Jewish community leaders have blasted a concerted effort to boycott the London Israeli film festival as “blinkered and bigoted,” asking: “Have they learnt nothing from last year?”
A group of leading film-makers are calling on BAFTA as well as the Curzon and Odeon cinema chains to drop Seret 2015, which opens this week.
Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies, said: “The boycotters seem to have learned nothing from the Tricycle Theatre debacle last summer.”
He added: “Their blinkered, bigoted approach is fixated solely on Israel, the only liberal democracy in the Middle East and the country they love to hate. They should be looking at ways to export peaceful solutions, not import conflict.”
Film-makers including Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Peter Kosminsky, together with dozens of other artists, are piling pressure on the chains, ahead of screenings at Curzon Soho and Odeon Swiss Cottage.
“By benefiting from money from the Israeli state, the cinemas become silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people,” the group say in an open letter.
“By hosting it, these cinemas ignore the 2004 call by Palestinian civil society for sanctions against Israel until it abides by international law and ends its illegal displacement of Palestinians, discrimination against them, and occupation of their land.”
The boycott effort sparked memories of last year’s decision by the Tricycle theatre not to host the UK Jewish Film Festival, after organisers took exception to the festival’s funding by the Embassy of Israel. It later reversed its decision.
This week, in an interview with The Guardian, Loach defended the letter, saying: “This is not a campaign against individual film-makers, it is a call for a boycott when the state of Israel invests money or is promoting the event.”
Seret’s organisers, including Anat Koren, Odelia Haroush and Patty Hochmann, said: “Freedom of expression in the arts is something that the British have worked so hard to defend.”
They added: “An attempt to block the sharing of creative pursuits and the genuine exchange of ideas and values is a disappointing reaction to a festival that sets out to open up lines of communication and understanding.”
Paul Charney, chairman of the Zionist Federation, said: “This isn’t about policy, it’s about erasing any portrayal of Israelis that doesn’t fit with their propaganda efforts… It is the shameless face of contemporary anti-Jewish prejudice, holding artists from Israel to a higher standard than any other country.”
A spokesman for Curzon cinemas said: “We have not previously considered asking questions about the funding of a festival booked at one of our cinemas, and we do not consider booking a festival as any kind of political comment.”
The Seret festival originated in London in 2012, but now hosts screenings in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool.