Jewish Film Fest Pulls Screenings from London Theater in Israeli Funding Clash

Theater chairman Jonathan Levy and artistic director Indhu Rubasingham (above) tell fest to reject Israeli gov't cash

LONDON — A bad-tempered dispute between London’s Tricycle Theater and the U.K. Jewish Film Festival over Israeli government funding has prompted the event to pull its screenings from the venue, which has hosted the festival for the past eight years.

The theater’s artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, and chairman Jonathan Levy, had asked the fest organizers to replace funding from the Israeli Embassy with coin offered by the venue, otherwise the show would not go on.

Levy wrote to the fest saying: “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.”

In a blog posted on the Tricycle’s website on Tuesday, Rubasingham explained that the theater serves a multi-cultural area, Brent, where feelings about the conflict in Gaza are running high. “The Tricycle serves many communities and celebrates different cultures and through difficult, emotional times must aim for a place of political neutrality,” she wrote.

The fest’s chairman, Stephen Margolis, refused the offer, and has decided to remove the screenings from the venue. The festival, which takes place in November, had planned to screen at least 26 of its films at the Tricycle, including six high-profile gala events. It is now in the process of making alternative arrangements.

In a statement, the festival said that it was apolitical, and that the embassy’s support was merely a reflection of the cultural links between the Jewish community in the U.K. and Israel.

It said that it had “received support from the Israeli Embassy for the last 17 years, portraying the unmistakable cultural connection between Jewish people and the State of Israel. Yet the festival has always been entirely apolitical, showcasing perspectives from both sides of the conflict in the Middle East.”

It concluded that the theater’s demands were “entirely unacceptable.”

Margolis claimed that the theater had politicized the situation.

“The Jewish community as a whole has enjoyed a successful relationship with the Tricycle and it is extremely saddening that they should look to politicize this festival by making demands that the UKJFF could never accept,” he wrote in a statement.

Judy Ironside, founder and executive director of the U.K. Jewish Film Festival, added: “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.”

In statements published on the theater’s website, two grandees of the British theater scene, National Theater director Nicholas Hytner, and Dominic Cooke, former artistic director of London’s Royal Court theater, supported the position taken by the Tricycle.

Hytner wrote: “The Tricycle serves a diverse community with a notably diverse repertoire and it has a clear responsibility to make no statement about the dispute that is behind the current conflict. It greatly saddens me that the UKJFF have unwisely politicized a celebration of Jewish culture.”

Cooke said: “By taking funding from the Israeli government, the UKJFF are coercing the artists, supporters and the venue involved in the festival into a public association with the actions of a government they may not agree with. This runs counter to the values of pluralism which are central to the Tricycle’s identity.”

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