Placards are seen on the ground after a protest in support of the people of Gaza, in central London August 9, 2014. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – With memories of last year’s unsuccessful attempt to derail London’s Israel Film Festival still fresh in the memory, the organizers of this year’s event ran into another attempt at getting it canceled this week, when 40 of Britain’s filmmakers and artists called for a boycott.
Their letter in The Guardian drew immediate condemnation from Jewish organizations, particularly the Board of Deputies of British Jews, whose just elected president, Jonathan Arkush, called the attempt “blinkered and bigoted” and asked rhetorically, “Have they not learned anything from last year?”
In their letter published Tuesday, the 40 artists– all well known for their strong criticism of Israel – called on the Curzon and Odeon cinema chains to scrap screenings of Israeli films that were part of Seret 2015, the London Israeli Film and Television Festival, due to open on Thursday.
The letter’s authors also called on the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, which was due to launch the festival with a gala screening of the comic drama Hill Start, to end its involvement with the festival by canceling the showing.
The signatories – which included Ken Loach and several prominent Jewish producers and directors – maintained that cinemas should cancel the film performances because Israel was “promoting this festival and supporting it financially.”
They explained that the festival was 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 hosting it, these cinemas are ignoring the 2004 call by Palestinian civil society for sanctions against Israel until Israel abides by international law and ends its illegal displacement of Palestinians, discrimination against them, and occupation of their land,” they wrote. “By benefiting from money from the Israeli state,the cinemas become silent accomplice to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people. Such collaboration and cooperation is unacceptable. It normalizes, even if unintentionally, the Israeli government’s violent, systematic, and illegal oppression of the Palestinians.”
Seret’s organizers – including Anat Koren, Odelia Haroush and Patty Hochmann – hit back, maintaining that freedom of expression in the arts is something that “the British have worked so hard to defend.” They added that the festival is a showcase for the many voices of 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,” the organizers said.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies, said that the boycotters seem to have learned nothing from the Tricycle Theater debacle last summer.
“Their blinkered, bigoted approach is fixated solely on Israel, the only liberal democracy in the Middle East and the country they love to hate,” he said.
“They should be looking at ways to export peaceful solutions, not import conflict.”
Embassy spokesman Yiftah Curiel went on twitter blasting Loach as “disingenuous, for not wanting to censor “individuals” as he calls on boycotting dozens of artists And Paul Charney, chairman of the Zionist Federation, said: “This isn’t about policy, it’s about erasing any portrayal of Israelis that doesn’t fit with their propaganda efforts... It is the shameless face of contemporary anti-Jewish prejudice, holding artists from Israel to a higher standard than any other country.”
Curzon cinemas spokesman rejected the boycott call in a skilfully crafted response. They pointed out that 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.
“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.”