The shameful decision by Tricycle Theater to effectively boycott the UK Jewish Film Festival over its ties with Israel has united some diverse factions, including the Board of Deputies, Ha’aretz, and now…the Guardian – yes, the Guardian!
An official editorial on the Gaza war and the rise of antisemitism included the following:
The board of London’s Tricycle Theatre delivered an ultimatum to the organisers of the UK Jewish Film Festival, which it has hosted for the last eight years: either cut your ties with the Israeli embassy, which gives a £1,400 subsidy to the festival, or find another venue.
UK Jewish Film refused that instruction, along with the Tricycle’s offer to make up the financial shortfall, and is now looking for a new home. No doubt the Tricycle believed it was taking an admirably principled stand on the conflict between Israel and Hamas, which flared anew after the truce that had held for nearly 72 hours broke down. But the theatre has made a bad error of judgment.
Some have made the argument that, if receiving money from a state implies endorsement of that state’s policy, then the Tricycle ought to return the £725,000 it receives from the taxpayer-funded Arts Council, lest that be read as backing for, say, UK participation in the invasion of Iraq. Of course, few would see the Arts Council as an arm of the state in that way. And a similar mistake seems to be at work here. For the Israeli embassy in London is not merely an outpost of the Netanyahu government. It also represents Israel itself, its society and its people. It was this connection with Israel as a country that UK Jewish Film refused to give up. Hard though it may be for others to understand, that reflects something crucial about contemporary Jewish identity: that most, not all, Jews feel bound up with Israel, even if that relationship is one of doubt and anxiety. To demand that Jews surrender that connection is to tell Jews how they might – and how they might not – live as Jews. Such demands have an ugly history. They are not the proper business of any public institution, least of all a state-subsidised theatre
Anshel Pfeffer of Ha’aretz wrote about Tricycle Theater’s decision that he “certainly wouldn’t have thought it could happen in one of the most enlightened corners of London”, and we certainly wouldn’t have thought that such a strangely lucid denunciation of antisemitism could have been published at a London broadsheets known for its embrace of Judeophobic voices.
Moreover, we can only hope that this deeply troubling episode will provide a teachable moment about the allure of what Ben Cohen refers to as ‘bistro antisemitism‘ to some of the more sober commentators on the hard left, as well as the leadership of a theater which evidently prides itself on its commitment to ethnic and racial diversity.