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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This letter was read out at the Amnesty event by Chair, Kamila Shamsie. On 22 September the UK Department for Culture, Media & Sport sent the 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 Arts Council funding.’ The letter confirms the UK government department’s close relationship with the Israeli embassy, which is funding the film festival.

The Department has kept closely in touch with the Israeli Ambassador during this unfortunate chain of events, and assured him of the Government’s commitment to challenge anti-semitism wherever it might arise.

View this document on Scribd

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? Please join the discussion – After the Tricycle: Can arts organisations say ‘no’ to embassy funding?

In August 2014, during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, the Tricycle Theatre asked the UK Jewish Film Festival to forego Israeli embassy funding. The festival refused, walked away from the Tricycle, and briefed the press that the theatre was boycotting a Jewish festival. The theatre came under sustained attack: campaigns to de-fund the theatre, denunciations by liberal newspaper columnists, even intervention by the Secretary of State for Culture himself.

Do we have to accept that the kind of backlash the Tricycle experienced is inevitable as far as funding by a powerful state is concerned, and make sure we never follow where this theatre led?

Panel chair: Kamila Shamsie, novelist.
Speakers: April De Angelis and Tanika Gupta playwrights, Antony Lerman writer & commentator, and Ofer Neiman of the Israeli group Boycott from Within.

Panel discussion. Free entry, but reservation is recommended.
There will be a drinks reception afterwards.

When: Tuesday 7th October, 19:00 – 21:00. Doors open 18:30
Where: Amnesty International UK Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London. EC2A 3EA.

Amnesty Human Rights Centre map

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