actions, there’s more than a whiff of dodginess: she questions the existence of gas chambers in the Holocaust and expresses solidarity with the notoriously anti-Semitic French comedian, and inventor of the quenelle, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.
Chiming in with the outraged individual who wrote to the Fringe, Gideon Falter, chairman of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, said in a statement that Chabloz’s presence should be ‘of grave concern’ to Fringe organisers and urged Scottish premier Nicola Sturgeon to step up and enforce her pledged ‘zero-tolerance’ policy on anti-Semitism.
But as dodgy, detestable and potentially anti-Semitic as Chabloz may be, the ease with which people are trying to run her out of the festival, and, potentially, out of the country, is a complete disgrace. In a free society, we must all be free to speak, discuss and salute however we like.
But, in the Israel-Palestine debate, both sides now find it all too tempting to rein in discussion and artistic exchange. And, in truth, pro-Palestine activists like Chabloz have been the worst culprits. At the Fringe last year, 50 Scottish artists signed an open letter calling for the cancellation of a show produced by an Israeli theatre troupe. After further protests, the show was pulled. Later on in the festival, an Israeli dance company cancelled its planned run in Edinburgh after receiving similar threats. And, even in Chabloz’s blogpost, she alludes to her own ‘Zionist trolls’ having been ‘reported to the police’ for things they’d written about her, even though she doesn’t stipulate if she was the one that reported them.
If we’re ever going to get to grips with the Israel-Palestine conflict, we need more speech, not less. And, yes, even quenelle-wielding anti-Semites have a right to express their views. To its credit, the Fringe refused to cancel Chabloz’s show. But, with last year’s events still fresh in our minds, one can’t help but think that it won’t be long before this allegedly liberal arts festival is rocked by another censorship scandal.
Tom Slater is assistant editor at spiked and coordinator of the Down With Campus Censorship! campaign.
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