from @frangelina and others
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.
and 11 others