Tit for tat

British Jewry decries ‘opportunistic’ theater’s boycott

As the Tricycle Theatre spurns Jewish film festival over Israeli funding, leaders question its motives, review theater’s funding and plan protest

The Tricycle theater in London. (photo credit: Wikimedia CC-BY-3.0/Cnbrb)
The Tricycle theater in London. (photo credit: Wikimedia CC-BY-3.0/Cnbrb)

LONDON – London’s Tricycle Theatre and the UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF) have ended their eight-year relationship after the theatre indicated it would not be willing to host the festival as long as it receives funding from the Israeli embassy.

Both the UKJFF and the Tricycle Theatre – an independent theater and cinema in Kilburn, north-west London – confirmed the split.

Jonathan Levy, chairman of the Tricycle, said in a written statement outlining the theater’s decision that “given the present situation in Israel/Palestine, and the unforeseen and unhappy escalation that has occurred over the past three weeks, including a terrible loss of life, The Tricycle cannot be associated with any activity directly funded or supported by any party to the conflict.

“The Tricycle will be pleased to host the UKJFF provided that it occurs without the support or other endorsement from the Israeli Government,” Levy concluded.

Judy Ironside MBE, founder and executive director of the UKJFF said, “We pride ourselves on showing a diverse program of films, which present a comprehensive view of international Jewish life and Israeli films are of course an important part of that. We have always sought to convey a wide perspective on the conflicts in the Middle East and initiate open dialogue with our audiences and guest speakers; and the Israeli Embassy have always supported us in this. The Tricycle have refused to take this into account in their decision.”

The UKJFF has received support from the Israeli embassy in London for the past 17 years, but this the first occasion in which a venue has made ending or replacing that funding a condition for using its space.

The Tricycle first indicated to the UKJFF in the middle of July that it was unhappy about hosting the festival if it received Israeli embassy funding. The theater offered to replace that funding with money from its own resources.

The Times of Israel was told that in initial discussions, the Tricycle also wanted to examine the programming and have approval over what would be shown. In particular, there were two films that the Tricycle objected to. After the UKJFF objected on grounds of censorship, the Tricycle withdrew this request, and focused only on the funding from the Israeli embassy.

‘Would you force anyone else to behave like this?’

“Would you force anyone else to behave like this?” the promoters of the film festival are reported to have said to the Tricycle.

The Tricycle eventually informed the UKJFF that it affirmatively could not play host while the embassy money remained in place, leaving promoters with the task of finding alternative accommodation for the festival.

The UKJFF had planned to hold at least 26 of it films at the Tricycle including six high profile gala events. At the time the final call was made by the Tricycle, the UKJFF was amidst preparing the promotional materials for the event.

Simon Johnson, chief executive of Britain’s Jewish Leadership Council, told The Times of Israel the community leadership is “extremely disappointed” in the Tricycle’s decision.

“We consider this to be a discriminatory boycott by the Tricycle Theatre of a Jewish cultural event. We consider that it is opportunistic in timing, discriminatory in nature, and that it will achieve nothing at all other than to creative division discord which is the exact opposite of what they believe they are trying to do.”

As to the matter of the Tricycle offering to substitute the funding the festival would have lost by detaching itself from the Israeli embassy, Johnson sees that as a “smoke screen.” There are “unavoidable and indelible connections between Jewish culture and Israel. It is right and appropriate that the Israeli embassy would offer small support for an event that promoted Jewish culture.”

‘It is right and appropriate that the Israeli embassy would offer small support for an event that promoted Jewish culture’

Johnson added that it is a specifically Jewish as opposed to an Israeli festival, one which is open and available to the public and intends to “build bridges and highlight all sides of the conflict. It is not propaganda for the Israeli government. Therefore, to impose this condition [that the embassy withdraw its support] is discriminatory.”

The motives of the Tricycle Theatre, Johnson concluded, have to be questioned.

In response to the theater’s maneuver, at least one significant donor to the Tricycle has withdrawn its support for the venue. A senior employee at JPC Law, a corporate partner of the Tricycle, confirmed to The Times of Israel that as of Wednesday morning it had ceased financial support.

Indeed, the Tricycle Theatre took down from its website its list of corporate, charitable, and individual sponsors in response to efforts led by member of the European Jewish Parliament Tal Ofer to have them review their funding.

Members and allies of the community, moreover, have already taken to social media to organize a boycott of the Tricycle Theatre itself. The Facebook group “Boycott the Tricycle Cinema” had gained almost 3,000 likes by Thursday, while a protest against the Tricycle’s decision not to host the UKJFF will take place at 18:00 on Thursday.

The protest organizers say, “Tricycle have taken an apolitical celebration of Jewish cinema, politicized it and punished Britain’s Jewish community.”

It is the official policy of the JLC not to support boycotts of any kind, Simon Johnson stressed, not only the cultural boycott of Israel.

‘Tricycle have taken an apolitical celebration of Jewish cinema, politicized it and punished Britain’s Jewish community’

“But I recognize the strength of feeling that is out there and I understand that people will want to express their disappointment and be demonstrative about it. The Jewish Film Festival will go elsewhere” and the community will decide for itself how to respond to the Tricycle’s action, he concluded.

The Tricycle Theatre has been hosted aspects of the UKJFF for the past eight years. In 2012, Indhu Rubasingham took over as artistic director of the Tricycle, replacing Nicholas Kent who had been in that role since 1984.

“The Tricycle Theatre under Nick Kent had a stunning history of truthful story telling. A great part of its support and its audiences came from the Jewish sector,” the actress Maureen Lipman said.

“We always knew that even if we disagreed with the message, we accepted that it came from a reasoned and balanced argument. Today that ceased. The Tricycle have decided to punish Jewish people in the Diaspora for one view of what is taking place in the Middle East and that is quite unacceptable,” said Lipman.

A representative from the Tricycle Theatre was not immediately available for comment. In a statement provided to The Times of Israel, Indhu Rubasingham said, “The Tricycle has for many years hosted the annual UK Jewish Film Festival and would welcome the festival again this year. The festival receives funding from the Israeli Embassy and given the current conflict in Israel and Gaza, we feel it is inappropriate to accept financial support from any government agency involved.

“We offered to provide alternative funding to cover the loss of the contribution from the Israeli Embassy. We WANT the festival. Now, more than at any time, Jewish culture MUST be celebrated. The Tricycle serves many different communities and cultures and must navigate neutrality which is why it cannot directly be taking government money in this difficult time. However, the UKJFF decided it was not willing to decline sponsorship from the Israeli embassy and, to our regret, withdrew the festival from the Tricycle.”

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