SPECIAL REPORT: The cultural backlash, from Kilburn to Edinburgh

SPECIAL REPORT: The cultural backlash, from Kilburn to Edinburgh

Israel's ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, addresses the 2013 festival
Israel's ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, addresses the 2013 festival

The Tricycle Theatre’s refusal to host the UK Jewish Film Festival is just one of the many troubling examples of British artistic attacks on Israel…

Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre
Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre

A north London theatre stands accused of “punishing Jewish people” after refusing to host the UK Jewish Film Festival while it is sponsored by the Israeli Embassy, amid the ongoing crisis in Gaza.

The Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, which has hosted the festival – one of the biggest and most celebrated cultural events in the Jewish communal calendar – for the past eight years, had been due to screen at least 26 films as part of the event in November.

But Indhu Rubasingham, artistic director of the Tricycle, said the festival should not accept funding from “any party to the current conflict” between Israel and Palestinians. She said the theatre offered to use funding from its own resources to replace the festival’s sponsorship from the Israeli Embassy in London.

But the UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF) said the Tricycle’s demands were “entirely unacceptable” and it was taking its screenings elsewhere. Stephen Margolis, chairman of the UKJFF, said: “The Jewish community as a whole has enjoyed a successful relationship with the Tricycle and it is extremely saddening that they should look to politicise this festival by making demands that the UKJFF could never accept.”

Judy Ironside, executive director of the UKJFF, added: “We have always sought to convey a wide perspective on the conflicts in the Middle East and initiate open dialogue with our audiences and guest speakers, and the Israeli Embassy have always supported us in this. The Tricycle have refused to take this into account in their decision.”

The festival was backed by actress Maureen Lipman, who said: “The Tricycle have decided to punish Jewish people in the diaspora for one view of what is taking place in the Middle East and that is quite unacceptable.”

In a statement on the Tricycle’s website, Rubasingham said: “The Tricycle has always welcomed the festival and wants it to go ahead. We have proudly hosted the UK Jewish Film Festival for many years. However, given the situation in Israel and Gaza, we do not believe that the festival should accept funding from any party in the current conflict.

“For that reason, we asked the UK Jewish Film Festival to reconsider its sponsorship by the Israeli Embassy. We also offered to replace that funding with money from our own resources.

“The Tricycle serves many communities and celebrates different cultures and through difficult, emotional times must aim for a place of political neutrality. We regret that, following discussions, the chair of the UKJFF told us that he wished to withdraw the festival from the Tricycle.”

“To be clear, at this moment, the Tricycle would not accept sponsorship from any government agency involved in the conflict. We hope to find a way to work with the UK Jewish Film Festival to allow the festival to go ahead at the Tricycle as it has done so successfully for the past eight years.”

Israel's ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, addresses the 2013 festival
Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, addresses the 2013 festival


However, National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner backed the Tricycle’s stance. He said: “I greatly regret the UKJFF’s decision to leave the Tricycle cinema. Indhu Rubasingham and the Tricycle board could not have made clearer their commitment to Jewish culture or their desire to host a festival that would have included films from all over the world, including Israel. It is entirely understandable that they felt obliged to insist that no government agency should sponsor the festival.

“The Tricycle serves a diverse community with a notably diverse repertoire and it has a clear responsibility to make no statement about the dispute that is behind the current conflict.

“It greatly saddens me that the UKJFF have unwisely politicised a celebration of Jewish culture and I deplore any misrepresentation of the Tricycle’s position. I support Indhu Rubasingham and the Tricycle without reservation.”

British Emunah, which supports disadvantaged children in Israel, reacted by cancelling bookings for shows at the Tricycle Theatre. Emunah director Deborah Nathan said:

“The seats were booked through the Emunah Entertainment ticket agency which arranges group bookings to shows and concerts as a way of raising funds for projects in Israel.

“We feel there is no option other than to withdraw from sale tickets for current performances and we will not be offering any further shows at the Tricycle Theatre unless their position changes. This is the kind of decision that no charity would want to make, it is a sad day for Anglo-Jewry.”

The charity will be refunding supporters who have paid for seats to two forthcoming productions –True West, a modern classic which runs in September and the November premiere of a play directed by Rubasingham.

Elsewhere in the world of arts and culture, performers from the Incubator Theatre of Jerusalem were stopped by protesters at Edinburgh’s world-famous Fringe from reaching the stage for their show The City at the Underbelly.

“The principle of freedom of expression trumps the need to put pressure on any government,” said theatre critic Joyce McMillan.

“A cultural boycott of Israel will do nothing to help the suffering people of Gaza.”

Irish singer Sinead O’Connor, meanwhile, has pulled out of an Israel gig next month, saying: “Nobody with any sanity would have anything but sympathy for the Palestinian plight. There’s not a sane person on Earth who in any way sanctions what the f*** the Israeli authorities are doing.”

She is the latest high-profile artist to voice concerns, after rock stars Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno and Bryan Adams put their names to an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron calling for an Israel arms embargo.

Alongside a cultural boycott, Palestinian supporters pushed for an economic boycott, with Hayes’ Labour MP John McDonnell addressing 150 protesters.

“We decided as a community,” he said, explaining the boycott decision. “We’re going to visit local shops to ask them to boycott Israeli goods from occupied territories and find alternative suppliers.”

Major retailers have also been targeted. Tesco last week denied that the withdrawal of its only product from the West Bank was a political decision, while across the country protesters descended on Sainsbury’s stores.

In Brixton, supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement flooded the local store, while in Birmingham city centre, the branch on Union Street was forced to close.

In Ireland, the owners of Smyths, a prestigious toy store, had to tell staff to remove a sign telling shoppers that Israeli products had been removed. The sign specifically referred to toys made by Amav Ltd, based in Ashdod.

“Great, I’ll buy my Israeli toys elsewhere,” replied one shopper online. Another wrote: “What next? No Jews allowed?”

Elsewhere, British companies including security contractor G4S and construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar were targeted by BDS campaigners for their links to the West Bank.

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