UK shuns Israeli festival

Britain is boycotting "Jerusalem 3000", a 16-month extravaganza celebrating the 3,000th anniversary of King David's conquest of the city from the Jebusites and the establishment of his Israelite capital.

With its partners in the European Union, the Government is refusing to fund or encourage British performers to take part in the events, which begin next month and continue throughout 1996. The embargo may exclude Britain from other annual events such as the Israel Festival and the Jerusalem Film Festival, as well as a conference of the World Health Organisation which have been included in the orbit of Jerusalem 3000.

A spokesman for the British embassy in Tel Aviv said "support for Jerusalem 3000 would be construed by other parties as de facto support for the consolidation of the Jewish hold on Jerusalem, less than a year before the future of the city is to be discussed in the final-status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

"The whole thing is going to be primarily a Jewish affair. Because of that, and the timing, we felt we had to make clear our political position. We are explaining this to the local authorities and anyone who comes to us for advice, but we are not stopping any private group or individual from appearing".

The advance programme, published last week, lists no British artists, while opera companies from Germany and Italy receive star billing. One of the opening events is a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, part of which is the European anthem, by the Deutsche Staatsoper, under its Israeli conductor, Daniel Barenboim. The concert is a gift to the city of Jerusalem from the city of Berlin. But neither the Staatsoper nor the Arena di Verona open-air production of Verdi's Nabucco will receive central-government subsidies.

The EU's decision was reported to the Israeli Foreign Ministry at the weekend by the ambassadors of Spain, Italy and France. The Italian ambassador, Giuseppe Panocchia, said afterwards: "We are sorry that the Jerusalem 3000 festival does not reflect the distinct contributions of all religious groups to the city."

The right-wing Likud Mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, replied that the festival had the blessing of the Vatican. The programme includes an exhibition on the contribution of Islam to Western arts and science, a celebration of Gospel singing and an exhibition of Jerusalem's Jewish, Christian and Muslim marriage customs. "These celebrations are not a political event," said the Mayor. "They are an expression of the historical and cultural unity of Jerusalem ... "