A letter to The Tricycle Theatre

from @frangelina and others

By email

Indhu Rubasingham
Tricycle Centre
269 Kilburn High Rd

11 August 2014

Dear Ms Rubasingham

We are writing to you to express our deep disappointment that the Tricycle Theatre has required the UK Jewish Film Festival to return funding to the Israeli Embassy, or to find another venue. This has forced the Festival to seek another home for the first time in eight years.

You say you wish the Tricycle Theatre to be a non-political venue and not to take sides in any conflict. As the UKJFF’s name suggests, it is a celebration of Jewish culture, Israeli or otherwise. Jews around the world have a wide range of views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and many Palestinian-sympathetic films have been screened by the UKJFF in the past.

More fundamentally, we cannot understand your decision to equate the State of Israel with the current Israeli Government. The distinction between state and government is well understood in the arts world: the Tricycle itself has received £761,289 in 2014/15 funding from the Arts Council, a UK state body. We are sure you would confirm this funding has no influence on your programming. Israel, like other liberal democracies, supports cultural endeavour without trying to control its content.

In asking the UKJFF to return funding, far from remaining apolitical, the Tricycle is thus taking a political stand. In effect, it is labelling the State of Israel so beyond the pale, so unacceptable to right-thinking people, that its funding would taint the institution – and that the UKJFF should, on behalf of British Jews, dissociate itself. Whatever the intention, that is the inference which many will draw. Many already have.

You must realise the UKJFF could never have made such a statement of dissociation from Israel. It would be hugely divisive, cut across any attempt to display diversity of views and negate the idea of cultural subsidies as distinct from political advocacy. It is no excuse to say that the Tricycle Theatre offered to replace the funding. However well-intentioned, it could never have been accepted, and the Tricycle has effectively told British Jews that the promotion of Jewish culture is not welcome.

Worse still, the initial request to ‘vet’ the content of the festival’s films amounted to censorship – in the service, presumably, of predetermined political boundaries relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Admittedly, you recognised this when challenged, but the point should never have needed to be explained.

The Tricycle Theatre says it delivers work ‘reflecting the exceptional diversity of its local community.’ We wholeheartedly support that aim. To achieve it, the Tricycle needs to understand the cultural sensitivities of all different groups in society and to respect them wherever possible, subject always to the free expression necessary in any arts venue.

In the case of the Jewish community, you must understand both the unique significance Israel has for most Jews and the deep sensitivity to suggestions of boycott, of delegitimisation and of being made to ‘prove’ their own acceptability. This absolutely does not preclude trenchant and forthright criticism of Israel. It does require a more nuanced approach than equating funding from the embassy of a democratic state with funding from Hamas – a political party designated as a terrorist organisation, with a racist Charter, which explicitly states it wants to ‘drive Jews into the sea’ – as you did in your interview with the Evening Standard.

If the Tricycle had a consistent policy of rejecting projects funded by foreign governments, or even foreign governments involved in ethnic, religious or national conflict, we might have more understanding of its position. But it has been happy to host the Asian Film Festival, part-funded by the Indian Government: it seems that India’s record in Kashmir was not beyond the pale. Israel alone is judged unacceptable. We feel that this is dangerous hypocrisy.

With no distinction drawn between Israel’s state, society and government, no attempt made to understand why this is so hurtful to Jewish people in Britain and, further, with no policy given to suggest anything other than a unique targeting of Israel, we can only see this as an unjustified act. Its effect is discriminatory against Jews, whatever the original reasoning.

This cannot have been the intention of a venue which was founded to be inclusive, and we are very sorry to find ourselves at such a pass. When we see attacks on synagogues in Paris, anti-Semitic chants in Berlin referencing the gas chambers and an Israeli play in Edinburgh being effectively forced off the stage, inclusiveness is more important than ever. Sadly, the Tricycle Theatre has not delivered it.

There is still time for the Tricycle to undo this damage, and reach out to the UKJFF. Mistakes, even serious mistakes, can be undone.

We would welcome a full reply.

Yours sincerely

Francesca O’Neill

Douglas Dowell

Andrew O’Neill

Stephen Lewis

Erica Lewis

Andrew Block

Ann Block

Adrian Lewis

Iancu Pesate

Nelly Pesate

Iain Dowell

Gabby Gold

Gideon Gold

David Graham

Robert Olford

and 11 others


3 thoughts on “A letter to The Tricycle Theatre

  1. I met with the Tricycle (off the record) for an hour last week and was even more disappointed in the personal responses they gave than with their published website commentary. They are acting illegally, in direct contravention of the Equality Act 2010. Below are my letters to the Theatre, neither of which have yet received response (nor has my promised call-back yet materialised).

    “Dear Sirs

    I am concerned that my email below has been ignored. Likewise the hollow promises I was given last Tuesday of a call-back.

    I sincerely want to believe that the Tricycle Theatre, a publicly funded body, is not racist or anti-Semitic, but the stance taken by the theatre and the refusal to answer basic questions on the fundamental issue, either in the media or privately, have led me and most others of my ethnicity to come to no other conclusion. Don’t get me wrong. I am not for one minute suggesting that Indhu Rubasingham or her Board have intrinsic beliefs that the Jews are an inherently inferior race or ethnicity.

    But that is not the point. Racism and anti-Semitism are realised by active discrimination.

    As you will no doubt know, Racial Discrimination is outlawed under United Nations International Convention, which came about specifically to deal with acts of anti-Semitism such as yours. It is expressly defined as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life” (emphasis added). The Tricycle Theatre clearly falls foul of this definition.

    You have singled out a particular conflict several thousand miles away, without reference to any policy guidelines, and acted in a blatantly discriminatory way in relation to it. You have not applied any decision objectively or to any other conflict or nation (I note your claim that you would also not accept money from Hamas, but of course arts projects such as the Jewish Film Festival would be illegal under the Hamas regime in any event, so that would never happen).

    The effect of your arbitrary and discriminatory decision is to restrict an ethnic group’s enjoyment of its cultural expression. That is racial discrimination as defined.

    It may be that I have my facts wrong, and in fact you were acting on objective policy but failed to get that message out through the media. In fact, I sincerely hope that that is the case. In which case, please can you urgently respond confirming:
    1. Which policy rule the Israel/Gaza conflict falls foul of (and where can we see a copy of that policy)
    2. How the Israel and Hamas governments have breached that rule
    3. Which other conflicts / governments around the world also fall foul of that policy ruling
    4. That you will apply the policy ruling going forward in relation to all other funding received by you.

    To fail to set out your position as above can lead to no other conclusion (already reached by much of the press and the UK’s Jewish population) other than the Tricycle Theatre is institutionally racist and has punished the Jewish community on the back of an arbitrary (and therefore discriminatory) decision to refuse money on grounds of nationality.

    Yours sincerely

    Adam Davies

    From: Adam Davies
    Sent: 06 August 2014 10:38
    To: ‘info@tricycle.co.uk’
    Subject: Anti-Semitism at the Tricycle
    Importance: High

    Dear Sirs

    You are currently refusing to answer questions, simply saying “we’ll get someone to call you back”. You have publicly stated that you are boycotting this Jewish cultural event because the Israeli government has decided to put some of its money into the arts., These are my questions:

    1 – What is the exact rationale for choosing the Israeli government’s stance as being objectionable?
    2 – Which other countries fall into that definition, and have you taken the same stance in relation to them?
    3 – Have you checked exactly which national (and private) funds financed all the films and theatre productions you have on your general schedule, and will you also be pulling those that have been funded by offensive Governments or funds (of which there are many!)?

    I have worked as a lawyer in film finance for nearly 20 years and can tell you that most of your roster was at least part-financed with Israeli and/or Arab backed money.


    Adam Davies”


  2. Pingback: Anti-semitism: on putting our house in order | The Ambivalent Leftie

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