The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Stephen Mar­go­lis

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

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