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Gaza row leaves Jewish Film Festival homeless

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The Tricycle has hosted the UK Jewish Film Festival for the past 8 years

The Tricycle Cinema in Kilburn has defended its decision not to show 26 planned screenings as part of the UK Jewish Film Festival in November, as long as the event is partly sponsored by the cultural department of the Israeli embassy in London.

The cinema insists that it would love to be able to screen the films but argues that co-operating with the festival while the state of Israel is contributing to the funding of the cultural event, would be seen as condoning one side of the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.

The Israeli embassy in London has sponsored the festival for 17 years and the Tricycle has hosted the event for the past 8 years, during which time there have been two previous wars between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, but this is the first time that the cinema has withdrawn its backing for the festival under its existing funding arrangement.

In a statement, the Tricycle’s Artistic Director, Indhu Rubasingham, said she didn’t believe the UK Jewish Film Festival should “accept funding from any party to the current conflict” and offered to replace the sponsorship from the Israeli embassy with money from its “own resources,” to ensure that at “emotional times” the Tricycle can remain “a place for political neutrality.”

The Festival’s organisers said they were shocked and saddened by the cinema’s decision, insisting that over the years, the event “has always been entirely apolitical, showcasing perspectives from both sides of the conflict.” They said the demands of the Tricycle to break the link between Jewish culture and the state of Israel were “entirely unacceptable” so they would be taking their screenings elsewhere.

The chairman of the festival, Stephen Margolis, said, “The Jewish community as a whole has enjoyed a successful relationship with the Tricycle and it is extremely saddening that they should look to politicise this festival by making demands that the UKJFF could never accept.”

Reactions to the row have been mixed, within both the artistic and the Jewish communities. The director of the National Theatre, Sir Nicholas Hytner, who’s Jewish, accused the festival’s organisers of “unwisely” politicising their celebration of Jewish culture and said it was “entirely understandable” that the Tricycle should insist that no government agency should sponsor the festival. But others have argued that the venue should take a similar stand on other conflicts and so refuse funding from the UK government, which was involved in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Simon Johnson, from the Jewish Leadership Council, took such a view, arguing that there were terrible things happening all over the world, so for the Tricycle to pick on this one was a discriminatory attack on Jewish culture.” The actor Eddie Marsan said the row was a shame, because “Jewish Films are an expression of Jewish culture not Israeli propaganda.”

With each side accusing the other of politicising the festival, it’s likely that without the intervention of the Tricycle, most film-goers would have been unlikely to associate attending a screening with overt political support for Israel’s military campaign against Hamas. But as the organisers seek to find another partner to screen the films, the effect of this row will be for any other exhibitor to face questions about whether actively supporting the festival equates to taking Israel’s side in the conflict.

The Tricycle is a run as a charity, receiving public money through Brent Council and the Arts Council and it’s currently involved in a funding drive to raise £3m over the next three years.

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