London Theater Halts Jewish Film Festival Over Israeli Government Money

A Jewish film festival has backed out of the Tricycle Theater after the venue refused to accept money from the Israeli government. Now, accusations are flying.

Carl Court/AFP/Getty

LONDON — A theater in London is refusing to host this year’s Jewish Film Festival unless organizers reject funding from the Israeli Embassy.

After Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in recent weeks, the Tricycle Theater in north London said it was unwilling to support an event partly funded by the Israeli government. A source close to the festival who did not wish to be named told The Daily Beast that the sum of money from the embassy only amounted to a couple of thousand dollars, but that the festival would refuse to sever ties with Israel as a matter of principle.

The incident comes amid rising anti-Semitism in Europe following the Gaza war. In Rome, “Jews your end is near” and worse was spray-painted in the city’s Jewish ghetto. The black flags of ISIS flew in the Netherlands with crowds chanting “Death to the Jews!” German and French synagogues have been attacked.

For the past eight years, the Tricycle has hosted the event, which shows a wide range of films that reflect the breadth of the Jewish community and a range of views that are both supportive and critical of the Israeli government.

During tense discussions between U.K. Jewish Film and the theater, Indhu Rubasingham, the Tricycle’s artistic director, offered to help make up the shortfall in funding and continue to host the festival. Simon Johnson, the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, who is familiar with the negotiations, said that offer had been dismissed out of hand and the festival withdrawn from the theater.

“It’s not the money,” Johnson said. “The fact that the Tricycle Theater think that it is in some way plays into old-fashioned stereotypes. I personally find this a distasteful attempt to justify what is a discriminatory boycott.”

Festival organizers insisted that this was a Jewish cultural festival, not a promotional event for the Israeli government. They said the Tricycle had not imposed boycotts on any other state-funded events and demanded to know why they had been singled out.

“People in the Jewish community are entitled to question the motive that lay behind the decision,” said Johnson. “We're seeing a spike in anti-Semitic activity and boycotts right now and certain people are unable to see the Jewish community, the Jewish culture, through anything other than the prism of their view of the Israeli government's policies. They then take action against something that is purely Jewish.”

Rattled by claims of anti-Semitism, Rubasingham insisted that she would have been seen as taking sides in the Middle Eastern conflict no matter how she proceeded. “I always knew I was between a rock and a hard place, whatever I did,” she told the London Evening Standard. “If I kept quiet and did nothing, that would still be seen as a political statement.”

Rubasingham’s reign at the Tricycle had previously been celebrated for successfully representing one of the most culturally diverse areas in London. Last year, she commissioned a play about Filipino drag queens caring for elderly Hasidic Jews in Israel. “The fucking irony about all this is that play was about unheard voices,” Rubasingham said. “Israel is always talked about in terms of conflict, but that play talked about its openness, tolerance and engagement.”

As criticism poured in from actors and cultural critics, the director of the National Theatre offered a lone voice in support of the Tricycle’s decision. “It is entirely understandable that they felt obliged to insist that no government agency should sponsor the festival,” Sir Nicholas Hytner said in a statement. “It greatly saddens me that the UKJFF have unwisely politicized a celebration of Jewish culture and I deplore any misrepresentation of the Tricycle’s position. I support Indhu Rubasingham and the Tricycle without reservation.”

Organizers said they were confident that they would secure a new venue and the Jewish Film Festival would go ahead. Insiders claimed that a new determination had taken hold and they were convinced this would be “the best Jewish Film Festival ever.”