Archives for category: Pro-Israel lobby

hillel-2015-infographic-web-vertical-01The Australian branch of an organisation that openly supports and advocates for Israel, and whose internal policies lead to the exclusion of dissenting voices, has repackaged itself as an ‘apolitical,’ pluralistic Jewish community group. With the help of the local press.

On Monday 23 March, the Australian Jewish News (AJN) reported that a staff member of a theatre in Sydney, The Red Rattler, had rejected a request from Hillel Sydney to rent the premises, with an email stating ‘Our policy does not support colonialism/Zionism. Therefore we do not host groups that support the colonization and occupation of Palestine.’ In response, New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff wrote to the theatre manager on behalf of Hillel Sydney, complaining that Hillel had been discriminated against ‘based on conflicts taking place far from Australia,’ claiming that,

Hillel is an apolitical body which provides educational, cultural and social activities for Jewish students and young adults [and the decision was] at best ill-informed and at worst racist and discriminatory.

The theatre board subsequently sent a letter of apology to AJN, saying it ‘condemns racism of any kind.’ The Red Rattler is now a target of a growing online and media campaign to paint the small theatre as the headquarters of (some combination of) radical, leftist anarchist neo-Nazis.

Whether one agrees with the approach taken by the theatre staff member, it is arguable that the ‘global Hillel family’ – of which Hillel Sydney is a part – is boycottable for the partnership role it plays in Israeli government hasbara efforts. Alhadeff’s plea of political neutrality is insincere: it is Hillel which implicates itself in ‘conflicts taking place far’ away – and on the side of the occupier.

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Hillel International practices exclusion and censorship in a bid to silence criticism of Israel’s human rights record including laws that racially discriminate against Palestinians. Hillel’s guidelines forbid chapters from hosting or organising events featuring speakers in support of BDS and those who oppose Israel’s self-declared status as a ‘Jewish and democratic state’ – a policy that has led to dissenting chapters’ dropping the Hillel name.

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It was clear from early on in the row over the Tricycle theatre, during summer 2014, that government interference and threats to funding had played a significant role in the theatre’s capitulation. Now we have incontrovertible evidence in the form of a boast from the mouth of the UK Culture Secretary himself.

Sajid Javid joins Prime Minister David Cameron this week in conflating non-violent boycott actions – or in the case of the Tricycle simply the rejection of Israeli government funds during that state’s military assault on Gaza – with violent attacks on Jewish individuals and institutions. At a speech to the Board of Deputies of British Jews on Sunday, Javid referred to his unblemished record of bolstering the bullying tactics of pro-Israel lobby groups. According to Jewish News, Javid branded cultural boycotts ‘a form of the oldest hatred in the world.’

Javid told deputies he had “no tolerance for cultural boycotts of Israel”. He added: “Whether cultural, educational or divestment, the answer is the same.”

Citing last year’s boycott of the UK Jewish Film Festival by the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, Javid said: “I intervened. I thought it was totally and utterly unacceptable and wrong. I have made it absolutely clear what might happen to their [the theatre’s] funding if they try, or if anyone tries, that kind of thing again.”

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Chronicling what they see as ‘a deeply disturbing, and increasingly common, trend toward censorship in the American Jewish community,’ Jewish Voice for Peace have warned in an open letter of how damaging this trend is to the arts, and have called ‘on arts institutions to recommit to plurality.’

In the US, being Zionist and anti-BDS just isn’t enough to placate Israel’s self-styled defenders.

Last week’s firing of playwright Ari Roth from his position as Artistic Director of Washington DC Jewish Community Center’s Theater J has elicited expressions of sadness and outrage from artists and activists across the United States: a letter signed by over 60 prominent theatrical Artistic Directors in America deplores the actions of the JCC, which ‘in terminating him for blatantly political reasons, violate the principles of artistic freedom and free expression that have been at the heart of the non-profit theater movement for over half a century. Such actions undermine the freedom of us all. A free people need a free art; debate, dissent, and conflict are at the heart of what makes theater work, and what makes democracy possible.’ They have called upon the full Board of the JCC to renounce this action of the Executive Committee of the JCC. A further letter signed by 34 writers, theatre artists, academics, musicians and community activists, to the board of the JCC characterizes Roth’s firing as an act of censorship and the circumstances surrounding it ‘a form of creeping McCarthyism.’ Read the rest of this entry »

This story illustrates the extent to which Zionist pressure and interference in the arts poses a significant threat to freedom of expression. The tactics employed by pressure groups conform to a pattern that is familiar to artists and arts organisations in the UK. These tactics include: threats and campaigns to defund, writing to sponsors; internal pressure from within organisations by pro-Israel advocates; and reputational damage, following smears.

The US playwright Ari Roth, who had served as artistic director of Theater J for 18 years, was fired on Thursday; Theater J is a program of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center (DCJCC), which is a partner agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. The firing of Roth by the Executive Director of DCJCC was the culmination of a five year campaign of threats and smears initiated by a Zionist lobby group against Roth and the theatre for their programming of several productions considered sympathetic to the Palestinian cause – including Return to Haifa, a play based on a novella by assassinated Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani -, bringing Roth into conflict with donors and the executive committee. He told the Washington Post that the Centre offered him a severance agreement that he refused to sign: ‘“They’ve crafted a letter that’s saying I’m resigning, not fired,” said Roth, adding: “I was terminated abruptly.”’

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In his speech at the annual Conservative Friends of Israel lunch this week, David Cameron used two examples in his bid to prove the Conservative party is the only friend Israel has in Britain: Labour leader Ed Miliband’s support for the motion to recognise the State of Palestine; and his local councillors’ supposed support for the boycott of Israel. From his tone and language, it was arguably the latter that Cameron believed would have the greater impact on his audience:

Look at what his local council colleagues are doing. Labour Leicester – promoting boycotts of Israeli goods, Labour Brent – supporting a theatre which has banned Jewish films.

Unlike Labour, we in this party oppose boycotts. And let me remind you of what I said to the Knesset:  “Delegitimising the State of Israel is wrong, it is abhorrent – and together we will defeat it”.

(The Prime Minister doesn’t name the Tricycle, but the press reports do. The Jerusalem Post paraphrases Cameron: ‘…in the west London borough of Brent in August, Labor supported the Tricycle theater in banning a Jewish film festival.’)

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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.

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As set out in our previous post, a Terror Special Conference was billed as part of the ‘rich programme of activity,’ on 13-16 November in Tel Aviv, prepared by Israel’s national theatre Habima for the attendees of the 2014 General Assembly of the Union of Theatres of Europe (U.T.E.). To discuss ‘The Democratic Dilemma in the War on Terrorism’ was a chilling line-up that included a former director of Mossad, former head of the security section of Shin Bet, a former Director of the Counter Terrorism Bureau of the Israeli PM’s office, and an Israeli Philosophy professor who wants to change the laws of war to remove protections afforded to non-combatants. Although – to our knowledge – that event took place on 14 November, U.T.E. has now deleted it from their website page for the general assembly programme.

Jews sans Frontieres obtained for us a cached copy of the old page, which had been replaced by 15 November. Curiously, on the cached page, the following text and logo are no longer visible at the foot of the programme, but we had saved them in Word: Read the rest of this entry »

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 16.19.27In our open letter, we protested the participation of European theatres in a Brand Israel exercise led by Israel’s national theatre, Habima. The ‘Terror Special conference’ is part of ‘TERRORisms’, a two-year European Union-funded project by the Union of Theatres of Europe (U.T.E.), under the leadership of its current president, Habima’s Artistic Director Ilan Ronen. We now have more information about the U.T.E. conference seminars:

On Friday 14 November, Habima Theatre will jointly host with the International Institute for Counter-terrorism (ICT) a seminar on ‘The Democratic dilemma with Counter-Terrorism’, located at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, Israel. The IDC is a private, right-wing university highly complicit in Israel’s military industrial complex.

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[Please see our follow-up post for an update: participants at the meeting organised by Habima include a former director of Mossad, former head of the security section in Shin Bet, and former Director of the Counter Terrorism Bureau of the Israeli PM’s office.] 

The purpose of the open letter is to protest the participation of European theatres in a Brand Israel exercise led by Israel’s national theatre, Habima. The ‘Terror Special conference’ is part of ‘TERRORisms’, a two-year project by the Union of Theatres of Europe, under the leadership of its current president, Habima’s Artistic Director Ilan Ronen.

As Habima has boasted, ‘Membership in the UTE is honor and privilege for Israel’s National Theater, the only member not on the European continent, tying Israeli theater to the center of artistic Europe.’ One look at the current homepage of the U.T.E. website tells one a lot about the disproportionate role that Habima – and Israel – play in its 2014 programme.

* The following theatre companies are listed as participating in the ‘TERRORisms’ project:
Staatsschauspiel Stuttgart, Germany 
National Theatre of Oslo, Norway 
Jugoslovensko Dramsko Pozoriste, Belgrade, Serbia 
Habima – National Theatre of Tel Aviv, Israel 
Young Vic Theatre London, England [an associate member of the project, not attending the Tel Aviv meeting] 
Shiber Hur Company, Palestine [withdrawn] 
Comédie de Reims, France

Letter in French here

Dear members* of the Union of Theatres of Europe:

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At our Amnesty event on 7th October, After the Tricycle: Can arts organisations say ‘no’ to embassy funding?, we asked: do artists and arts organisations have the right to say ‘no’ when governments with negative human rights records try to co-opt culture in the service of their public relations strategies? During the public discussion, other notable instances of threats to the independence of major cultural institutions in the UK were revealed, underlining the vulnerability of underfunded organisations to interference in their arts programming by private donors. This pattern of censorship and manipulation provoked a fascinating audience discussion on the need for strategies to contest political pressure in the arts.

Below are several video clips of presentations from our panel of five, and a clip of contributions from the floor.

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