Tricycle Theatre

UK Theatre Rejects Jewish Film Festival Over Israel-Palestine Conflict

Tricycle Theatre

The Tricycle Theatre in London faces criticism for refusing to host the upcoming UK Jewish Film Festival because it is supported by Israel’s Embassy.

After seven years of hosting this same film festival, the theatre abruptly presented this request very late, just before the entire screening schedule was solidified in advance of the November festival.

Jonathan Levy, chairman of the Tricycle, released a statement explaining the reasoning behind this decision. “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… The Tricycle will be pleased to host the UKJFF provided that it occurs without the support or other endorsement from the Israeli government.”

Despite a willingness from the theatre to help find alternate funding, the UKJFF refused the request and withdrew its decision to hold any part of the festival at the Tricycle Theatre. Executive Director of the festival, Judy Ironside, expressed surprise at the apparently sudden nature of the request in light of the fact that the Embassy has been a supporter of this festival since before the Tricycle began hosting it. Further, she stated, “That 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.”

Strong Reactions from Both Perspectives

As with many other results of the escalating Israel-Palestine conflict, reaction to this news has proved strong on both sides. Many, such as David Winner on Twitter (@dwinnera) are calling the Tricycle out as antisemitic, claiming to have no interest in further interaction with the theatre. “Disgusted beyond words by naked antisemitism at the @TricycleTheatre. If the Tricycle boycotts Jews, everyone should boycott the Tricycle.”

But others see past the emotional response and believe that the presence of government sponsorship necessarily politicizes what should indeed be an apolitical event. Director of the National Theatre, Sir Nicholas Hytner, released this statement.

“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 politicised a celebration of Jewish culture and I deplore any misrepresentation of the Tricycle’s position. I support Indhu Rubasingham and the Tricycle without reservation.”

Given the current tension, he and others feel the Tricycle chose wisely to request this sponsorship be dropped from the festival. Clearly the theatre wished to provide support in replacing lost funds, and states it still desires to host the event.

Israel and Palestine

Often, decisions like the made by the Tricycle Theatre are rooted in issues larger than the immediate story. In this case, the theatre received a protest letter after the 2013 showing of this festival. “We protest that our Tricycle is associating itself with a government, which regularly kills, maims, persecutes, imprisons even little children and humiliates Palestinians of every age,” read the letter from the group “Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods.” And just before this decision was announced, another theatre, the Underbelly, had been forced to cancel a production by the Jewish “Incubator Theatre Group” after anti-Jewish protesters caused such a disruption that the shows were not able to continue. The Tricycle is likely attempting to reduce the possibility for similar protests to happen during the Jewish Film Festival.

In the attempt to keep tensions at bay, political wrangling has resulted in a more complete separation of the two groups, which in turn has led to less ability to see the humanity behind each other’s eyes. Can anything bring the two groups back to a place of agreement?


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