Speaking at the Union of Jewish Students’ Annual Conference on 14 December, the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, boasted – as he had done in a letter we posted previously – about the role pressure by his government department played in bullying the Tricycle into withdrawing its conditions for hosting the UKJFF in future years:

[In August 2014] the Tricycle Theatre, just a few miles from here, announced that the internationally respected UK Jewish Film Festival was no longer welcome.

Why?

Because the organisers had accepted a small grant – less than £1,500 – from the Israeli embassy.

Neither grant came with political conditions attached.

Just as when the Arts Council awards funding to UK artists, there were no attempts to dictate content or censor views.

Yet the connection to Israel was enough.

The protesters came out and the shutters came down.

The moment I heard about the Tricycle ban I knew I couldn’t just let it go.

It’s completely unacceptable for a theatre to act in this way, and I didn’t shy away from telling its directors that.

And I’m pleased to say that, after lengthy discussions, the Tricycle and the UK Jewish Film Festival have resolved their differences.

This story, at least, has a happy ending.

Leaving aside the misinformation, (the UKJFF was welcome at the Tricycle, and no attempt was made to ‘censor’ or ‘ban’ it, there was just the reasonable condition that it ought not to happen with Israeli embassy funding; see Tricycle timeline here), Javid’s statement blatantly contradicts the assurances he gave in further correspondence this November, which you can read in full here:

Regarding the points about which you have requested clarification:

A)  The Secretary of State expressed his own personal concern that the actions that the theatre took regarding the UKJFF politicised long standing cultural relations. You may be aware that the Secretary of State wrote to the UKJFF to explain that he could not intervene in the matter. This was nothing to do with interfering in artistic freedoms. Both the Secretary of State and the Minister for Culture fully respect the arm’s length principle especially as it applies to freedom of expression and artistic endeavour.

The second point on which clarification was requested regarded the question of whether it was the position of the Department, or indeed the UK Government, that to oppose all or part of the foreign or military policy of the State of Israel and in so doing, to seek to disassociate from its cultural funding in the UK, amounts to “anti-semitism”? The Department responded as follows:

B)  At no point did Ministers take the view that anti-semitism was a factor in the Tricycle’s decision. The point being made in the Department’s previous letter was a generic one and the Department is sorry for any confusion that this may have caused.

Yet, in his speech at the UJS conference, having given the two examples of the Tricycle and Edinburgh Festival, Javid goes on to imply just that with his statement:

…it’s wrong when Jewish artists are targeted simply because of their connection to Israel. A century ago William Howard Taft called anti-Semitism a “Noxious weed”.

A century later, I don’t want to see that weed taking root in any aspect of British life.

That’s why I will always be proud to stand up and resist calls for boycotts of Israel.

I know that such calls are nothing more than a smokescreen for the oldest hatred.

[…] by all means disagree about art and culture.

I want you to debate it, discuss it, defend it and decry it.

But whatever you think of an artist’s work, you must never allow them to be silenced by the politics of prejudice.

It’s clear that ‘standing up and resisting the oldest hatred’ can in this context be understood as working together with the ambassador to a foreign country to put pressure on an independent arts organisation – in the midst of a deadly Israeli military assault on besieged and occupied Gaza – to accept money from a state under investigation for war crimes and other grave violations of international laws.


For more on the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and their role in perpetuating the false conflation of Jewishness with the state of Israel, see this OpenDemocracy piece from August.

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