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Stop the witch-hunt of Tricycle theatre for a “boycott” that never was and a false charge of antisemitism

Jewish Chronicle fronFor a number of years, the Tricycle theatre & cinema in Kilburn (alongside other cinemas in London, Manchester and elsewhere) has hosted a Jewish film festival. Although most films are non-political, last year, films did include UK premieres of ‘Besa: the Promise‘ about mostly Muslims Albanians who risked their lives sheltering Jews during WWII, ‘From Cable Street to Brick Lane‘ about the triumph of immigrants and trade unions in London’s East End over prejudice and intolerance, and ‘Inheritance‘, the directorial debut of Palestinian actress Hiam Abess.

This year Tricycle decided that, in the circumstances of the Gaza war, it could not accept sponsorshop money from any government agency involved. As a result, it is the victim of a witch-hunt for a boycott that never was, launched by the self-styled Campaign against Antisemitism launched only this month, which compares Tricycle’s decision to “the Nazi boycott of Jewish enterprise after Hitler’s election“.

Last week the Jewish Chronicle published a piece on its website headed “Tricycle Theatre refuses to host UK Jewish Film Festival over Israeli sponsorship“. In it, the executive director Judy Ironside, claimed the Tricycle had said “they cannot be associated with a festival which in turn is associated with the UK’s Israel embassy” and commented:

the Tricycle Theatre have shown themselves unwilling to work with what is clearly an apolitical cultural festival is tremendously disappointing. They have chosen a boycott over meaningful engagement – to the great detriment of this celebration of Jewish culture.”

Ironside pointed out that the Israeli embassy had funded the festival for 17 years, in eight of which the Tricycle had participated. Mysteriously (given the headline and quotes from Ironside) they later quoted Indhu Rubasingham, artistic director of the Tricycle, as saying the Tricycle still wanted to host the festival:

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. 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.”

I became aware of this when I noticed a tweet from Tom Watson about Tricycle’s decision:

I referred Tom to the Tricycle’s statement (since extended) pointing out the inaccuracy in the JC report (denied in a subsequent tweet by JC editor Stephen Pollard) and drew attention to the JC’s own lack of commitment to free speech in its refusal that very week to carry an advert from Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Unfortunately the row has increased.

Last Friday’s print JC carried a front page lead on the matter. Now the alleged “ban” was treated as generally understood and accepted. Gone was the explanation from the Theatre that it had not turned the festival away.

In was a new line criticising members of the Jewish community who had refused to condemn the “ban” including Sir Trevor Chinn, a prominent Jewish business figure and philanthropist who is a member of the Jewish Leadership Council of Britain and a former chair of the Joint Israel Appeal, and Jewish donors/trustees of the Tricycle. They also sought comments from Jewish funders of the theatre.

demo outside the TricycleSubsequently there have been demonstrations by what the JC describes as “a group of young Jewish professionals” outside the theatre, organised by the Campaign against Antisemitism whose explanation for what’s happened is even further removed from reality:

Last November an insignificant number of pro-Palestinian activists made a tiny bit of noise outside the Tricycle Theatre, calling on it to boycott the Jewish festival… Tricycle panicked and dropped the festival. Last night 350 of us descended on the theatre and expressed our shock at this outrageous boycott. The local community overwhelmingly disapproved of the boycott and many concerned passers by stopped to express their support.”

Last November, the current war in Gaza had not begun, of course and, in any case, there was no “boycott” by Tricycle of the festival.  In campaign’s original call for support for the demonstrations, its Facebook page describes Tricycle’s stance as “a move that echoes the Nazi boycott of Jewish enterprise after Hitler’s election“. Using such wild exaggeration, it is not surprising that they attracted considerable support. Their message read:

***Action Campaign***
We require your assistance! Please share this post.

In a move that echoes the Nazi boycott of Jewish enterprise after Hitler’s election, Tricycle Theatre have refused to host the UK Jewish Film Festival.

Join us this Thursday in protest. No excuses. We need as many people to protest outside the theatre as possible. Our voice must be loud and clear. No Jewish boycotts!”

The Campaign against Antisemitism seems to have been set up very recently indeed. Its Facebook group was set up on 1 August and its website appears to have gone live today. It has two current targets: people tweeting with hashtags such as #HitlerWasRight and #hitlerdidnothingwrong — a perfectly reasonable objective for a campaign against antisemitism — and the other is a campaign against the Palestinian Boycott Divest and Sanctions movement (BDS) which it describes as a campaign to bring about the end of the state of Israel. It adds that you can’t take part in the BDS movement, without being complicit in this demand, and it will target any business that does become involved in any such boycott.

Their next target appears to be an attempt to persuade Brent Council to withdraw their £198,000 a year funding of the Tricycle theatre by Brent Tory councillor, John Warren. It remains to be seen how successful this will be since Labour council leader Muhammed Butt says they will continue to fund the theatre. However, they have also backed a petition at Change.org to boycott the Tricycle theatre which reads

The Tricycle Theatre has banned the Jewish Film Festival and has made a Board decision to boycott Israel.  Please sign this petition to boycott the Tricycle Theatre.  1933 all over again but in London In 2014.”

They also appear to be targeting Tricycle’s Arts Council grant of £761,289 this year, with the comment:

The Tricycle receives funding from the UK government who have supported Israel in this war in Gaza, enough to push Warsi to resign. Let’s see if they will forgo their government funding in protest.

As someone who is resolutely opposed opposed to antisemitism, wherever it is found, on right or left, I despair at the abuse of the term antisemitism by this organisation evidenced by  those quoted above.

 

19 Comments

  1. Gerry says:

    The Tricycle’s decision to reject the Film Festival because of some of its funding from the Israeli embassy IS anti-semitic, partisan and outrageous…and I am pleased that there is now a serious movement to boycott this theatre, and to defund it. I would go further – and make the case that the Tricycle is guilty of direct racial discrimination, and is a (small) part of the massive anti-Jewish hate movement especially in London, undoubtedly fuelled by the Gaza crisis and the rapid spread of Islamism.

    Context is crucial here: in the last 7 days we have black ISIS flags on open display in Tower Hamlets, extremists leafletting in Oxford Street calling for support for the “caliphate”, George Galloway calling for Bradford to be made an “israeli-free” zone, and now this from the disgusting Tricycle …so yes it is actually reminiscent of the German boycott of Jewish businesses and groups from the 1930s.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      The context is important but the examples you mention do require comment and analysis. There is, for example, significant doubt that the flag displayed in Tower Hamlets was an ISIS flag rather than simnply simply the creed, or shahada, of Islam – neither local blogger Ted Jeory nor the Guardian think so. It was there to express solidarity with people in Gaza and it is wrong to assume any antisemitic intent although there is evidence of antisemitic statements being made in the vicinity.You may well question the wisdom of displaying it, but there is also good reason not to over-react to its display.

      The activity of pro-ISIS leafletters on Oxford street is disturbing but not necessarily antisemitic. Such activities need challenging but not as acts of antisemitism.

      George Galloway’s call for Bradford to be made an “israeli-free” zone like his previous refusal to “debate with Israelis” is utterly wrong, stupid, perhaps xenophobic but I don’t think antisemitic. Part of the stupidity of it is that the term “Israeli” encompassses Palestinian Israelis, Jewish Israelis who criticise Israeli government policy, even exiles from Israel such as Professor Ilan Pappé of Exeter University who is a strong advocate of BDS.

      There certainly is an increase in antisemitic incidents taking place in Britain, albeit not nearly as serious as that in France and elsewhere in Europe. We need to combat it. To do so, it is so important not to “cry wolf”, to misuse the charge of “antisemitism”. As Owen Jones said in his exclellent article in the Guardian this week:

      To defeat all forms of antisemitism – including those that masquerade as solidarity with oppressed Palestinians – we need to be able to identify them. That becomes impossible when the very meaning of the word is abused and lost.”

      You say you would “make the case that the Tricycle is guilty of direct racial discrimination” but you have not even tried to do so. And yet you compare their decision to that of the Nazis, as do the wild and foolish claims of the so-called “Campaign against Antisemitism”.

      By all means criticise the decision of the Tricycle Theatre but do not make wild and unsubstantiated accusations which serve only to undermine the cause of fighting antisemitism.

      1. Gerry says:

        Jon – I believe that the Tricycle has singled out the Jewish Film festival by demanding it rejects funding from a lawful, legitimate, democratic, UN recognised (and created) state: Israel.

        This is the essence of direct racial discrimination – treating one group less favourably than other similar group.

        A small comparison – Tricycle hosted a Trinidadian festival last year, supported by the Trinidad government: also a democratic one, but one which has the most appalling and murderous anti-gay laws, like most of the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East and Asia….but not a squeak from the Tricycle demanding the festival reject all state support beacuse that state is legally and murderously homophobic.

        Put bluntly, the Tricycle wants to delegitimise Israel, as do the BDS movements, Hamas, ISIS, the Muslim Brothehood and a thousand other hard-right Islamic groups.

        It should be defunded – why did it accept money from a government (ours) that carried out an illegal invasion of Iraq which hastened the deaths of many many thousands of innocents? But it did take the money,and still does, so add sickening hypocrisy to its clear antisemitism.

        And finally Jon – even you must have seen on that pro-Gaza march last weekend the demonstrators carrying placards saying “Hitler Was Right” – blatant Jew-hatred, in the heart of this march, and totally un-condemned by the rest of the marchers. Shame on them, and shame on the Tricycle.

        1. Jon Lansman says:

          Gerry:

          “the Tricycle has singled out the Jewish Film festival”: they may have singled out the funding of the festival but not the fact that it is “Jewish” – there is nothing antisemitic about this as even some of those who have resigned from positions with Tricycle or withdraw funding have admitted.

          “a lawful, legitimate, democratic, UN recognised (and created) state: Israel”: legally created and reognised yes, but not lawful in its occupation of most of the Palestinian land conquered in 1967 for almost half a century, in the continuing creation/expansion of illegal settlements, in the annexation of land, in the building of the separation wall, in the blockading of Gaza or in the killing of enormous numbers of civilians.

          As you yourself said in your last comment, “context is crucial here” and the context is the war in Gaza. In spite of the fact that mischievous campaigning has wound up many in the North London Jewish community to believe that there are evil Nazi goings on in Kilburn, half the local community according to a survey by the Ham and High believe that the Tricycle was right.

          If Israel can talk to Hamas as it now is after many years of refusing to do so, perhaps the people of North London can calm down and avoid comparing each other to Nazis.

          The very small number of people seen carrying placards saying things like “Hitler Was Right” should of course be immediately excluded from any demonstration in support of Gaza and reported to the Police for inciting racial hatred.

          1. Gerry says:

            Jon – in the 2003 anti-Iraq war march in London, I saw demonstrators carrying similar Hitler placards, as well as some marchers with “Taleban – Lions of Islam” placards. And I realised, then, that amongst us in the anti-war coalition there were groups even more extreme and right-wing than the neo-cons!

            Fast forward to 2014, and under the guise of solidarity with Palestine are many racists, Islamic supremacists as in Tower Hamlets, and virulent Jew-haters – so endemic in many Muslim communities in the UK and Europe, as Mehdi Hasan has rightly called out.

            So while I am pleased that the Tricycle has just announced that the Jewish Film Festival is welcome next year regardless of Israel embassy funds or not, you are wrong to deny that their original decision was anti-semitic, when it clearly singled one ethnic group out for conditions it would never have put to any other ethnic group. Direct racial discrimination, in short

            I understand its board realised that it had contravened the Equality Act 2010, and faced posibble defunding from the Arts Council and investigation from the Charity Commission. Even the Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, said that their decision was flawed, and by implication, illegal.

            Its board and director should resign, but I am sure they wont – hypocrites and racists rarely do!

  2. Concerned citizen and half Jewish says:

    Gerry, that is right on. I live near and have been many times to the Tricycle and since this mishegus and their outrageous “position” of not showing the Jewish Film Festival they can go and kiss my half Jewish keester! By the way, are they also going to ban all plays and films written by Jews? What about the actors, ban them as well, because they are Jews or maybe they have 1/2 or 1/4 Jew in them? How much is enough?? Nazis did the same as any asshole who reads the History of WWII would know. Unless you read the one where they “made up the Holocaust”!!!! The only way to make the head of this BRENT funded Theatre wake up is to not go to it. I have to say the last time I went, the play stunk, the chef never showed up and the loos were so small a child could not fit in them and the cost of the ticket was way overpriced! Let it be kept for the goyam. Garbage anyway. Maybe the goyam will wake up too…we can hope. (oh, by the way, I used some Yiddish, in case you didn’t get that, so sue me!)

    Editor’s note: I don’t believe this comment meets the criteria of our comments policy but it has been allowed as an example of ludicrous, almost self-parodying, over-reaction, adding Holocaust denial to the Tricycle’s alleged crimes.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      The disparaging comment from someone who describes themself as “half Jewish” about goyim makes me wonder how they feel about half-goyim. Capable of being semi-self-hating half-Jews, presumably?

      1. Concerned citizen and half Jewish says:

        Editor: You must be joking, right? I said what I said because this is exactly what denial is about. I made a point, which shows how people are not just a “Jew” or from “Israel” or any other catagory you want to put people in and dismiss them because you think you are right and they are wrong! How many people on this thread have actually lived and worked in Israel??? Raise your hand?? If you had, you would know there is not a person in Israel who wants war. Defending themselves against terrorism is also what they have been doing. No matter what, I will most certainly see the Tricycle’s stance of not allowing the Jewish Film Festival whether funded by the Israeli embassy or not, is a ridiculous punishment for the film makers and actors and all the people who made these films and all those who would have enjoyed them, you solved nothing but making Jewish people realize you are indeed anti-Semitic! Goyim or not, my point was that you clearly made your choice. Now how do you feel when you will now be isolated, out- casted and punished? Oh, gee…here we are again, attitudes of Nazism!

        1. Robert says:

          Interesting view not one I would agree with mind you.

      2. Concerned citizen and half Jewish says:

        Lansman, mmm, a Jewish name or not? I have no idea what ridiculous tosh you are espousing. I was making a point about how everyone who isn’t Jewish (aka ) would be allowed into the Tricycle or their film festivals shown, according to the Tricycle’s so called political statement! I am half Jewish, half Irish/Scottish Catholic. I also see myself as big enough and worldly enough to embrace all of humanity. Needless to say, your “point” has no point! Nothing like attacking the writer instead of focusing on the POINT!

  3. Jon says:

    well said Gerry

  4. swatantra says:

    I support Tricycles decision to reject Israeli Funding. Lets see a concerted attempt this time to boycott Israeli goods in supermarkets.
    Ordinary people can make a difference, just as we did when we boycotted S African products, we helped bring that Apartheid Regime down.

  5. Jon says:

    Swatantra, people boycotted South Africa, because it was a Fascist state, it wasn’t boycotting white people, the anti Israeli attitude is anti semeticism.

  6. swatantra says:

    S Africa was a racist State, in the same way that Israel is today. And being anti-Israeli is not being anti-semetic; lots of good decent Jews are anti-Israeli. Lets get the terminology right.

  7. Jon says:

    But comparing Israel to South Afirca, is because South Africa was Fascist,and Israel, full of Jews isn’t, but it stirs up hate red of Jew by boycotting a country full of them products, yet we wouldn’t gate black people because of Zimbabwe and boycott them would we, as for a racist statement do you boycott products from Northern Ireland because of the troubles

  8. jmgreen says:

    Well the Tricycle didn’t want to be associated with Israel at this time but nor did the demonstrators. Organisers asked for no Israeli flags and said don’t mention Gaza.

  9. james martin says:

    To call apartheid era South Africa ‘Fascist’ is infantile beyond belief, or did I miss the AWB actually seizing power at the time? And while I realise that certain types of middle class lefties in the style of Ric from the Young Ones have a habit of calling every nasty regime ‘fascist’ please let’s not misuse the term on here.

    What SA was during the apartheid era was a brutal racist state with separate treatment and laws for the black population, however it was not fascist. What Israel is today is a brutal racist stat with separate laws (military courts etc.) for the occupied Palestinian population, but it is not fascist. There are many differences between the two situations of course, but it was no accident at all that Mandela had a particularly high level of support for the Palestinian cause due to what he correctly saw as the similarities that both oppressed populations have had to deal with.

    So Israel has many similarities with apartheid, but it has many differences too. Some elements of Israeli secular society remain progressive – such as women’s and gay rights (although those elements are very much pushed aside by the right-wing racists currently in power), and in general terms it resembles more an occupying colonial power (not dissimilar in many ways to the French settler Pied-Noir regime in Algeria – and very possibly if it does not change course it will share the same fate).

    As to this film festival I know too little to comment. But what I would say is that in general terms the Israeli boycott and disinvestment campaign is absolutely legitimate by the labour and trade union movement, and it is noticeable that those unions who have led the way on it such as UCU also tend to have the most developed anti-racist and anti-Semitic positions (UCU’s work Holocaust education is excellent). But what I notice increasingly is the old reactionary Zionist line that anyone who opposes the Israeli regime and Israel’s actions, or who supports boycott’s and disinvestment, is somehow anti-Semitic is gaining far wider currency. This is odd in some ways given just how many Jews around the world also oppose Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, but shows the desperation that the Zionists and their supporters are now facing given their legitimacy is crumbling around them.

    And that desperation is itself creating the risk of anti-Semitism given that if it is successful (and recently in the media it appears to have had some success), and any criticism of Israel is seen as an attack on Jews then it will be a self-fulfilling nightmare given that criticisms of the racist Israeli state must continue, and indeed must be increased.

    1. Gerry says:

      James – it is not the “Zionist” legitimacy that is crumbling, it is simply that in this era of violent medieval barbaric Islamic fundamentalism everyone sees that Hamas is the worst thing ever to happen to Gazans, leading them to an even worse place than they were in before…

      I say again:socialism and social democracy is the only genuine solution to Israel/Palestine – a long way away, I know, but – to answer Swatantra too – Hamas was never like the ANC, and the ANC never justified terrorism or targeted white South africans in their just struggle, but were a progressive liberation movement open to all.

      Compare that to sectarian Muslim Brotherhood entities like Hamas, and you have the reason why the situation is so bleak…

      1. swatantra says:

        Having said that…. been in London today protesting outside S Africa, re Marikana shootings of 34 miners and civilians by …. the S African Police!!! Unfortunately S Africa has gone downhill under Jacob Zuma; we were chanting : ‘Jacob Zuma you cannot hide, you’ll bre charged with genocide’. A bit OTT but the sentiment is there. Some dodgy things going on in the ANC these days, which we need to get to the bottom of.
        Also turned up at the Turkish Kurds demo in Marble Arch, and spoke to a local Turkish journalist on their community newspaper, about the serious ISIS situation.

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