A large British movie theater chain rejected on Monday a demand by prominent filmmakers that it refuse to host an Israeli film festival slated to start this Thursday.
In an open letter in the British daily The Guardian, the filmmakers had urged Curzon Cinemas, Odeon Cinemas and the Bafta Theatre to drop their plans to host screenings of films from Seret 2015: The London Israeli Film and Television Festival because the event was receiving funding from the Israeli government.
Curzon Cinemas rejected the accusation that it was expressing a political position by hosting the festival.
“Curzon Cinemas hosts many festivals throughout the year, including the Human Rights Watch film festival, the London film festival and festivals representing regions from around the world including the Kinoteka Polish film festival, the Romanian film festival and many more,” said a company statement quoted by the Guardian.
“We have not previously considered asking questions about the funding of a festival booked at one of our cinemas, and we do not consider booking a festival as any kind of political comment,” the statement continued.
The letter demanding the screenings not go ahead was signed by 39 British artists, including prominent directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. The petition referenced the “unprecedented momentum” of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to economically and culturally isolate Israel for its policies toward Palestinians.
“The boycott campaign specifically says this is not a campaign against individual filmmakers, it is a call for a boycott when the state of Israel invests money or is promoting the event,” Loach told the Guardian.
“We, the below listed artists, producers, and concerned citizens, are disappointed and saddened to see that Curzon, Odeon, Bafta and other cinemas are hosting the London Israeli Film and Television Festival,” the letter, published by the Guardian, read.
“The festival is co-sponsored by the Israeli government via the Israeli embassy in London, creating a direct link between these cinemas, the festival screenings and Israeli policies. By benefiting from money from the Israeli state, the cinemas become silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people,” the letter said.
Festival co-founders Anat Koren, Odelia Haroush and Patty Hochman repudiated the call for a boycott, saying, “Our festival is a showcase for the many voices throughout Israel, including Arab Israelis and Palestinians, as well as religious and secular groups.
“An attempt to block the sharing of creative pursuits and the genuine exchange of ideas and values is a disappointing reaction to a festival that sets out to open up lines of communication and understanding,” they said in a statement published by the Guardian.
The BDS movement has been gaining strength in Britain of late. Last week, the UK’s National Union of Students voted 19-12 in favor of formally boycotting Israel.
Last year, the Tricycle Theatre in London was accused of anti-Semitism for briefly dropping its sponsorship for the UK Jewish Film Festival before restoring it later. Scottish theater Underbelly canceled a show by the Israeli theater troupe Incubator last summer after pro-Palestinian protesters made it logistically difficult to coordinate security for the small theater.
Seret 2015: The London Israeli Film and Television Festival is scheduled to open Thursday, June 11, at the Bafta Theatre in London. Screenings of films are also scheduled in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool.