August-September 2014

  • The Tricycle Theatre asked the UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF) to reconsider its sponsorship by the Israeli Embassy, and offered to replace the £1,400 from its own funds. The UKJFF rejected the offer and withdrew, then went to the press with the story it had been banned.
  • On 5 August the Tricycle issued a statement in response to ‘misleading information’, clarifying that ‘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 8 years.’ In the statement, Director of the National Theatre Nicholas Hytner commented ‘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.’ This Guardian report gives some of the background.
  • The UKJFF refused the Tricycle offer to replace Israeli embassy funds. Its executive director Judy Ironside said that ‘this celebration of Jewish culture…is of course intrinsically connected to the state of Israel.’
  • By Friday 8 August, the Guardian wrote in its main editorial (under the heading ‘The Guardian view on Gaza and the rise of antisemitism‘), that ‘to demand that Jews surrender that connection [to Israel] is to tell Jews how they might – and how they might not – live as Jews. Such demands have an ugly history.’ The editorial then appeared to conflate the Tricycle’s request to the UKJFF with firebombing synagogues and death threats to Jews.
  • This editorial followed close on the heels of a Comment is free piece by Guardian columnist, Hadley Freeman, who wrote that the Tricycle decision ‘demonstrated thinking so nervy and so potentially hypocritical that at least one legal expert said it “may well count as unlawful discrimination.”’ Freeman’s source was Adam Wagner, barrister, editor of the UK Human Rights blog and Chair of British Friends of Hebrew University Young Legal Group. Wagner, who appeared to have no specialism in the Equality Act, explained in his follow up post that other senior lawyers disagreed with his legal reasoning: ‘I… received some interesting emails from senior lawyers suggesting issues which I hadn’t considered such as standing under the Act as well as problems in finding an appropriate comparator. I stand by my view that the theatre’s decision was certainly vulnerable under the Equality Act, although a claim would be by no means straightforward.
  • By Tuesday 12 August a Tory councillor in Brent, John Warren, whose council provides around a quarter of the Tricycle’s funding, announced an ‘investigation’ into whether the theatre had compromised its charitable status.
  • On the same day, the Secretary of State for Culture, Sajid Javid, intervened to say that the Tricycle was ‘misguided’ and that he was ‘concerned about the impact of its decision’:
  • It emerged that Arts Council England had already clarified that Tricycle’s decision on sponsorship had not breached any of the rules they would apply to Arts Council funded organisations.
  • By Thursday 14 August, as reported by the Jewish Chronicle, small funders were withdrawing their donations. One donor, Allan Morgenthau told the JC ‘If they change their mind, the Jewish community will forgive them.’
  • On Friday August 15, a letter signed by more than 500 theatre professionals appeared in the Guardian under the headline ‘We must stand with the Tricycle Theatre’, saying: Punishing a small theatre for standing up for its principles is a big step backwards for anyone concerned with challenging prejudice or promoting freedom of speech. Anyone who truly wants to stand against antisemitism needs to stand with the Tricycle theatre and challenge those who are accusing it in a disproportionate, unjust and ill-informed way.’ (Full list of signatories at 272874612907388)
  • On the same day, the Tricycle and the UKJFF issued a joint statement that, ‘…the Tricycle has now withdrawn its objection and invited back the UK Jewish Film Festival on the same terms as in previous years with no restrictions on funding from the Embassy of Israel in London….’
  • The original Tricycle statement about the UKJFF, which included statements of support from several leading theatre figures, is no longer on the Tricycle website. However, the Jews sans Frontieres blog has recovered it and published it here.
  • On 21 August, the Jewish Chronicle published an article (with the headline ‘Sack Tricycle directors’ call despite deal) which referred to the role played by the joint intervention of the culture secretary and Israeli ambassador: ‘… following talks between the parties, the theatre dropped the demand and said it would welcome the festival back. The deal came after Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub and Culture Secretary Sajid Javid intervened….’
  • On 11 September, a letter was published in The Stage in response to a column by Simon Tait (Why you should worry about the politics of arts funding). Tait had argued that artists should not take political stands. The letter was signed by several well-known theatre directors and playwrights, under the headline ‘We artists have a right to boycott’: They said ‘…boycotting the Israeli brand adds to pressure on Israel’s image and economy, which may be necessary to help end the “intractable” situation of Israel’s relations with Palestine. Caryl Churchill, Dominic Cooke, April de Angelis, David Lan, Elyse Dodgson, Aleks Sierz, Dan Rebellato, Tanika Gupta, David Grieg, Stephen Jeffreys, Carl Miller, Laura Wade’
  • On 22 September the UK Department for Culture, Media & Sport sent this letter in response to a letter of complaint that urged Culture Secretary Sajid Javid ‘to put a stop to this harassment and open manipulation of public institutions, and protect the theatre’s Art’s Council funding.’ 

After The Tricycle

On 29 August, the BBC reported that the Bristol film festival, Encounters, had refused funding from the Israeli Embassy to cover travel costs for Israeli filmmakers. Spokespeople for the festival said the decision was taken to maintain “neutral political status”, adding that the filmmakers could still attend the festival with funding from other sources. President of the Bristol Hebrew Congregation Alex Schlesinger said: “It seems to echo what has happened in London and Edinburgh…It really tells us that the mob on the street controls what happens at film and arts festivals…It’s particularly disappointing that the director said the filmmakers could attend in a personal capacity, not as representatives of the Jewish state.” A Jewish News article referred to it as another boycott controversy that has ‘blackened the British arts scene.’

Update, November 2014

When the UKJFF opened, there was an unprecedented political presence at the gala. This image encapsulates the relationship between the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Israeli Embassy in London, and UK Jewish Film. From left to right: Sajid Javid, Judy Ironside, Nelly Tagar, Daniel Taub, Maureen Lipman and Ed Vaizey.

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