DIVIDED, weak, illinformed, spineless and unmotivated are just a few of the adjectives I have heard thrown about in recent weeks to describe the Jewish community over its response to the criticism of Israel in the media and the international community. Yet, amid all the grumblings about not enough people turning out for rallies, joining radio debates and generally providing support, I’m very pleased to say that, as far as community support goes, the experience of the UK Jewish Film Festival has been almost entirely positive.
The decision of the Tricycle Theatre to offer “to host the UK Jewish Film Festival provided that it occurs without the support or other endorsement from the Israeli government” left us with an ultimatum we could not accept.
We never imagined that we would be challenged on the content of our festival or on the source of the funding that we receive for it, yet that is exactly what happened. We were shocked and saddened that the Tricycle would arbitrarily impose a condition that would force the festival to seek new venues.
The Jewish community responded with alacrity and unanimity. In particular, we were grateful for the fantastic support of the leadership on the Jewish community.
Although Sir Trevor Chinn’s reluctance to be quoted “on the record” was misinterpreted by the Jewish Chronicle as a reticence to take a principled stand against the Tricycle, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. He had been working tirelessly behind the scenes, making his displeasure extremely clear both in his capacity as a board member of the Jewish Leadership Council and as a “Directors’ Circle” supporter of the Tricycle.
While the Tricycle steadfastly ignored the urgings of Sir Trevor, both he and Gail Sandler made it plain that they would simply remove their support for the Tricycle without fanfare or seeking plaudits for their decision. What followed in the ensuing media storm was nothing short of extraordinary. We were flooded with offers of support, whether financial, practical and political. The JLC, Board of Deputies and Israel Embassy were immediately in touch to ask how they could best support us. Simon Johnson of the JLC, Jonathan Arkush of the Board of Deputies, actress Maureen Lipman, Stephen Pollard of the JC and even former MP Louise Mensch (to name but a few) were all playing their part in setting out why they believed that the Tricycle’s position was unacceptable.
Within hours of the news being made public, social media was awash with support for UK Jewish Film and it wasn’t long before a protest had been arranged alongside letterwriting campaigns and countless supporters telling us that they would be raising this issue with their respective MPs.
UKJF has an 18-year track record of celebrating Jewish and Israeli culture and identity through film. We have always done so with objectivity and honesty, conveying all sides of the conflict in the Middle East.
The Tricycle has eight years’ experience of knowing that the Israeli embassy support has no bearing on our choice of films. In this period, Israeli governments have come and gone. The threat from Hamas and Israel’s search for security, as well as the plight of the Palestinian people, has been a constant throughout that period. We have no way of knowing what changed for the Tricycle but we believe that they grossly misjudged their own diverse community and the reaction from their Jewish supporters and audiences.
They perhaps did not imagine that the Jewish community would be so emphatic in its collective declaration to those who would deny us our incontrovertible cultural association with Israel, that they have neither the right nor the awareness to do so.
So with the backing of the Jewish community and countless others in the art world including Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Culture, we continue to be emphatic in our position.
Our message to the Tricycle was simple. Take UK Jewish Film — take the Jewish community as you find us. Don’t try to impose preconditions. If you can do that, if you can invite us back on that basis, we would be delighted to join the process of rebuilding lost trust. After all, building bridges and creating dialogue is what we do.
The theatre grossly misjudged reaction
Stephen Margolis is chair of UKJF