Yoav Hornung

Yoav Hornung

Another boycott controversy blackened the British arts scene this week when a Bristol film festival refused funding from the Israeli Embassy to bring two Israeli filmmakers to the UK for the event, writes Stephen Oryszczuk.

Yoav Hornung (pictured) and Niv Shpigel were to attend screenings of their films at the Encounters Festival due to be held in September, but fell foul of what Jewish leaders claim was “just the latest ultimatum”.

Encouters festival organiser Debbie Lander said the money was refused to avoid “negative consequences”.

A spokeswoman said states often fund film-makers’ travel either directly or through festival funding and sponsorship, with the Israeli Embassy opting for the latter.

However, on the back of the Gaza conflict, the spokeswoman added: “The decision was taken [this year] to refuse the offer of financial support from the Embassy of Israel in order to maintain the festival’s neutral political status.”

A panel discussion at the Encounters Festival in Bristol last year

A panel discussion at the Encounters Festival in Bristol last year

Israel is the first state from which funding has been refused, but organisers denied it was a boycott, saying: “We welcome film-makers from all over the world.”

The explanation did not go down well with local Jewish groups, however, who reacted with disdain.

Bristol Hebrew Congregation president Alex Schlesinger said: “It echoes similar responses from event organisers in Edinburgh and London and reflects the fear of street mob rule that has been witnessed in Manchester and Brighton.

“It is disappointing and worrying that organisations are now starting to surrender to mob rule,” he said. “How long before the anti-Israel street lobby start shaping thinking and policy in government and public administration?”

He added: “It’s no coincidence that the only country being singled out for such treatment is the Jewish homeland.”

Attending will be Jewish author Will Self, who described Israel’s actions in Gaza as a “rampant obscenity,” and Yoni Goodman, an Israeli animation film director being flown in by the festival because he is acting as a judge.

“Boycotting is the wrong way to go, especially in the arts,” said Goodman. “It shouldn’t be political. I don’t think there’s a problem with inviting Israelis, after all I’m Israeli and I’m there. It’s a problem with accepting money from the State of Israel. It’s bureaucracy more than anything.”

But Schlesinger was indignant, saying:
“Israeli film directors are welcome as individuals, but implicitly not as citizens or representatives of the cultural life of the Jewish state.”

A Board of Deputies spokesman agreed, saying: “This latest ultimatum is another disturbing example of how arts institutions are asking Jews to effectively disavow from the state of Israel. Instead of trying to make misguided political statements, arts institutions should do what they are supposed to: allow for artistic expression.”