Jewish Film Festival loses venue over Israeli funding


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The Independent Culture

The UK Jewish Film Festival has lost its main venue after the Tricycle Theatre in north London refused to host it because of its Israeli government funding.

Managers at the theatre, which describes itself as “a local venue with an international vision”, said that because the festival was part-funded by the Israeli government via its embassy, receiving money from it would be “inappropriate, given the current conflict in Israel and Gaza”.

The decision, however, was immediately condemned as “shameful” by The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, which claimed it showed that “boycotts of Israel inevitably lead to the harassment of Jewish culture and individuals across the world”.

The Jewish actress Maureen Lipman added: “The Tricycle have decided to punish Jewish people in the diaspora for one view of what is taking place in the Middle East. That is quite unacceptable.”

The rift between the festival and the Kilburn-based theatre signals what appear to be mounting difficulties for Israeli-backed arts ventures in Britain in the wake of the Gaza conflict.

It came on the same day that student dancers from Ben-Gurion University became the second Israeli arts company to cancel an Edinburgh Festival performance after being targeted by pro-Palestine protesters.

Organisers of the UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF) said the Tricycle pulled out just weeks before they finalised the schedule for the event, due to be held in November. They had hoped to screen at least 26 films at the Tricycle during the festival, which they insisted “has always been entirely apolitical, showcasing perspectives from both sides of the Middle East conflict”.

But the festival organisers said Jonathan Levy, the Tricycle’s chairman, wrote to them saying: “Given the present situation in Israel/Palestine, including a terrible loss of life, the Tricycle cannot be associated with any activity directly funded or supported by any party to the conflict. The Tricycle will be pleased to host the festival provided it occurs without support or other endorsement from the Israeli government.”

Describing the decision as a “great surprise”, Judy Ironside, the festival’s executive director, said: “They have chosen a boycott over meaningful engagement.”

Stephen Margolis, chairman of the UKJFF, said: “The Jewish community as a whole has enjoyed a successful relationship with the Tricycle. It is extremely saddening that they should look to politicise this festival by making demands the UKJFF could never accept.”

Indhu Rubasingham, the artistic director of the Tricycle, however, said: “We want the festival. Now, more than at any time, Jewish culture must be celebrated. The Tricycle serves many different communities and must navigate neutrality which is why it cannot directly be taking government money in this difficult time. However, the festival decided it was not willing to decline sponsorship from the Israeli embassy and, to our regret, withdrew the festival from the Tricycle.”