Culture Ethics

Dispute over Israel funding has Jewish film festival in London looking for new home

A view of the Tricycle Theatre in London.

CANTERBURY, England (RNS) A London theater is refusing to host the UK Jewish Film Festival because it receives partial funding from the Israeli Embassy.


A view of the Tricycle Theatre in London.

Photo courtesy of Cnbrb, via Wikimedia Commons

A view of the Tricycle Theatre in London.

The Tricycle Theatre has hosted the film festival for the last eight years and was scheduled to screen 26 films in November.

But the theater’s artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, the English-born daughter of Sri Lankan parents, issued a statement Tuesday (Aug. 5) saying that because of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the theater’s board decided not to host the festival under its current sponsorship arrangement.

“The festival receives funding from the Israeli embassy and given the current conflict in Israel and Gaza, we feel it inappropriate to accept financial support from any government agency involved,” she said in a statement. “We offered to provide alternative funding to cover the loss of the contribution from the Israeli embassy. 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.”

Judy Ironside, founder and executive director of the UKJFF, said the Tricycle Theatre had “chosen a boycott over meaningful engagement to the detriment of this celebration of Jewish culture which is intrinsically connected to the state of Israel.”

The festival’s patrons also include Sky, the digital satellite television and radio service; the National Lottery film fund; and the Swedish Embassy.

Commenting on BBC Radio Four, Stephen Pollard, editor of The Jewish Chronicle, described the theater’s action as “extremely reprehensible.”

He said it was a Jewish and not an Israeli film festival. “What Tricycle has said is that they refuse to allow Jews who associate with Israel in any way to show films in their cinema.”

But Laurie Penny of the left-leaning New Statesman denied that the theater’s stance smacked of anti-Semitism, saying: “Anti-Semitism it is not. Anti-Zionism, it is.”

In the wake of the Gaza conflict, Jews in Europe, particularly France, Germany and Italy, have been subject to attacks and hate speech, as the thin line between anti-Israel and anti-Semitic feelings has vanished.


About the author

Trevor Grundy


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  • There is a difference between criticism of Israel and anti-Zionism. I have been critical of the current Israeli government, myself. The idea that Jews are the only people on the planet who should not have a state where they can control their own destiny is a form of antisemitism. Zionism if the legitimate national liberation movement of the Jewish people.

  • The issue was not that it was a ‘Jewish’ film festival, rather that it received funding from the Israeli government. The theatre’s board clearly made this distinction by offering to provide alternative funding to cover the event, and thus ensure that the celebration of Jewish culture, which the event represented, was not jeapordised. Their stance is similar to how the South African government was regarded during apartheid.

    The festival organisers are essentially arguing that a boycott or protest against the government of Israel is akin to to a boycott or protest against Jewish culture. In other words the implication is that the government = the state = the culture and Jews in general. This is of course nonsensical since there are Jewish organisations which are protesting the actions of the Israeli government and who support the BDS movement.

  • I think the idea thay jews are “a people” is far fetched.

    Are they “a people” based on race? No. There are black jews, sephardic, oriental, etc.

    Are they “a people” based on religon? Perhaps.

    But then why is it not ok for other religons to demand a nation state for their “people”? As in christian.

    Why does the exclusions that apply to israel not apply to other “people”? Why are their cries for more “democracy” from the outside regarding islamic states in the middle east? Why can they just not remain islamic exclusively as israel is jewish exclusively?

  • Lies Nat, Christians have never claimed to be an ethnic group or a people. Israel has never been exclusively Jewish. There have always been Muslims and Christians living in Israel. They have complete freedom of religion in Israel. Jews are not asking for anything special. Zionists thought that Jews could be a nation like the French or the Germans are a nation. They thought that would make Jews like everyone else, but that hasn’t happened. Jews are always seen differently than everyone else. They cannot be normal, because no one treats Jews like everyone else. This does not mean that Zionism has failed. It means that a homeland for Jews is needed more than ever.

    Disagreeing with the Israeli government does not means that you support BDS. I don’t think BDS ends the occupation one day sooner. It only helps the Israeli right. I just think that it makes the boycotters feel smug and self-righteous.

  • I forgot to mention that Jewish Film Festivals almost always have at least one Israeli film. It would be foolish to ignore a major source of Jewish film making, israeli films. That would be enough for BDS supporters to oppose a Jewish Film Festival. The BDS supporters are not just opposing the Israeli government, they are opposed to anything Israeli, including academics and other Israelis who are not connected to the Israeli government.

  • I think the idea thay jews are “a people” is far fetched.

    I think the idea that you were not intoxicated when you wrote that is far-fetched.

  • @ – Lles; Good point “Are they “a people” based on religion? Perhaps.” this is the reason I keep reading and looking for thought snacks. Abraham left UR, Moses gathered those that remained along with a “mixed multitude” they all intermarried, with Canaanites, then with Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Romans as well, and here we are today!

  • Its unbelievable that this happened, i hope the films will get opportunity to be show when there is a clear decision about the festival.