Mike Leigh cancels Israel visit over 'conscience'

Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh has cancelled a trip to Israel in protest at the controversial loyalty oath bill.

The British Jewish film director said he had been stupid and naïve to agree to teach a master class at Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film and Television School and that he had no choice but to let his audience down.

He said: “I cannot come, I do not want to come, and I am not coming.”

Mr Leigh was due to visit in November and receive an honorary fellowship award from the school, as well as speak in Haifa and Tel Aviv and to Palestinian filmmakers in the West Bank.

But he announced that the proposed citizenship bill, which was passed by Israel’s cabinet last week, was the last straw and that visiting would go against his conscience.

The Manchester-born Secrets and Lies director said he had only agreed to the trip “reluctantly” and had considered dropping out of the event after the clash on the Turkish Gaza-bound flotilla in May.

In a letter to Ranan Shor, the Sam Spiegel director, Mr Leigh wrote: “I still had not faced up to the prospect of pulling out until a few weeks ago, but the resumption of the illegal building on the West Bank made me start to consider it seriously.

“And now we have the Loyalty Oath."

Mr Leigh said that going to Israel would be read wrongly as him giving Israel his support. However he said that he would be happy to visit the film school once a peace agreement has been reached.

Mr Shor replied to Mr Leigh and pointed out that he had offered the director a press conference with an open platform while on the trip in which he could express his “serious reservations with Israeli policy.”

He told the director that “the reverberations of your statements would have been different had you made those statements here in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jenin.

"It would have allowed you to touch the future and try to change reality. Instead, you chose to remain distant.”

He pointed out that other high profile figures in the film industry, including David Lynch, had spoken at the school and added: “The students, teachers, artists, and various professionals who eagerly await your arrival are not the elected Israeli government nor are they responsible for its policy.

“The nexus that you create by your de facto boycott between artistic and cultural bodies of work and the policy of the government that and the army is a disturbing and unfortunate generalisation.”

A Sam Spiegel spokesman said: “Where our school is concerned, we will keep on trying to bring here the strong voices of the international cinema, regardless of politics.”

Mr Leigh, who has been nominated for the Best Film award at this year’s London Film Festival, last visited Israel in 1990.

A former member of the socialist Zionist youth movement Habonim, he added his name to an Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) petition in 2007.

In 2005 Mr Leigh directed Two Thousand Years at the National Theatre. Critics said the play, which followed three generations of a Jewish family, was an attack on Israel and Zionism.

Last updated: 2:59pm, January 28 2011